Despite the negative international press that the recently passed “Computer Misuse and Cybercrime Act, 2014” has been receiving, and the fact that the International Press Institute (IPI) has appealed to Governor Boyd McCleary to postpone the required assenting of the legislation, Government insists that the complaints are based on misunderstandings, and confirmed no intention to amend the Act.
Even before its March passage in the House of Assembly the measure has generated harsh criticism from local, regional and international media, and calls were made for the Act to be amended, specifically where it relates to the penalties to be meted against contraveners.
In view of the opposition generated by the Act, the Government Information Service on 18 February issued a press release that labelled opposing articles as “erroneous,” and stated that the Act was drafted following the ugly and much clamored misappropriation and misuse of private and confidential information from the BVI in April 2013. The press release also stressed that the Act does not criminalise legitimate free speech, but is designed to protect confidential data and information while preventing its misuse.
“Although the BVI Criminal Code, 1997 has certain provisions for the criminalising of certain acts of computer misuse, it does not sufficiently address the other aspects of cybercrime. To this end, the Computer Misuse and Cybercrime Act, 2013 seeks to provide a comprehensive approach to deterring and punishing illegal activities relating to cybercrime and misuse of information,” the release added.
During the debate of the Bill Premier Dr. the Hon. D. Orlando Smith informed Opposition Members, who also expressed concern, that there was nothing extreme about what the Act sets out. In fact, the new law was passed despite requests from the Opposition to have the legislation sent to a select committee of the House of Assembly.
On the day of the Act’ passage, Premier Smith told the House: “After a careful review of the views that have been expressed with regard to the Bill, I have come to the considered position that we must proceed with the enactment of the Bill….Generally, the Bill has been erroneously portrayed as innovative and designed to muzzle the right to free speech and the freedom of the press. The truth is: the Bill is about none of those matters.”
On 26 March via an article on its website the International Press Institute disclosed that IPI Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie sent a letter to Governor McCleary asking him to reconsider assenting to the legislation which she noted has the potential to penalize journalists.
The article said that Mrs. McKenzie urged the Governor to return the Act to the House of Assembly to include provisions that would protect journalists publishing data presented to them and that may be of public interest.
The IPI noted that it was concerned that under that law, anyone who publishes unlawfully obtained information from a protected computer – defined as one containing data related to national security, international relations and financial services businesses – could face up to 15 years in prison and/or a fine of US$500,000.
“In order to become law, the bill must still receive royal assent from the governor. Although withholding his assent and requesting the House of Assembly to include a public interest section would mark a rare use of the mostly figurehead governor’s power, IPI believes that allowing this bill to become law would cast a dark shadow on journalistic practices in the Caribbean and beyond,” the letter added.
In light of the IPI letter, the question of whether Government intended to make amendments were put to Premier Smith at a press conference on 10 April and the BVI Leader did not indicate any worry about the request that was made to Governor McCleary.
Instead Dr. Smith told reporters: “The cyber crime law actually restates in many instance what already exists in the Criminal Code we haven’t had any change what did change was the fines because we think that it important that people understand that from the point of view of the industry that people must have confidence in the jurisdiction.”
He added: “Of course we are concerned [about request to Governor]and we have listened to what they have said, and have prepared the necessary responses, but like I have said what we have done is basically reproduce the Criminal Code Act. There hasn’t really been any change.”