Cybercrime Bill could have damaging effect on press freedom- Reporters Without Borders

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Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is urging the Government of Guyana to amend its draft Cybercrime Bill since the bill as it is, could have a damaging effect on press freedom.

In a statement on Thursday, the media representative body said it has sent a letter to Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo outlining its concerns with the legislation.

The organization noted that while the Government has a legitimate interest in regulating the internet to deal with criminal activities including computer fraud, identity theft, and child pornography, it is concerned with section 9 of the Bill which criminalizes receiving data.

“This could pose a threat to press freedom if used to penalize journalists for publishing reports based on information from confidential sources,” the statement said.

The body also pointed to Section 18 of the bill which has received much criticism by local activists.

The section prosecutes online speech which is believed to excite “disaffection” toward the Government, and without a clear definition of “disaffection.”

“It could create a significant liability risk for journalists publishing articles that may be deemed critical of the state,” the RSF said.

The media representative body added that such provisions could pose “significant risks” for journalists publishing articles that may be deemed critical of the state or government officials.

The provisions, RSF said, provide for wide-ranging jurisdiction and gives the police and judicial authorities broad authority to access the personal data of those under investigation.

Section 37 of the Bill gives broad authority to a judge to “remove, or disable access to” user-generated content hosted or stored on their services, while Section 38 authorizes the use of remote forensic tools to intercept private data.

When reviewed alongside the potential harm provisions like Section 9 or 18 may have on journalistic activities, the body said “it is clear that the Cybercrime Bill must be amended to include exemptions that allow reporting to continue to flourish in Guyana.”

Guyana ranks 55th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.

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