A draft cybercrime law which has been approved by Qatar’s cabinet, primarily aimed at providing protection for the government from cyber theft and hackers, raises questions related to the regulation of internet media, the sharing of information and online freedom of expression.
According to reports in the local media, the new law is aimed at punishing anyone who hacks government websites or information systems. However a number of conditions within the law have sparked concerns over its impact on media freedom, as more people turn to websites to consume news.
According to a report by Qatar News Agency:
“The law punishes anyone who manages, via the internet or any information technology means, without a right, to enter an electronic website and informational system of any of the state's organs, institutions, authorities or otherwise affiliated bodies or companies thereon, and anyone who establishes or runs an electronic site via the internet or any information technology means, or publishes false news with the aim of jeopardizing the state safety, its general order, internal or external security.”
However, it is the following provision which has caused controversy already, with many seeking clarification as to the limits of potential legal repercussions:
"The law also punished anyone who infringes on the social principles or values or otherwsie publishes news, photos, audio or visual recordings related to the sanctity of the private and familial life of persons, even if they were true, or infringes on others by libel of slander via the Internet or other information technology means."
“General provisions and stipulations could be abused”
DCMF director, Jan Keulen said that the draft law raises questions over why a cybercrime law is now dealing with issues which were initially intended to be covered by the draft media law.
“(Cybercrime) is a separate issue from freedom of expression on the internet. This freedom should be guaranteed. I don’t think it’s a good idea to mix the two things. I think those very general provisions and stipulations could be abused,” he told the Doha News website.
“I think any attempt to regulate content on the internet is bound to fail (due to) the worldwide nature of the internet,” he said
He added that in its capacity as a media watchdog for Qatar, DCMF would “very much like to be consulted” on issues related to the law in the future.
The threat of cybercrime has gained heightened attention and exposure recently, and a local daily recently quoted the Minister of Justice HE Hassan bin Abdulla Al-Ghanem as saying: “The individual is free to use cyberspace but within the limits of the law. In Qatar, we are interested in having a well-developed law to organise Internet freedom.”
However, social media users have already taken to various platforms to complain about the possible implications of the draft law and the impact it might have on them expressing opinions and sharing information online.