POST TIME: 31 January, 2018 00:00 00 AM
The proposed Digital Security Act 2018

The proposed Digital Security Act 2018

We are disturbed to note that just approved draft of the Digital Security Act 2018 has retained several provisions of the controversial Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act. Social media users, civil society members and the people in general had expected that the more controversial (many say draconian) Section 57 would be done away with. Unfortunately that has not happened and Section 57 remains in the Act in a different form with “crimes and punishment” well defined. So the dangers posed by the previous Act will be there in an even more strict form.

Clearly, recommendations of stakeholders were ignored in the formulation of the draft act. In the cyber age of the 21st century, one doesn’t expect laws that restrict freedom of expression and access to information. The offences are too numerous, overlap with other existing laws. The bill specifically can (and most probably will) be misused to target journalists, their sources and whistleblowers. The wording leaves many clauses open to interpretation. And this isn’t just limited to what’s on the internet anymore.

It’s about what flows through electronic devices - a mobile phone, computer, laptop, iPad. Cameras and iPods are devices too, enabled by Wi-Fi these days. What you are transmitting through SMS and WhatsApp, or perhaps what sits on your phone as a note or picture in your gallery, and of course what you are emailing or posting on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc, could soon be subject to judgement calls by the powers that be.

Of course, the government has the right to take a stand against websites that try to recruit people to militant causes, or using internet messaging to coordinate terrorist activities as well as any internet usage that allows theft, sexual harassment, etc. However the objections have been raised over the potential abuses the law opens up. When the law comes to affect not only will the state have the means to silence any opposition, but it will be able to do so using justifications that are open to the widest interpretations possible. Minor transgressions that could be committed in error or ignorance can be interpreted as offences with hefty jail terms and/or fines.

The parliament needs to remember that this legislation, when passed, would become a basic building block of subsequent law on the cyber world and the internet. Getting this first step wrong can be perilous for the country. Laws are not meant to protect the government from its citizens. As the draft Digital Security Act 2018 is positioned to do precisely that, this should be thoroughly revised before being passed.