GPU says Cybercrime Bill will infringe on human rights – Foroyaa Newspaper | #cybercrime | #infosec

By Amadou Manjang

According to the President of Gambia Press Union (GPU), Muhammed S. Bah, the proposed legislation, Cybercrime Bill 2023 will infringe on press freedom and freedom of expression when enacted.

He added that in the absence of media law reform, the bill curtails the rights of journalists, activists and social media users.

‘We are therefore calling on the National Assembly to not approve this Bill, instead, it should be subjected to wider stakeholder consultations with a view to improving it.

‘We urge our lawmakers to take the GPU’s position on the Cybercrime Bill into account when they deliberate on it on Monday,’ Mr Bah said.

The Secretary General of GPU, Modou S. Joof said some of the provisions of the Bill limit the media’s constitutionally-guaranteed right to hold the government accountability.

‘It also seeks to shield them from public scrutiny and criticism,’ Mr Joof added.

He said that the Bill shows a significant departure from recent government commitments to transparency and accountability by way of enacting an access to information law.

He further added that the Bill does not aim at promoting open governance, and improved government transparency through the development of a national communication framework,

The Gambia Press Union has shared a position paper with National Assembly Members for consideration during March 18 Second Reading of the Cybercrime Bill, 2023.

The Cybercrime Bill is presented by the Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy to the National Assembly on March 4, 2023.

The Cybercrime Bill is now referred to the committee who will consult stakeholders and experts following a second reading.

The Committee is expected to conduct research on the matter and report back to the assembly for consideration.

The position paper highlighted some of the provisions that could be problematic and may infringe on other fundamental human rights.

GPU assessment shows that dozens of clauses in the Bill infringe on freedom of the media and freedom of expression which will affect the media, human rights activists, opposition activists, social media users as well as ordinary people.

Section 6, subsection a, b, and c that deal with false information, incitement of violence, bullying, abusing, or making derogatory remark against a person has ambiguous language.

According to GPU, the lack of clarity regarding what constitutes false information, incitement, bullying, abuse, and derogatory remarks leaves these provisions open to misinterpretation and potential abuse, particularly in targeting journalists.

GPU stated that the cited provisions also infringe on the constitutionally guaranteed rights of the media to hold the government and public officials to account as mentioned in Section 207 of 1997 Constitution.

‘Therefore, the provisions in Section 6 1(a) and subsections (b) and (c) of the Cybercrime Bill, 2023 should either be removed entirely or revised to ensure they do not infringe upon fundamental rights and freedoms,’ GPU stated.

The position paper of GPU further stated Section 16 of the Bill grants authority to authorized persons to search and seize their computer systems if there are reasonable grounds to believe they contain evidence of an offense or has been acquired through the commission of an offense.

‘While the need for a court warrant is essential as it provides for judicial oversight over the exercise of this power, the requirement for ex-parte application for this warrant means that the target of the search and seizure would not be notified in advance,’ GPU added.

GPU stated that this could lead to situations where individuals are unaware of actions being taken against them, potentially violating their rights to due process and fair trial.

‘We also see a repeat of the ex-parte warrant provisions in section 17 (6) on ‘real-time collection of traffic data’, and section 18 (2) on ‘interception of content data,’ GPU added.

GPU also said section 16, Subsection 6 that mandates the use of reasonable force during seizures of properties has an ambiguous language.

‘The interpretation of what constitutes “reasonable force” could vary and may lead to excessive use of force in some cases, potentially infringing on the rights of individuals,’ GPU stated.

Section 4, Subsection 7 also includes penalties for obstructing the exercise of powers granted under the section, with fines and imprisonment as potential consequences.

‘While it’s essential to deter obstruction of justice, the severity of the penalties could potentially discourage legitimate forms of protest or resistance against unjust searches or seizures,’ GPU added.

At this juncture, GPU called for total removal or revision of the highlighted clauses to ensure they do not infringe on fundamental rights and freedoms.

It added that the Bill should be subjected to a review by a special committee of the National Assembly and it should be open to public consultations.

‘The Gambia Press Union is willing and ready to contribute to any such public consultation with a view to improving the Cybercrime Bill, 2023 in line with international human rights standard,’ GUP added.

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