Human Rights Watch, 12 organizations urge withdrawal of cybercrimes law

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(File photo: Jordan News)
AMMANHuman Rights Watch joined Access Now, ARTICLE 19, and 11 other organizations on July 24, 2023, in urging the Jordanian government to withdraw the cybercrime law. The bill, they claim in their statement, “would further undermine free speech online, threaten internet users’ right to anonymity, and introduce new authority to control social media that would pave the way for an alarming surge in online censorship”.اضافة اعلان

Due to the repressive, ambiguous, and complex nature of the proposed law, Jordanian legislators must explore alternative, rights-respecting ways of addressing concerns around hate speech and disinformation, which are not unique to Jordan, Jo24 News reported.

The draft, which is intends to replace Jordan’s 2015 cybercrimes law, consists of 41 articles compared with the previous law’s 15 articles.

The draft legislation, they state, will ultimately fail in achieving the Jordanian government’s stated goals of tackling “disinformation,” “hate speech,” and “online defamation.”

They listed the four main reasons for their displeasure with the draft law, which are as follows:

‘It uses overly broad, vaguely defined terms’
They cite the use of imprecise, vague, and undefined terminology, such as “fake news,” “promoting, instigating, aiding or inciting immorality,” “online assassination of personality,” “provoking strife,” “undermining national unity,” and “contempt for religions.” Such language fails to meet international law requirements for legal texts to be formulated with sufficient precision to allow individuals to regulate their conduct accordingly.

Such vague terminology openly allows for the punishment of individuals exercising their right to freedom of expression. “Indeed, Jordanian authorities have a track record of using vague and overly broad criminal provisions to suppress free speech and assembly, most notably within the 1954 Crime Prevention Law, the 1960 Penal Code, the 2006 Anti-Terrorism Law, and the 2015 Cybercrime Law,” the statement elaborates.

It will hamper free expression and access to information, and increase online censorshipUnder article 24 of the draft law, anyone who publishes the names or pictures of law enforcement officials online, or any information or news about them that may offend or harm, without prior authorization, faces a minimum prison sentence of three months and a fine ranging from JD5,000 to JD25,000.

These removes the possibility of criticizing government officials. The signatories state, “the right to share offensive content and to publicly criticize officials is central to international freedom of expression standards, as set out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Jordan has ratified. This article could reinforce self-censorship and censorship, by limiting the general public’s ability to speak out on law enforcement officials’ behavior and allowing only a selected, pre-authorized group to speak on certain topics.” Furthermore it means that these officials cannot be held accountable for their actions.

This law also makes it so that no injured party needs to issue a complaint when the victim is a government official or entity, meaning that there can be charges without anyone issuing the charges.

They continue to elaborate, “Article 33 also restricts people’s ability to express their opinions online, as it allows the competent public prosecutor or court to order any website, , or person responsible for a public account to remove or block content deemed to have violated the law, to temporarily ban the user or publisher, and to hand over relevant information, including users’ personal data.”

It will weaken online anonymity
Furthermore they wish to make online anonymity illegal, with a fine of JD2,500 to JD25,000 for anyone “circumvent[ing] the IP address by using a fictitious address or an address belonging to a third party, or by any other means, with the intent of committing a crime or preventing its discovery” possibly through the use of VPNs, proxies, and Tor.

The signatories state, that while restrictions on encryption and anonymity might be beneficial in pursuing known criminal entities, “any restrictions on encryption and anonymity must be targeted, necessary, proportionate, and made on a case-by-case basis. This article will force individuals to choose between keeping their identity secure and being able to express their opinions freely online.”

In his 2015 report on encryption, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression stated that, “Encryption and anonymity provide individuals and groups with a zone of privacy online to hold opinions and exercise freedom of expression without arbitrary and unlawful interference or attacks.” This is especially relevant for political opponents, human rights defenders, or investigative journalists, whose participation in public discourse will be restricted if the draft is adopted in its current version.

It introduces new controls over social media
Article 37 would require social media companies with more than 100,000 subscribers in Jordan to have offices in the country, in order to respond to requests and notices by judicial authorities and government officials. The penalty for noncompliance would include banning advertisements on the platform and gradually restricting bandwidth via internet throttling to make the platform slow or unusable.

“This presents serious risks to the right to freedom of expression. At a time when people in Jordan are already deprived of spaces and forums to express their opinions, the government wants to further its power to all platforms of expression, through the passing of ambiguous and repressive laws. Given Jordan’s judicial system lacks independence and is frequently used to prosecute human rights defenders, activists, journalists, and political opponents, this law offers a dark prospect of Jordan’s civic space.”

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