The goal of this article is to make the case that the Cybercrime law in Jordan is unnecessary, and that it does not protect citizens from anything that the penal code did not already protect us from. So how did the public react to it?
Since adopting the Cybercrime law in 2015, many Jordanians have expressed their concerns about it or questioned the necessity of having this law, but Legislators believe that the creation of a Cybercrime law is important in order to keep up with the technology of the internet and social media, as there are several ramifications that society will face if we do not have a law that addresses online/cyber issues.
The main reason we have a specific law for cyber-crimes is due to the fact that the internet is an ever-evolving technology that affects every citizen in their day-to-day life, it is a social space that needs to be regulated and controlled. Why a specific Cybercrime law though? Is it possible that updating the penal code to fit contemporary challenges would be a more practical, just and effective solution?
The implications of official justification of legislating this law might fly over the heads of citizens but human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists in Jordan have expressed their refusal of it since day one, specifically due to the fact that the law does not solve Cyber Crimes it just states more technical terms to the same crimes that are mentioned in the penal code. Take the theft of private information as an example, it is criminalised in the Cybercrime law as well as the penal code. Hacking is criminalised in the Cybercrime law and it is also criminalised in the penal code as the crime of invasion of privacy. Not to mention crimes that are stated in the Cybercrime law to prevent fake news, promoting prostitution, promoting terrorist groups and so on, they are well addressed and specifically mentioned in the penal code with penalties and punishments.
The Cybercrime law is both specific and broad; it’s specific because it talks about crimes that happen online (Cybercrimes) only and broad because it gives multiple crimes the same punishment, broad and specific to the point that its penalties are not more effective and preventive of the crimes than the penal code, The penal code links a specific punishment for each specific crime, meanwhile it is noticed that the Cybercrime law gives one type of punishment for a wide range of unrelated crimes.
When designing a modern law for such socio technical matters, clarity and specification are priorities and can not be formulated and handled in a very general and vague form as it is now.
The Cybercrime Law also does not differentiate between slander, humiliation, and defamation of a person and the criticism of government officials or public figures in Article 11, it is very loose and can be and has been used to restrict freedom of speech.
The Cybercrime law addresses two types of crimes online, the first type is a crime that takes place on the internet such as hacking, breaching confidentiality of protected data stored on computers, accessing computers without authority and sharing fake news and so on, such types of crimes cause damage that requires specific tools to undo or target the computers as such. We understand the importance of having a Cybercrime law that will prevent such crimes from happening. The second type of crimes that this law addresses are ends and the internet and computers are a means to them, such as promoting prostitution, promoting terrorist groups, slander, defamation, threats, extortion. These crimes are well addressed and specifically criminalised in the Penal Code.
What we find odd in the Cybercrime law is that it criminalises slander, defamation, and extortion in which the means were the internet, it is strange to criminalise the means of these crimes as ends although those ends are addressed in the Penal Code regardless of the means and tools, whether it is the internet or otherwise. Article 11 of the Cybercrime law imposes tougher penalties on slander, defamation, and humiliation and its punishment in the Penal Code is imprisonment from one to six months, and in the Cybercrime law the punishment is imprisonment for a period of no less than three months, if the sentence is more than 3 months then the sentence cannot be replaced with a fine which is another one of the issues of Article 11 in the Cybercrime law.
One of the differences in Article 11 of the Cybercrime Law, which differs from the Penal Code, is that Article 11 does not differentiate between the crimes, it gives equal sentences to the aforementioned crimes; various kinds of crimes become equal in the lady justice’s blind eyes.
In conclusion, we are not saying that the cyberspace is not to be legally regulated, but an entire law dedicated only for the cyber activities is not necessary protecting us and does not effectively do so, whatever it claims to guard against could easily be circumvented by simply updating the existing penal code to an e-compatible version. And this update could be done routinely to face the contemporary issues our society faces as they arise, taking steady steps forward in the journey of our legal system, and the changes in the legal system will be in proportion with the changes in the legal problems we face.
If removing the whole law is out of reach, at least revise it and make amendments of some of its articles, Article 11 for example, which is -as I have argued- unnecessary. That is a must if we want to achieve the safest and the most just cyberspace.