Even though amended, passed Cyber Crime Bill still suppresses free speech- Opposition

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…puts whistleblower legislation in jeopardy

The Cyber Crime Bill of 2016 which was passed in to the National Assembly on Friday with the controversial sedition clause amended, was described by the Paramilitary Opposition as one that still suppresses free speech.

PPP/C MP, Priya Manickchand

Moreover, Opposition parliamentarian Priya Manickchand said that the passage of the Protected Disclosures Bill counts for nothing when one considers the controversial Cyber Crime (Amendment) Bill, as persons who make unauthorised disclosures face as many as five years in jail if tried and convicted.

Manickchand, when the Bill was debated on Friday, pointed to the amended clause nine of the Cyber Crime Bill, which states that “A person commits an offence who, through authorised or unauthorised means, obtains or accesses electronic data which (c) is stored on a computer system and is protected against unauthorised access.”

The penalty on summary conviction is a fine of $3 million and imprisonment of three years, while conviction on indictment earns the accused a fine of $8 million and five years’ imprisonment.

“This clause is completely negating the protection under the whistleblower legislation. This amendment seeks to play with words and then comes back to say any person commits an offence who, through authorised or unauthorised means, obtains or accesses electronic data stored on a computer system and is protected against unauthorised access,” the Member of Parliament (MP) declared.

“Almost all information that would come to us through whistleblower is stored on a computer system and is protected against unauthorised computer access. That’s why the person has to blow the whistle,” Manickchand stressed. “Because it’s unauthorised information … and we know what this government has done to the nurse who blew the whistle on what was happening at her hospital. What has happened to that poor nurse, your own supporter?”

“Banished! Shamelessly removed from the position that she held, for doing what we say we want people to do,” Manickchand finished.

Persons and organisations, including the Transparency Institute of Guyana Incorporated (TIGI), have been critical of the incident and the potential repercussions for transparency and accountability. TIGI had referred to the case by noting that Marks was bludgeoned into oblivion or worse, “for exposing the abuse of power”.

Attorney General Basil Williams, in whose name the bill was presented, cited the development of the Internet component of the Information Communication Technology (ICT) sector, which provides criminals with avenues to perpetrate crime.

He noted that it was feared that Guyana, due to the absence of cybercrime legislation, would become a safe haven for such criminals. The Minister also related that following public consultations on the Bill, amendments were made to the legislation.

Previously, section 18 (1a) of the Bill had stated that persons commit an offence of sedition when they “attempt to bring into hatred or excite disaffection towards the Government”.

Section 18 (1) now states that “A person commits an offence if the person, whether in or out of Guyana, intentionally publishes, transmits or circulates by use of a computer system, a statement or words, either spoken or written, a text, video, image, sign, visible representation or other thing that (a) advocates the use without authority of law of force as a means of accomplishing a governmental change within Guyana.”

The amended section goes on to state that the law also criminalises anyone who “incites, counsels, urges, induces, aids or abets any person to commit, participate in the commission of or to conspire with another person to commit treason under section 314 or 317 of the Criminal Law (Offences) Act.”

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