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Cybercrime law: Adding insult to injury

Dec 10,2018 - Last updated at Dec 10,2018

A very interesting kerfuffle is taking place over the amended cybercrime law, which the government withdrew, while promising to resubmit it. Seriously, why are electronic crimes such a priority for the government? Are they really a national problem? 

Some former prime ministers commented recently that the situation is grave, but they did not provide any figures to support their claim, by showing a clear rise in computer hackings, for instance, and how much money was involved. 

By contrast, the current prime minister acknowledged recent social media reports that over JD150 million was lost to the Treasury, when a businessman who ran an illegal operation in Jordan took his earnings and fled the country. 

For this and many other reasons, Jordanians believe that electronic media succeed in exposing corruption while the mainstream government-controlled media do not, and that the government should concentrate on fighting corruption, not on silencing social media.

Clearly, though, powerful voices in Jordan want this law enacted, or some version of it; but what specifically do they object to?

After all, most of the crimes addressed in the amendments, such as pornography and gambling, are already addressed in other operative laws. 

A clue may be that public discussions of the law focused on Article 11, which Razzaz described as disastrous. It imposes a minimum prison sentence of three months and a fine between JD100 and JD2,000 on anyone who intentionally disseminates or retransmits data or information that defames, insults or denigrates any person.

You may say that this is already covered in the Defamation Law, so what is new? The difference is that a complaint under the Defamation Law leads to a civil lawsuit which only carries a financial compensation. However, if a complaint is filed under the cybercrimes law, the public prosecutor, without seeking a warrant from the court, may authorise law enforcement officers to enter any premises to inspect and impound any equipment, tools, programmes and operating systems allegedly used to commit electronic crimes, and to withhold information related to these crimes. 

In addition, all the government’s messages related to the law, which in itself is a new phenomenon, revolved around the core message: Thou shalt believe only information released by the government and thou shalt shun all other news. This is rich, since the government realises that its public credibility is low enough to be on life-support.  

Therefore, the Jordanian public, already frustrated because they are overtaxed, underpaid and deprived of opportunities, felt that this law was intended to penalise them heavily if they dared to complain about corruption. 

Why on Earth does the government insist on blocking this outlet for public frustration? When Jordanians welcomed the appointment of Omar Razzaz as prime minister, they knew better than to hope for solutions or better times; but they expected some empathy from him. 

Jordanians thought that Razzaz, as an honest man, would understand their grumblings against flagrant corruption. Was it really wise to close this safety valve and drive the people berserk? 

 

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