CY­BER­CRIME LAW

The long-ex­pected cy­ber­crime draft was signed into a law last month. While it has sev­eral im­por­tant ar­ti­cles ad­dress­ing the scourge of hack­ing, on­line iden­tity theft and ma­li­cious at­tacks, there are a few pro­vi­sions that were too broad and vague and could

Qatar Today - - AFFAIRS > LOCAL -

While the law, which con­tains five chap­ters and 54 ar­ti­cles, doles out strict pun­ish­ments for elec­tronic forgery of of­fi­cial doc­u­ments and pro­duc­ing, pro­mot­ing, us­ing or im­port­ing and dis­tribut­ing child pornog­ra­phy and hack­ing, it also has re­served sim­i­lar harsh sen­tences and fines for “spread­ing false news”, “destab­lis­ing na­tional se­cu­rity”, “violating any of the so­cial val­ues and prin­ci­ples”, or “ag­gress­ing another per­son with li­bel and slan­der”. Many worry that th­ese am­bigu­ous terms could be stretched to ap­ply to any on­line con­ver­sa­tion. While in­dus­try lead­ers were happy with the cy­ber­crimes that the law prom­ises to ad­dress, jour­nal­ists wor­ried about the im­pli­ca­tions of this small but sig­nif­i­cant part of the leg­is­la­tion. We bring you two di­ver­gent and equally com­pelling points of view on the law which came into im­me­di­ate ef­fect.

As Qatar's first dig­i­tal me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tion, we at Doha News are con­cerned about the po­ten­tial crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion of free speech in Qatar un­der the new cy­ber­crime law. The leg­is­la­tion goes beyond the scope of cy­ber-safety in a way that has a chill­ing ef­fect on me­dia free­dom and free speech – rights that are sup­posed to be en­shrined in Qatar's con­sti­tu­tion. We take is­sue specif­i­cally with the so-called con­tent crimes out­lined in the new leg­is­la­tion. The vague­ness of th­ese pro­vi­sions is trou­bling. There is no def­i­ni­tion of what ex­actly vi­o­lates the coun­try's so­cial val­ues, and what the bound­aries are be­tween a per­son's pub­lic and pri­vate life. Fur­ther­more, the abil­ity to hold in­di­vid­u­als ac­count­able for their ac­tions is weak­ened if such in­for­ma­tion be­comes off-lim­its.

While this law has se­ri­ous im­pli­ca­tions for jour­nal­ism in Qatar, we are also con­cerned about how the leg­is­la­tion will be ap­plied to the gen­eral pub­lic. Qatar is one of the most con­nected coun­tries in the world, with more than 90% of its res­i­dents en­joy­ing on­line ac­cess. While it is now against the law to in­cite, aid and fa­cil­i­tate the pub­li­ca­tion of of­fen­sive ma­te­rial, it re­mains un­clear whether some­one could be jailed or fined for sim­ply retweet­ing or shar­ing a post on Twit­ter or Face­book. We urge au­thor­i­ties to re­move the con­tent crime pro­vi­sions of the new law. At the very least, the gov­ern­ment should clearly de­fine what con­tent is un­ac­cept­able and spell out what this law means for jour­nal­ists and in­ter­net users in Qatar. Fi­nally, we hope that when this law is ap­plied, the na­tion's lead­ers re­mem­ber what they have been telling the rest of the world for the last sev­eral months: Jour­nal­ism is not a crime.

The new leg­is­la­tion was the need of the hour. It ap­pro­pri­ately de­fines the most common and ma­jor crimes com­mit­ted us­ing tech­nol­ogy and in­ter­net. The penalty pro­vi­sions are also an ad­e­quate de­ter­rent. It is said that on av­er­age, 20 iden­tity thefts take place glob­ally ev­ery minute. Re­ports also in­di­cate that cy­ber­crimes have now sur­passed il­le­gal trafficking in drugs as a means of de­riv­ing il­le­gal money. In turn, this can re­sult in the com­mis­sion of other se­ri­ous crimes such as money laun­der­ing and ter­ror­ism fi­nanc­ing. The new law ap­pro­pri­ately ad­dresses the men­aces of iden­tity theft, hack­ing, cy­ber es­pi­onage, fi­nan­cial fraud, slan­der, IP in­fringe­ment, child abuse, and the still worse threat of cy­ber ter­ror­ism. Anti-cy­ber­crime leg­is­la­tion has drawn crit­i­cism in all coun­tries when en­acted. The crit­ics must recog­nise the fact that ab­so­lute free­dom in cy­berspace may well be dis­as­trous for any so­ci­ety. Pub­lic or­der, so­cial val­ues and na­tional se­cu­rity are also of the ut­most im­por­tance. In­ter­pol dif­fer­en­ti­ates cy­ber­crimes into three broad cat­e­gories: (i) at­tacks against com­puter hard­ware and soft­ware; (ii) fi­nan­cial crimes and (iii) abuse (es­pe­cially of young peo­ple). The new law ad­dresses all th­ese threats, and there­fore can be con­sid­ered at par with in­ter­na­tional stan­dards. A ma­jor hur­dle in the en­deav­our to curb cy­ber­crimes, un­like phys­i­cal crimes, is the cross-bor­der com­mis­sion of of­fences. An of­fence is of­ten com­mit­ted from across the bor­der of the coun­try where its vic­tim is sit­u­ated. Of­ten the sus­pect es­capes to another ju­ris­dic­tion to avoid the clutches of law. This ne­ces­si­tates the need for co-op­er­a­tion be­tween coun­tries in ex­chang­ing in­for­ma­tion as well as ex­tra­dit­ing crim­i­nals wanted for cy­ber­crimes. The newly en­acted cy­ber­crime preven­tion law pro­vides for co-op­er­a­tion be­tween in­ves­ti­gat­ing agen­cies and at the same time en­sures that no for­eign state shall use th­ese pro­vi­sions to fur­ther a hid­den agenda of chas­ing out a per­son for rea­sons such as po­lit­i­cal ri­valry. The cy­ber world un­der­goes con­stant and rapid changes as new tech­nolo­gies are in­vented or de­vel­oped ev­ery day. Crim­i­nal minds are equally cre­ative and tal­ented enough to in­vent new ways of mak­ing use of the de­vel­op­ment in tech­nol­ogy to make il­le­gal money; to spread ha­tred; and to de­fame na­tions, re­li­gions, fam­i­lies or in­di­vid­u­als. The laws ad­dress­ing cy­ber­crimes shall there­fore be sub­ject to con­stant up­dat­ing to keep pace with the de­vel­op­ments in tech­nol­ogy. The new law is in­deed a wel­come move in the right di­rec­tion.

AB­DUL RASHEED K P Le­gal Con­sul­tant, Law Of­fices of Ge­bran Ma­j­dalany

SHABINA KHA­TRI Ex­ec­u­tive Ed­i­tor and Co-founder Doha News

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