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Thursday 19 April 2018
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Govt/media to meet on Cyber Bill

A FOUR-PERSON Cabinet team will meet media groups at 10 am tomorrow to discuss the controversial Cyber Crime Bill 2015 which critics say could hurt media freedom, revealed Housing Minister, Dr Roodal Moonilal.

He spoke to reporters yesterday at the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), St Clair, after the regular Monday governmental parliamentary caucus, which had discussed the bill which is now before Parliament.

He said a Cabinet team — Communications Minister, Vasant Bharath (chairman); Attorney -General Garvin Nicholas; Minister of National Security, Brig Carl Alfonso; and Minister of Food Production, Devant Maharaj — will meet the Media Association of TT (MATT) and the TT Publishers and Broadcasters Association (TTPBA) for more-detailed talks.

The Cabinet team will then report to the parliamentary caucus next Monday, and in the interim no vote will be taken on the Bill in Parliament.

The Bill was introduced into the Lower House by Alfonso on May 1 and debated last Wednesday and Friday.

Media groups have expressed particular concern over clauses nine and 13 which respectively outlaw the illegal acquisition of computer data (with penalties of up to three years jail, and a $500,000 fine), and the unauthorised receipt of such data (punishable by similar penalties).

Moonilal said the Government does not aim to muzzle the freedom of the media or freedom of expression, and will work towards striking a balance between those rights and the need for regulation. He admitted to knowing of concerns of clauses nine, 13, 19 and 20, the latter two outlawing the sending of multiple unsolicited messages and harassment respectively. Asked if a new clause in the bill could be drafted to exclude journalism from the strictures, Moonilal said such an exclusion could be done by “occupation” or by “sector”, and that there could be a public interest clause, presumably for journalists and/or whistle-blowers.

He justified the bill by saying serious penalties are needed in this era of a global occurrence of cyber offences such as hacking and illegal wire transfers.

He used the occasion to recall instances under the former People’s National Movement regime where journalists were harassed such as the raid on a radio station (under former prime minister, Patrick Manning).

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