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Enabling reason to prevail

Nov 07,2017 - Last updated at Nov 07,2017

Proposed amendments to the Cyber Crimes Law seem to have roused the interest of the public, with some expressing concern that the changes could lead to restrictions to freedom of speech and expression, while others assure that they aim to organise freedoms, not restrict them.

As such, the panel discussion around the issue, organised recently by the Sisterhood Is Global Institute, is welcome, as it contributed to elucidating some positions on this issue that is indeed sensitive and vexing.

For example, the president of the Legislation and Opinion Bureau said that the amendments intend to increase jail terms and fines for those convicted of online fraud, hacking, financial crimes, identity theft or defamation.

There should be no quarrel with that.

He also said that the by-law aims to protect people’s privacy and intensify penalties for criminals who exploit minors and women, another point that should be commended, rather than criticised.

The amendments, moreover, penalise sending or sharing hate speech, defined as “any speech or action stirring religious, sectarian, racial or ethnic divisions, tension or discrimination between individuals or groups”.

While this is perhaps a most important modification to the law, there are those who claim that amendments curtail freedom of expression, or as the bar association president said, that the language used in the draft will “fill courts with more cases and open wider room for judicial interpretation”.

That is debatable. If the legislation is clear, if what is permitted and what is not is clear, there should be no room for “interpretation”.

In case of hate speech, there is no room to wriggle out. Neither is there in cases of identity theft, hacking or financial crimes.

As technology develops, cyber crimes can be expected to multiply, but that should not be allowed to happen in the name of freedom of expression and speech.

The widespread use of social media to exchange information and opinion has opened the door wide open for abuses and many vulnerable individuals or groups can be hurt. 

There is no room for interpretation when we see the Internet being used to promote radicalism and terrorism. This is an incontestable fact.

Still, the debate over the proposed amendments must be carefully examined with a view to striking an equitable balance between freedoms and responsibilities. 

 

Given the rise in the number of cyber crimes, it would be prudent to err on the side of control of cyber freedoms.

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