Cybercrime bill ignores importance of civil liberties


Dear Editor,

Cybersecurity is an essential part of a nation state’s national security strategy. Cybersecurity impacts the life of every citizen in their daily activities. The impact results from the increased use and improvement of information and communication technologies (ICT), and several international bodies recommend developing national cybersecurity strategies to protect ICT infrastructure. These recommendations include securing government support, implementing a legal framework, and considering the protection of civil liberties. The Organization of American States (OAS) recognizes the need for government support and agrees with the recommendations above. The OAS partners with several countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to develop their legal framework and cybersecurity strategies. These developments are carried out by a working group focused on ministers and attorneys general of member countries. As a member, Guyana participates in the development of a legal framework to combat cybercrime and foster international cooperation. In 2013, Guyana responded to a first questionnaire for the eighth meeting of the Working Group on Cybercrime. Emphasis was placed on legislation, international society, national efforts, cybercrime prosecution and training. Guyana has confirmed that intercepting network communications and unlawfully possessing child pornography is a criminal act. However, the country has not criminalized illegal access, data interference, system interference, misuse of devices, computer tampering, computer fraud, copyright violations and other applicable cyber crimes. At that time, the country was not prosecuting any individual, and they said there was no difficulty with prosecution. The former government of Guyana PANU+AFC has implemented the Cybercrime Bill (2018) including all items of the questionnaire developed by the Cybercrime Working Group. The elements reflected the thinking and work of the group in the context of a legal framework. Guyana has extended this to include “sedition offences” and “using a computer system to coerce, harass, intimidate, among other languages, a person”, which calls into question the adequacy of civil liberties protections. . The decision to develop laws in response to external responsibilities boded well for the nation. However, the government has created an ethical dilemma in interpreting sedition offenses and using a computer to coerce.

Description of offences: The Cybercrime Bill (2018) contains a section, Section 18(1), which states that a person commits sedition if he publishes media which arouses contempt towards the government. This offense is supported by language that a person is guilty of using a computer to advocate a change of government or commit treason. The clause also includes language that provides protection for the President, Prime Minister and government ministers from criticism within sovereign territory – the digital borders. The law attempts to include people residing inside and outside the country and provides for a five-year prison term. The Cybercrime Bill (2018) contains another section, Section 19(1), which states that it is a crime to use a computer to coerce, humiliate, stalk, harass and, among other things, other person. The article includes language that it is criminal to publish vulgar, profane and obscene media that creates emotional distress. The offense also includes using a computer system to extort, publicly ridicule and hate a person or group. This offense carries a fine of five million dollars and a prison term of three years. The national pattern of facts: Guyana is a multi-ethnic country with people sharing opposing political and religious beliefs. Transparency Institute Guyana Inc. agrees with several elements of the bill: cyberbullying, child pornography, revenge porn, blackmail and copyright infringement. However, Article 18 (1) infringes freedom of expression. The language of sedition is very subjective because feelings of disloyalty to the government cannot be measured. The trauma theory of betrayal and how an affected individual perceives it highlights the problems of coming to terms with an individual’s lived experience, “especially in the face of social pressures”. There is a similarity between Section 18 and Section 19. Although it is a crime to harass and intimidate an individual, there is a fine line between freedom of expression and the subjectivity of the law. In recent years, social media has provided a platform to express discontent against specific people, companies and groups. The government could use these articles to control dissenting narratives. According to Transparency Institute Guyana Inc., there is no protection for anyone who posts on social media any provocative statement about the president. There are exceptions described in paragraph 4 of the bill which provides a restrictive structure for criticizing the government. Fixing the problem: The sedition clause is an attempt to legislate uncommon respect for government officials. The values ​​of individualism versus collectivism, high versus low power distance, and high versus low uncertainty avoidance describe this misaligned norm. There are several doctrines to improve cybersecurity. These doctrines include prevention, risk management and deterrence through accountability. In the case of Guyana, the Cyber ​​Crime Bill (2018) also fails to prioritize the country’s economic and security concerns. Further analysis demonstrates the debilitating conditions under which organizations, such as the media, operate in the country. Therefore, policy makers need to take a holistic approach and create a seamless environment for public-private partnerships to promote economic growth and national security.

Areas for improvement: The applicability of the Tallinn Manuals to South African national policies. The country is trying to address the problem of cybercrime by developing similar cybercrime laws. However, Ramluckan (2019) identifies criticisms of the cybercrime bill and the limited attention given to national organizations and penalties for breaches. Specifically, the inapplicability of jus in bello and jus ad bellum to the laws of the land and progress in this area. As a result, the narrow focus on misaligned concerns does not sufficiently secure the country. The Cybercrime Task Force focuses more on international society, which member countries incorporate into cybercrime laws. Guyana’s cybercrime bill is in line with the group’s intentions but expands it to include articles that violate ethical principles such as civil liberty. National legislators have missed the importance of cybersecurity strategies, which support national laws through a uniform framework. The doctrine of deterrence through accountability affects desired behavior and reflects accepted norms. For Guyana to foster a higher vision based on national, international, and sovereign cybersecurity needs, there must be a socio-technical systems approach to improving education, policy, and technology. Cybersecurity is an essential part of a nation-state’s national security strategy as it impacts the lives of citizens in their day-to-day activities. The Guyana Cybercrime Bill (2018) begins to address cybersecurity challenges such as cybercrime. However, the bill includes sections that are inconsistent with the intentions of the Cybercrime Task Force and international standards. The bill ignores the importance of civil liberties as part of the national cybersecurity strategy; moreover, it does not respond adequately to the myriad of challenges – present and future.


Dr. Dustin Fraser


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