Africa: Cybercrime Legislation in the GCC Countries - Fit for Purpose?

analysis

Revision of GCC cybercrime laws is urgently required, and is essential for better security, for a better society and for better civil liberties.

Summary

Most GCC countries have enacted or updated their cybercrime laws as part of their efforts to address the increasing threat of cybercrime. However, most of these focus on limiting freedom of expression and at the same time omit key elements needed to combat cybercrime as this would be understood under most legal frameworks.

GCC cybercrime legal frameworks depart from international practice on cybercrime legislation in both structure and content.

Regarding their structure, cybercrime legal frameworks in the GCC are focused on substantive criminal law that criminalizes offences considered to be cybercrimes. However, in prosecutions and investigations, most GCC countries still apply traditional texts to cybercrime cases that are mostly oblivious to the nature of these cases. This impedes the success of these efforts and therefore the overall impact of fighting cybercrime.

Regarding their content, all GCC countries, except for Bahrain, have introduced as part of their cybercrime laws provisions that criminalize a wide-spectrum of content, using vaguely worded provisions that create the potential for confusion and abuse.

The GCC countries have historically restricted traditional forms of speech, and have latterly sought to do the same with online speech as well. This was arguably accelerated by the events of the Arab uprisings and the 'cultural revolution' that was brought forward by social media.

Through their cybercrime laws, the GCC countries have sought to get a stronger grip on social media, and to stymie the potential for spillover via online platforms of political unrest from other Arab countries.

Several human rights defenders and activists, as well as other social media users, have been prosecuted under these laws, deported or jailed for online comments, for blogging or for posting pictures aimed at social, religious or political ends. Some people have been detained for publishing humorous and satirical online content.

Given their text and scope of application, most cybercrime laws of the GCC countries could put in jeopardy the right to free speech and are at odds with international human rights law, standards and safeguards. Furthermore, their current structure, combined with a lack in other laws that address the specificities of cybercrime, makes them an inadequate tool for fighting cybercrime.

Revision of these cybercrime laws is urgently required, and is essential for better security, for a better society and for better civil liberties.

GCC governments would benefit extensively from joining international forums on cybercrime - such as the Budapest Convention - as this would help them in harmonizing and updating their laws, in enhancing their cybercrime investigative techniques, and in increasing international cooperation between them and with other countries.

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