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Opposition MP Terrence Deyalsingh says media workers will be facing heavy fines and jail terms for breaches under the new cybercrime legislation being debated in Parliament if it becomes law. Deyalsingh was the first to respond to the legislation, which was presented yesterday by National Security Minister Gary Griffith.
It seeks to create at least 17 new cybercrime offences. The legislation contravenes Sections 3 and 4 of the Constitution and consequently requires a special three-fifths majority vote for passage. But Deyalsingh, from early in his contribution, said the Opposition was not going to support the legislation, despite agreeing that it was needed. He said Section 21 (1) and (2) of the bill targeted the media.
Deyalsingh said while the Government last year amended the defamation law to prevent journalists from being given jail terms for breaches, the new bill has provisions for jail terms to be imposed on the media. “They are now putting it back (criminal libel) with harsher penalties,” he argued. Deyalsingh, the St Joseph MP, said the Government has betrayed their “friends in the media” by presenting the bill.
The MP said he would like to get the media to give their opinion on Section 21 of the bill. He also told legislators he wanted “to know if certain Facebook bullies are going to be caught under this (legislation).” He then referred to “Mr PEA, especially—a cyberbully, if ever there was one. A good friend of the Government, an apologist of the Government.”
He said under Section 23 of the proposed legislation, “bodies corporate,” including media houses, are subject to certain penalties for breaches and the proposed law has “more onerous terms and you jail them for longer.”
He said Griffith must tell the Parliament if they consulted with the Media Association of T&T on the bill. He also wanted to know the Caribbean Association of Media Workers, Law Association and Criminal Bar Association’s views on the bill.
Deyalsingh said the Opposition was not opposing the legislation for opposing sake, but seeking to uphold the Constitution. He said Griffith did not explain what was the articulation of the legislation and the T&T Police Cybercrime Unit.
During the debate, Minister of State in the Environment Ministry Ramona Ramdial said the legislation was necessary to deal with instances of hacking. She recalled that over a year ago her e-mail was hacked and upon investigation by the police, it was traced to a Nigerian in the UK who was seeking money from her friends via her e-mail address. Opposition MP Fitzgerald Jeffrey also told Parliament his e-mail was hacked recently, so too did Cumuto/Manzanilla MP Collin Partap in his contribution.
Section 21. (1) A person who uses a computer system to–
(a) coerce, intimidate or harass another person with intent to cause emotional distress; or
(b) cyberbully, intentionally or recklessly, another person, commits an offence.
(2) A person who uses a computer system to disseminate any information, statement or image, knowing the same to be false, and who–
(a) damages the reputation of another person;
(b) subjects another person to public ridicule, contempt, hatred or embarrassment, commits an offence.