Categories
Uncategorized

New Cybercrime Law

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.

Categories
Uncategorized

Freedom of Expression and the Telecommunications Law

A couple of weeks ago the status of human rights in Oman was examined at the Universal Periodic Review of the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the international community praised the efforts Oman has made for the continuous development of the country, but also pointed out that a lot can be done to help improve a number of human rights such as the existence of the capital punishment in Oman, the treatment of foreign labour, the formation of civil associations, and the freedom of expression. Oman stated that it will consider some of the recommendations made at the review and that it will report any actions it will take in regard to these recommendations.

Article 29 of the Basic Statute of the State of Oman guarantees the freedom of expression within the limits of the law. There is no such thing as an absolute freedom of expression because our right to freely express ourselves should not infringe on the rights of other people not to be insulted or defamed. The problem in Oman is that the scope of the offence of defamation is not clearly defined and the Criminal Law does not provide any helpful defences to protect those who have a legitimate reason to criticise others. In addition to this, the Telecommunication Law holds owners of websites strictly liable for comments made by other people on their website regardless of whether or not the owner of the website had a chance to look at that comment or whether or not the owner had any reason to think that this comment would be offensive to others.

The current recognition of freedom of expression by the Basic Statute of the State is not very helpful because we do not know its actual scope in real life, the law can certainly benefit from a revision that clearly defines what defamation means. Defamation should be considered as such only when someone makes an untrue statement about someone else that lowers the opinion of that person in the mind of other people. If a statement is true then there shall be no reason why someone should be punished for making that statement, even if that statement harms the reputation of a person. The concept of defamation should distinguish between expressions made as a statement of fact and expressions of opinion. Everyone should have the right to state his opinion regardless of whether people liked that opinion or not, but no one should be able to claim something as a fact when it is not.

What is even vaguer than the concept of defamation in the Criminal Law, is the concept of “a message contrary to public order and moral” specified in Article 61(4) of the Telecommunication Law and for which a webmaster can be held liable even if posted by other people on his website. The law should specify exactly what sort of messages would be offensive (defamation of people, insulting a religion, spreading racial hatred, etc) and then provide a workable mechanism for webmasters to have a defence against that defence in the situations where the webmaster did not have any reason to think that such a message was offensive or did not have any reasonable opportunity to remove the offensive content once he knew that the message will be considered as legally offensive.

The great thing about the Universal Periodic Review of the UN’s Office of High Commissioner of Human Rights is that it puts governments under the spot and forces them to at least consider ways by which they can improve human rights in their countries. It will be interesting to see how Oman officially responds to these recommendations, especially as one recommendation specifically suggested that Oman reviews its Telecommunications Law to help empower people to practise their right for the freedom of expression.

This post was originally published as a column on Muscat Daily.