Gonsalves says Cybercrime Bill not meant to stifle free speech

Gonsalves says Cybercrime Bill not meant to stifle free speech

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

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KINGSTOWN, St Vincent (CMC) — Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves has brushed aside suggestions that he is seeking to stifle free expression in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Gonsalves, speaking on a radio programme here on Tuesday, also dismissed remarks that the Cybercrime Bill — which is now before the Parliament — is designed to protect him and other members of the ruling Unity Labour Party (ULP).

"That’s absolute rubbish," Gonsalves said. "I am telling you and the facts show that this is a regional effort with assistance from consultancies outside of the region and this process has started since 2013."

Gonsalves said that consultations were held in St Vincent and the Grenadines over two days with various stakeholders.

"It is true that it is when I introduced the Bill in the House on the 31st of May that it sunk into people and we had the Bill published and people have sent in memoranda and there’s been a long discussion and we’ve involved people in the Bill in the select committee to sit permanently to help us to make the bill better," Gonsalves said, noting that the opposition chose to boycott the select committee.

At least three international media organisations — including the Austria-based Inter-Press Institute (IPI), the US-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and regional media group, the Association of Caribbean MediaWorkers (ACM) — have expressed reservations about some aspects of the legislation.

In his radio interview, Prime Minister Gonsalves cited illegal access or remaining in a computer, illegal data interception, illegal interference, illegal acquisition of data and illegal systems interference, among others as offences contained in the legislation.

He said the proposed legislation also contained offences related to the critical infrastructure for the computer, identity-related crimes, computer-related forgery, computer-related fraud, child pornography, violation of privacy, sexual harassment by electronic communication, cyber-bullying of children and vulnerable people, and asked if they all relate to him.

"Gonsalves said that Clause 7 of the original Bill — which criminalises a person who, intentionally and without lawful excuse or justification, obtains for himself or for another person, computer data which is not meant for him or the other person and which is protected against unauthorised access — has been altered to include a public interest exception.

The revised Bill states that particular subsection does not apply to a person who shows that in the particular circumstances the obtaining was justified in the public interest.

The proposed legislation, however, notes that nothing in that section shall be construed as protecting the unauthorised access (a) to personal data consisting of information of a person’s physical or mental health; or (b) to any other information the disclosure of which is prohibited by law from disclosure.

"So that if someone gets some information that a public official, a politician or whatsoever is corrupt, they get data on it, you obtain it, this information, when you publish it, they can’t come at you because you will have what is called a public interest defence, which did not exist before when the bill was originally drafted and the way in which some people have passed it in the region," Gonsalves told radio listeners.

He also said that the legislation makes references to certain national security information.

"So that if anybody gets any information about …your personal — or me, about my mental or physical health, you wouldn’t have the public interest defence but the society may well be saying but you should disclose it if it hampers you from functioning," said Gonsalves, reiterating his support for criminal libel, even as he noted that the Grenada government was "persuaded" to remove it from the law books.

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