Cybercrimes Bill deadline extended

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The Cybercrimes and Cybersecurity Bill has been doing the rounds since 2015. That should tell you how important it is and how much of a pig’s ear has been made of it up until now.

With the Bill inching ever closer to being signed into law, the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services is calling on the public for input.

To that end, the deadline for anyone interested in the proposed Bill has been extended until 28th July 2017. Members of the public can make a written submission to Parliament by emailing Committee Secretary, Mr Vhonani Ramaano. Verbal presentations have yet to be scheduled.

Now, before you roll your eyes and click on another story, it’s worth having a look at this bill. The reason being is that, while possibly well intended, there are certain parts of it that are so broadly defined they are woefully open to abuse.

For example, under the proposed bill, whistleblowers and journalists have no protection. If data is obtained by unlawful means – even if the information it contains is in the public interest – both the whistleblower who leaked it and journalist who published it can face criminal proceedings.

This means, for example, the recent Gupta emails may never have seen the light of day; the proposed Bill could have a chilling effect on the willingness on both sources to come forward and journalists to print what they say.

You may not care about journalists (or whistleblowers for that matter) so consider this: making a meme could land you in hot water.

Chapter 3, Section 16 of the bill reads thus:
Any person who unlawfully makes available, broadcasts or distributes, by means of a computer system, a data message to a specific person, group of persons or the general public with the intention to incite—
(a) the causing of any damage to any property belonging to; or

(b) violence against, a person or a group of persons, is guilty of an offence.

Sounds pretty innocuous, right? Well, imagine you created a meme – much like the one doing the rounds in which Donald Trump clotheslines ‘CNN’ – and you substituted the head of The Don with Julius Malema’s and ‘CCN’s’ with Jacob Zuma. It could be argued that you are inciting violence against the President. In which case, you’re guilty of an offence.

This bill impacts on everyone from corporate entities to private individuals, so it’s worth checking out and making your feelings known.

“Despite what people think, using the procedures in place actually works. The relevant committees that oversee this take the public comments seriously and will often implement or require those comments be addressed and will not allow the legislation to proceed until this is adequately done so,” says Nicholas Hall, an associate at the Michaelsons legal firm.

“Parliament has to deal with public submissions. It can ignore online petitions, so go for the avenue that works,” he adds.