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Thursday 22 February 2018
News

Opposition sounds warning on Cyber Bill

A cyber-crime bill proposed by the Government could clamp down on the free exchange of online information including the recent revelations of scandals/controversies involving Government officials, the Opposition warned last Friday.

The Lower House debated the Trinidad and Tobago Cyber Security Agency Bill 2014.

La Brea MP Fitzgerald Jeffrey alleged the bill was brought by the Government in order to plug the leakage of information such as in the emailgate affair, the Room 201 affair and the two UNC emails revealing the UNC’s tactics for General Election 2015 recently aired at a PNM rally at San Juan.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see who that’s designed to protect,” said Jeffrey. “It means no more ‘Room 201’. In a political meeting, if someone gives me an email you can’t release it. That cannot be right!”

Saying the bill seeks to protect the Government, he said danger lies ahead. “Without whistleblower legislation, it (the ‘Cyber Bill’) means that you have to keep your mouth shut,” he said.

Jeffrey said rather than the Cyber Bill, Parliament should instead be debating how to stop murders which he said now stand at 193 for the year so far. Addressing the nuts and bolts of the bill, Jeffrey bemoaned that if the board of directors of the Cyber Security Agency is to be appointed by the line minister, the board will not be independent, and so instead should be named by the President of the Republic. He urged care in the naming of the board, relating several ill-suited appointees to boards by the Government.

St Joseph MP Terrence Deyalsingh said the Opposition supports the idea of the cyber legislation, but disagrees with the bill presented by the Government, as he alleged certain deficiencies in it. He said the bill could clamp down on both the formal media and informal emails between friends and discussions via social networking sites especially of photos or information that is supposed to be confidential. Deyalsingh asked how widely the Government had consulted before drafting the bill, asking if it had inputs from the Media Association of TT (MATT) or the Law Association?

Challenging the bill’s criteria for the board chairman — such as having a knowledge and experience of computer networks and Internet security — he scoffed that this “nebulous” criteria could validly be met by Reshmi Ramnarine, a lowly telephone operator once named to head the country’s top spy agency.

Deyalsingh asked if the drafters of the Cyber Bill had firstly considered how it would tie in with existing laws such as the Telecommunications Act, Electronic Monitoring Act and Interception of Communications Act.

He feared that under the Cyber Bill several common-place practices such as simply forwarding an e-mail containing confidential information could constitute a crime. Asking for the policy behind the bill, he said its focus should be on protecting vital national infrastructure (such as the banking system) rather than be about getting into the private lives of individuals.

Accusing the Government of flip-flopping regarding media freedoms, he said this bill imposes penalties for wrongful publication of information that re-criminalises the offence of libel, in contrast to the Government last year abolishing the old offence of criminal libel. Deyalsingh urged the media to watch the bill carefully.

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