Reporters Without Borders urges Guyanese Parliament to amend drafted Cybercrime Bill

Last Updated on Thursday, 7 June 2018, 20:53 by Denis Chabrol

The Chamber of the National Assembly, Parliament Building.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on Thursday urged the Guyanese Parliament to amend its drafted Cybercrime Bill, which could have a damaging effect on press freedom.

On June 7, RSF sent a letter to Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo outlining its concerns with the legislation.

While the Guyanese government has a legitimate interest in regulating the internet to ensure certain criminal activity—such as computer fraud, identity theft, and child pornography—don’t take place, RSF is concerned with several provisions of this proposed legislation that could have a deterrent effect on journalists’ reporting.

For example, Section 9 criminalizes receiving data one is not “authorised” to receive, regardless of whether that person knows the data was obtained by “unauthorised” means from the sender. This could pose a threat to press freedom if used to penalize journalists for publishing reports based on information from confidential sources. Equally alarming, Section 18 allows officials to prosecute online speech they believe to excite “disaffection” toward the government, and without a clear definition of “disaffection,” the range of punishable speech is effectively unlimited. Even worse, it could create a significant liability risk for journalists publishing articles that may be deemed critical of the state.

“RSF has sent this letter to Prime Minister Nagamootoo because, as it exists, the proposed cybercrime legislation could have a serious chilling effect on press freedom in Guyana,” said Margaux Ewen, RSF’s North America Director. “Provisions like Section 18, the sedition clause, could pose significant risks for journalists publishing articles that may be deemed critical of the state or government officials, especially given the letter’s vague and subjective language.”

These provisions are all the more dangerous because the Bill provides for wide-ranging jurisdiction and gives the police and judicial authorities broad authority to access the personal data of those under investigation. Section 37, for example, 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, 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.