Proposed legislation on the table in both Iraq and Lebanon has free speech and human rights watch groups on alert. The proposed laws — which deals with press freedom and online publishing — could use draconian methods and punishments to grossly limit freedom of expression in the two countries, and rein in internet usage at a time when Middle East governments are still wary about last year’s Arab Spring protests.
According to a translation from the Centre for Law and Democracy, Articles 3, 4, and 5 of Iraq’s Informatics Crimes Law would impose a mandatory life sentence for anyone using a computer or the Internet to do any of the following:
- “compromise” the “unity” of the state;
- subscribe, participate, negotiate, promote, contract or deal with an enemy … in order to destabilize security and public order or expose the country to danger;
- damage, cause defects, or hinder [systems or networks] belonging to security military, or intelligence authorities with a deliberate intention to harm [state security].
- promote “ideas which are disruptive to public order”;
- “implement terrorist operations under fake names or to facilitate communication with members or leaders of terrorist groups”;
- “promote terrorist activites and ideologies or to publish information regarding the manufacturing, preparation and implementation of flammable or explosive devices, or any tools or materials used in the planning or execution of terrorist acts”;
- facilitate or promote human trafficking “in any form”;
- engage in “trafficking, promoting or facilitating the abuse of drugs”.
The Act also includes provisions to punish network users who “create chaos in order to weaken the trust of the electronic system of the state,” “provoke or promote armed disobedience,” “disturb public order or harm the reputation of the country,” or “intrude, annoy or call computer and information network users without authorization or hinders their use,” the Electronic Freedom Foundation reports. Copyright infringement and hacking would also land users in big trouble under the Act, which proposes a 2- to 3-year prison term for either offense.
Human rights group Access is vocally opposed to the proposed legislation. It has issued a report calling the Information Technology Crimes Act of 2011 “vague, overbroad, and overly harsh.” The EFF echoes this sentiment, and on its blog called for the Iraqi Parliament to fully evaluate the human rights impact of the Act and to “engage with civil society actors and technologists to revise the bill.”
To date, Lebanese internet users — and especially bloggers — have enjoyed some of the greatest Internet freedoms in the Middle East. But a new draft law by Information Minister Walid Daouk, called the Lebanese Internet Regulation Act, could disrupt some of those freedoms.
Under the proposed law, any electronic publication “affecting the morals and ethics” of Lebanon, as well as anything having to do with gambling, would be illegal. The Act would also require mandatory registration of websites with the Ministry of Information, including personally identifying information.
The Act would render online content (including advertising) subject to the same regulations as traditional print and broadcast media under the country’s 1963 press law, which “limits the number of press licenses issued for political publication,” [EFF] and encourages self-censorship. Web users would also be restricted to owning no more than a single website.
The Lebanese blogosphere is fighting back against the legislation, though one interview conducted by the organization Ontornet indicates the such protests might be to no avail. Opponents of the Act are also questioning whether signing up for social media profiles and freely hosted blogs constitutes website ownership. As the EFF writes:
One concern that has been raised again and again is what constitutes a website. With ever-increasing participation on social networks, will Lebanese who have pages on both Google Plus and Facebook be held liable for their “ownership” of them?
Lebanese citizens are protesting the Act on Twitter under the hashtag #StopLIRA, and released the following video to receive support for their protest.