A new Cybercrime Law was recently issued by Royal Decree 12/2011. This new law criminalizes a very wide set of activities that relate to information technology systems and websites. Prior to the passing of the Cybercrime Law, issues of cybercrime were somewhat fragmentarily regulated by the Criminal Law and various bits and pieces of different legislation. This new law has a comprehensively wide scope and makes offense a variety of activities that may be performed using technology ranging from accessing a website or an information system without authorization and defacing a website, to using information technology methods for the purpose of money laundering, trafficking in people, and organizing terrorist groups – just to mention a few of the things specified in the Cybercrime Law.
A very interesting aspect of the new Cybercrime Law is the new offense of using the internet or any information technology means such as camera-equipped mobile phones to violate the sanctity of private and family life of individuals through the capture of photographs or spreading news, sound or video recordings connected to it, even if the information disclosed is true.
I do not believe that we ever had a provision in the law in Oman before which explicitly addresses the issue of privacy in such a manner. This provision is distinct from defamation or insults as the act will be considered an offence even if it exposes a true fact about the person – as long as that fact is private. The true scope of the provision is unknown yet, and even though it is limited to situations involving information technology, the fact that it now exists is a great accomplishment for the Omani legal system in attempting to protect basic human rights such as the right for privacy and family life. It is unfortunate though that the law seems to be limited to the mere concept of privacy to have sensitive information about your life not exposed and does not extend the right of privacy in the sense of having the right to be left alone which could have helped regulate the practice of sending unsolicited commercial messages and spam.
Another interesting provision in the new Cybercrime Law is the prohibition of using the internet or information technology methods to produce, display, distribute, make available, publish, purchase, sell, or import pornographic material as long as that material is not made for a scientific or a licensed artistic purpose. While the prohibition of pornographic material is not really something new, the fact that the law provides for an exemption for using what could be normally considered as pornographic material if that material is licensed to be used for an artistic work. This indicates a positive movement towards a generally more flexible system where people can be given the opportunity to experience artistic works in their original form without being censored or modified in order to abide by traditional rules of what is appropriate or not. The law does not go into detail as to what sort of works will qualify as artistic works or even the authority that is responsible for issuing this license, but at least we know now that censorship is not the only option.
The new Cybercrime Law is a comprehensive piece of legislation that touches upon a great number of offences and is clearly a move in the right direction.
This post was originally published as a column on Muscat Daily.