There is no doubt that cybercrime needs to be addressed and regulated head-on. However, we have serious concerns about a new cybercrime law that is shortly due to take effect in Jordan.
The new law unduly restricts and criminalises online activities by individuals and organisations. It imposes penalties for publishing content that may offend law enforcement officials. This will potentially silence criticism and undermine public accountability. It also penalizes circumvention of IP addresses and allows the removal or the blocking of content by the authorities without appropriate judicial oversight.
Among the broad and vaguely defined cyber offences in the legislation are “promoting, instigating aiding or inciting immorality”, “character assassination”; “ inciting sedition or undermining national unity”; and “contempt for religions”. These formulations target the content of online expression, are open to wide interpretation and fail to comply with international human rights law requirements of legality, legitimate aim, necessity and proportionality for restrictions on the right to freedom of expression.
The law sets out prison terms ranging from one week to three years, and fines from some 423 US dollars to 105,000 US dollars (300 Jordanian dinar to JD 75,000), depending on the offence.
Our concerns about the law are all the greater given increased intimidation, harassment and arrest of activists amid ever shrinking civic space in Jordan. The previous Cybercrime Law of 2015, which this legislation replaces, has been used to arrest numerous human rights activists and journalists on “defamation” charges.
One recent case is that of satirical journalist Ahmed Hassan Al-Zoubi who on 9 August was given a one-year prison sentence under the current law for publishing a Facebook post last December that criticised the authorities’ handling of a truck drivers’ strike.
We recognise the need for States to take steps to combat cybercrime but protecting security online and ensuring online freedoms must be treated as complementary goals.
A strategy against cybercrimes must be based on international human rights law and be clear and focused on core cybercrimes, and avoid establishing offences based on the content of online expression.
The swift passage of the legislation – presented to Parliament on 15 July, passed on 2 August and approved by the King on 12 August - raises concerns about transparency and participation.
We urge the Jordanian authorities to reconsider this legislation with a view to ensuring compliance with international human rights law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Right is in force for Jordan.
We urge the authorities to draw on available expertise, including from IT specialists, legal experts and relevant civil society organisations, as well as the UN Human Rights Office, to develop legislation that addresses legitimate cyber threats while safeguarding fundamental human rights.