Why Reporters Without Borders Had to Write to St. Vincent’s PM

ralph gonsalves

Reporters Without Borders US Director Delphine Halgand yesterday sent off the letter to Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves. (Photo Credit: Luis Acosta/AFP)

 

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent, Thursday July 28, 2016 – There’s a piece of legislation now before the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Parliament that’s worrying Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

And the international organization that promotes and defends freedom of information and freedom of the press has taken those concerns right to the top.

RSF has sent a letter to Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves and his Minister of Information Camillo Gonsalves, urging him not to pass the Cybercrime Bill unless there are major revisions to parts of it.

In the correspondence sent by its US Director Delphine Halgand yesterday, RSF agreed that people who commit crimes using the Internet should not escape the authority of the law, and that it is perfectly legitimate to sanction such crimes and offences as the theft of documents or data, online identity theft, cyberbullying or child pornography which the Bill seeks to address, some clauses are “extremely damaging to the free flow of news and information and to public debate”.

Creating Obstacles

It cited, as an example, Section 16 (2) of Part II that incorporates criminal libel, which is already a criminal offence in Section 274 of the criminal code.

Section 16 (3) states: “A person who, intentionally or recklessly uses a computer system to disseminate any information, statement or image; and exposes the private affairs of another person, thereby subjecting that other person to public ridicule, contempt, hatred or embarrassment, commits an offence.”

Offenders can be sentenced to up to five years’ imprisonment and/or pay a fine of EC$200,000 (US$74,074).

“Under what criteria can information be considered to expose “private affairs” of another person regardless of factual accuracy (which this subsection refrains from mentioning)?” RSF said. “This provision could very easily constitute an obstacle to the dissemination of information of public interest. It could, for example, provide any demonstrably corrupt public figure with a strong argument for refusing to be held accountable.”

Language Subjective

Clause 16 also defines cyberbullying as using “a computer system repeatedly or continuously to convey information which causes fear, intimidation, humiliation, distress or other harm to another person; or detriment to another person’s health, emotional well-being, self-esteem or reputation.”

RSF said this language remains subjective and could be broadly interpreted in a manner that negatively impacts the free flow of information.

The organization is also concerned about the range of the bill’s applicability. Clause 31 of Part III states that “an act [constituting an offence] is carried out in St Vincent and the Grenadines if the effect of the act, or the damage resulting from the act, occurs within St Vincent and the Grenadines.”

“Here again, the lack of precision about the nature of the effect to which this clause refers could result in significant obstacles to freedom of information,” it said.

“The danger posed by these provisions is, in our view, all the greater because the law gives the police and judicial authorities a great deal of scope to access the personal data of someone who is being investigated.”

The RSF ended its letter by urging Gonsalves not to pass the Bill in its present form and to amend the most sensitive clauses as well as the criminal code to de-criminalize defamation.

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