WASHINGTON (CMC) — The global media watchdog group, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Wednesday said it had written St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves expressing some concerns over the Cybercrime Bill now being debated in the nation’s Parliament.
The regional media umbrella group, the Association of Caribbean MediaWorkers says it is also examining the legislation.
In the letter, a copy of which was also sent to the Minister of Information, Camillo Gonsalves, RSF said it was calling for the revision of several clauses “that are extremely damaging to the free flow of news and information and to public debate”.
In the letter, written by Delphine Halgand, RSF’s US Director, the group noted that while it does not dispute the principle of the Cybercrime legislation “the Internet should not escape the authority of the law altogether and we believe that it is perfectly legitimate to sanction such crimes and offences as the theft of documents or data, online identity theft, cyberbullying or, even more serious, child pornography.
“However, we regard some of the clauses in this bill extremely damaging to the free flow of news and information and to public debate,” the group said making reference to Section 16 (2) of Part II which incorporates criminal libel that is already a criminal offence in section 274 of the criminal code.
It said Section 16 (3) states: “A person who, intentionally or recklessly uses a computer system to disseminate any information, statement or image; and exposes the private affairs of another person, thereby subjecting that other person to public ridicule, contempt, hatred or embarrassment, commits an offence” can be sentenced to up to five years’ imprisonment and/or pay a fine of EC$200,000 (One EC dollar =US$0.37 cents).
RSF, which also describes itself as “an international organisation that defends freedom of information,” asks “under what criteria can information be considered to expose “private affairs” of another person regardless of factual accuracy, which this subsection refrains from mentioning?
“This provision could very easily constitute an obstacle to the dissemination of information of public interest. It could, for example, provide any demonstrably corrupt public figure with a strong argument for refusing to be held accountable.”
It said Clause 16 also defines cyberbullying as using “a computer system repeatedly or continuously to convey information which causes fear, intimidation, humiliation, distress or other harm to another person; or detriment to another person’s health, emotional well-being, self-esteem or reputation.”
“This language remains subjective and could be broadly interpreted in a manner that negatively impacts the free flow of information.
“We are also concerned about the range of the bill’s applicability. Clause 31 of Part III states that “an act [constituting an offence] is carried out in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines if the effect of the act, or the damage resulting from the act, occurs within Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.”
RSF said “here again, the lack of precision about the nature of the effect to which this clause refers could result in significant obstacles to freedom of information.
“The danger posed by these provisions is, in our view, all the greater because the law gives the police and judicial authorities a great deal of scope to access the personal data of someone who is being investigated.”
The international group said furthermore, it considers criminal defamation to have a chilling effect on freedom of the press and freedom of expression and has repeatedly urged countries to decriminalize this offense.
“For all these reasons, we urge you not to pass this bill into law in its present form and to amend the most sensitive clauses. We also urge you to amend the criminal code in order to de-criminalise defamation,” RSF added.