The Arab Spring’s online backlash

The Economist reports: A bill on “information-technology crimes” with extraordinarily broad wording and harsh punishments is due to come before Iraq’s parliament in April, once the dignitaries and television cameras at this week’s Arab League summit in Baghdad have departed.

The bill is one of four proposed laws that could severely restrict basic freedoms. (A fifth, on journalists, was passed last summer.) Access Now, a human-rights group with a focus on technology, has a report on it out today. According to an English translation from last August, it includes mandatory life sentences for using computers or the internet to “compromise” the “unity” of the state (Article 3), promote “ideas which are disruptive to public order” (Article 4), or engage in “trafficking, promoting or facilitating the abuse of drugs” (Article 5), which could include merely blogging about them.

Some of the most egregiously loose definitions make it a crime—though at least not one carrying a life sentence—to cause “damage, defect or obstruction to computer hardware, operating systems, software or information networks”, even by mistake; to “intrude, annoy or call computer and information network users without authorisation”; to “benefit unduly from telecommunications services” (all these from Article 14); or to “relate words, images or voices to someone else involving cursing or slander” (Article 22).

The law on journalists and the other three bills, which cover public assembly, telecoms and political parties, are similar in style, notes a report from the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD), another human-rights group: filled with vague references to “public morals”, “public order”, “national interests”, “threatening” or “insulting” messages, and so on.

Several governments tried temporarily restricting or shutting off the internet during the Arab Spring, and it should be no surprise that they are now looking for more permanent ways to limit its influence. Yet these stem from more than a simple desire to repress.

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One thought on “The Arab Spring’s online backlash

  1. delia ruhe

    Fact is, the more dysfunctional governments become, the more insecure they feel, and insecurity in the upper ranks usually means repression of the lower ranks. The flurry of repressive legislation in both the US Congress and the Knesset stands as evidence.

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