Media association calls for withdrawal of Cyber Crime legislation

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, May 17, CMC – The Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago says the proposed Cyber Crime Bill (2014) contains provisions that infringe on journalists’ freedom to gather and report information and urged the public to take note of the measures being pushed through by the coalition People’s Partnership government.

“The Bill threatens to criminalise and imprison journalists who report on documents obtained from whistleblowers and to undermine the ethical obligation of journalists to protect the identities of confidential sources.

“This challenges the constitutionally enshrined rights of press freedom and the public’s right to free expression, key pillars on which our democracy stands,” MATT said in a statement,

Earlier, the Trinidad and Tobago Publishers and Broadcasters Association (TTPBA) said it was surprised at the reintroduction of the legislation  without consultation and appealed to the government “to begin a round of consultation and to work with stakeholder associations so that a better way forward can be defined”.

Leader of the small Independent Liberal Party (ILP), Austin Jack Warner, has warned that the operations of the media could be seriously affected as he debated the legislation in Parliament on Friday.

In its statement, MATT said that several clauses of the Bill strike directly at the day-to-day professional activities of journalists and other civil society interests.

“Clauses 9 and 13, for example, threaten to stifle and criminalise journalists, whistleblowers and members of the public who receive, gain access to or share “computer data from another person knowing that the other person has obtained the computer data through unauthorised means.”

“These laws can be used to prosecute journalists and whistleblowers along with members of the public who re-share such material over the internet. Penalties range from TT$200,000 (One TT dollar =US$0.16 cents) and three years imprisonment to TT$500,000 and five years imprisonment.

The legislation was first introduced to Parliament in March 2014.

MATT said that the reintroduced Bill retains provisions that were challenged in 2014.

“While laws that protect digital information systems are pertinent in an evolving digital environment, MATT notes that the Bill provides no media exemption, consideration for public interest journalism or watchdog investigations.

“It is MATT’s view that this Bill cannot go forward. MATT therefore calls for the immediate withdrawal of the Bill in its current form to allow for greater consultation with stakeholders, including MATT, and public debate,” the media association said.