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AG Can Change Cybercrime Dynamic

Published: 
Sunday, June 18, 2017
Attorney General Faris Al Rawi during yesterday's sitting of the Senate at the Parliament Building in Port-of-Spain.

In the last few weeks this newspaper has observed a few almost hysterical responses to some of the amendments being proposed to The Cybercrime Bill 2017.

Let us be clear, the particularly offensive and frankly unacceptable clause (8:2) simply cannot work where journalism is concerned. High-impact reportage around the world relies significantly on source information. For a media house, a head of news, an editor or a journalist to face criminal charges for the simple act of receiving information from a source who wishes to remain anonymous to protect him/herself from retribution, is absurd at best.

To hold a journalist accountable, and again subject to charges, for failing to be aware of where or how a source obtained information is equally irrational.

And while it is currently legal for the police to enter the premises of a media house to search and seize computers or material containing source information, it is a disconcerting option, especially in the absence of a much higher level of judicial approval.

In a functioning democracy, 8:2 and clauses with similar intent simply cannot stand.

At the same time, this newspaper and this media house must acknowledge a fundamental difference in position and approach to the amendments being proposed to this bill. Some are urgently needed to address the Wild West cyber-gun fights taking place on social media.

We support with every page we publish and in every broadcast we produce, the tenets of press freedom and freedom of expression, but we cannot and will not condone the vitriolic diatribe against private citizens, public personalities, politicians and anyone with an opinion, especially in an age where social media attacks can live on ad-infinitum.

Cyber bullying is as real and should be as punishable as any case of defamation. It is no longer acceptable for any social media blogger anonymous or otherwise, to allege politicians or business people commit or orchestrate everything from murder to money laundering.

While some cowards hide behind fake profiles, others are brave enough to post knowing that there are few consequences. The reality now, is that there are only a few people in this country with the finances, tenacity, time and courage to follow these matters through.

Mainstream media houses in this country receive threats of legal action on a regular basis. Valid or not, we are held to account for the material we produce. Basic journalism demands we verify information, fact check, seek balance and response. When we fall short, we are held to account. These rules, however, do not apply in the way they should to digital platforms and social media.

Through this bill, the Attorney General and those advising him seem to be seeking to change the game so that issues like these can be addressed.

The proposals in the amendments currently before us though, are not hitting the right notes. Addressing hacking is welcome, but cloaking other issues under the blanket of “matters of national security” is arbitrary and vague. As is the definition in Clause 18 of “causing harm to a person” via a computer system, under the heading Cybercrime offences.

This is not an easy task for the Attorney General or the Rowley administration, but this media house and this newspaper believes that with compromise, we can get the right things done.

The Guardian has been around for 100 years. We have seen growth, change and development and we have learned a few things: when there is genuine dialogue, with a view to improving things, solutions can be found. Antagonism, aggression and blatant rejection of proposals based on political bias or fear or partial understanding, achieves little and leaves our citizens without redress or solutions.

This bill is not irredeemable and that is the position of this media house. It is about more than just press freedom; it is of interest to an entire nation that is increasingly connected by digital platforms.