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MATT: Cyber Crime Bill could imprison journalists and whistleblowers

The Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MATT) has condemned the Cyber Crime Bill 2014, which threatens to criminalise journalists, whistleblowers and members of the public who receive, gain access to or share “computer data from another person knowing that the other person has obtained the computer data through unauthorised means.”

If the law was passed, for instance, Trinidad Express journalist Asha Javeed could have faced a five-year jail term for information received and used in her recent National Gas Company investigative articles.

The following is the full media release from MATT:

Photo: MATT has urged persons to recognise the value of press freedom.
Photo: MATT has urged persons to recognise the value of press freedom.

The Cyber Crime Bill (2014) that contains provisions to charge journalists and their sources for electronic tip-offs raises deep concerns within the media profession and should be carefully observed by the wider public.

Particularly worrisome to MATT are those aspects of the Bill that infringe on journalists’ freedom to gather and report information.

The Bill threatens to criminalise and imprison journalists who report on documents obtained from whistleblowers and to undermine the ethical obligation of journalists to protect the identities of confidential sources.

This challenges the constitutionally enshrined rights of press freedom and the public’s right to free expression, key pillars on which our democracy stands.

Several clauses of the Bill strike directly at the day-to-day professional activities of journalists and other civil society interests.  Clauses 9 and 13, for example, threaten to stifle and criminalise journalists, whistleblowers and members of the public who receive, gain access to or share “computer data from another person knowing that the other person has obtained the computer data through unauthorised means.”

Photo: Whistleblowers could face criminal persecution under the Cyber Crime Bill. (Courtesy Thebureauinvestigates.com)
Photo: Whistleblowers could face criminal persecution under the Cyber Crime Bill.
(Courtesy Thebureauinvestigates.com)

These laws can be used to prosecute journalists and whistleblowers along with members of the public who  re-share such material over the internet. Penalties range from $200,000 and three years imprisonment to $500,000 and five years imprisonment.

The Bill, read for a second time on Friday May 15, was first introduced in the Lower house of Parliament on March 21, 2014. MATT observes that the reintroduced Bill retains provisions that were challenged in 2014.

Among those raising concerns last year was the Trinidad and Tobago Publishers and Broadcasters Association (TTPBA) who received a commitment from then national security minister Gary Griffith that desired consultation with stakeholders would have been undertaken. That consultation has not occurred.

While laws that protect digital information systems are pertinent in an evolving digital environment, MATT notes that the Bill provides no media exemption, consideration for public interest journalism or watchdog investigations.

It is MATT’s view that this Bill cannot go forward. MATT therefore calls for the immediate withdrawal of the Bill in its current form to allow for greater consultation with stakeholders, including MATT, and public debate.

About MATT Executive

The Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago is the authorised representative body for local journalists in all formats.

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45 comments

  1. Madness. This bill comes as no surprise considering everything else the PP have done….call elections now, and ban that bill

  2. your govt working against u —————— inconsistent wit their inoperable procurement bill ——- who dey foolin?

  3. The really frightening thing about this government is that they are COMPLETELY contemptuous of public opinion. COMPLETELY. How did these once closet fascists declare their hands and take control so quickly before our very eyes?

  4. Everything you could blow is to blow now in order to prevent them from passing this legislation or at least before they get a chance to do it. WHISTLE!!!! WHISTLE for the International press freedom fraternities, the Caribbean ones, Hell even the one from the UN. This must be stopped in it’s tracks.

  5. The UNC creeps ever closer to fascism.

  6. And the reassignment of Stacy Roopnarine… and… and… we know Vernal.

  7. What happen to net neutrality?
    Socialism and Fascism vary greatly.

  8. You guys do realize this is exactly the same as the government kicking the leader of the opposition out of Parliament for raising questions right?

  9. Look,just to be on the safe side,don’t blow nutten.

  10. If the journalist id seeking to expose corruption his or her life might be in danger, far less for jailing them ,i was specifically referring to corruption by high public figures, like the NGC ,NEC Monos Is. drug find etc.

  11. You think they won’t be afraid to jail a journalist? I’m not so sure.

  12. PLEASE, nobody getting jail, is when you tief small money and sell small drugs you make jail in Trinidad

  13. Just like deny people bail for 120 days when the rest of the world going in the opposite direction. Sigh. This place…

  14. Exactly, while at the same time trying to convince the population that these revelations about the corrupt ways of public officials are politically motivated

  15. Yep. Don’t protect whistleblowers. Jail em!

  16. We are always the opposite

  17. And still bringing to protect their wrong doing. Scared shitless for my Country!!

  18. While other countries are enacting laws to encourage and protect whistle-blowers and journalists, the government of T&T is doing the exact opposite.
    It is in sinc however, with other draconian legislation that they brought to parliament during their tenure.

  19. If such is the case and it appears so Richard Zen O’Brien, there will be no more investigative reporting. Why go so far if you claim you’ve been cleared and have nothing to hide? Wake up and smell the coffee.

  20. So, in other words, a whistleblower is supposed to go to his or her supervisor and get ‘proper authorization’ before exposing wrongdoings. Seems totally legit to me 🙂

  21. Nicole Phillip Greene i know it’s hard but please try and refrain from pointing out their wording. We don’t want them to correct as things are bad enough as it is as some journalists will have to battle it out with them if God forbid, it really reaches the Courts. Some people are saying that they can’t believe we’ve gotten this far . Were they sleeping when some people , including myself kept saying we are heading down a dangerous road and we will wake up one day and wonder if we’re in Venezuela. Well the day of reckoning is here and it IS horrific.

  22. This is what you get when some of the members of the Media prefer to be politicians’ ‘consultants’ instead of being for journalism period… about 20-30 journalists presently work for this government,…

  23. Probably MATT needs to get a lawyer who will assist “pro bono”.

  24. Well we have the perfect “in” to raise more awareness and have a serious debate about this clause at least.

    That section is written badly and is ambiguous. That needs to be pointed out in debate, and the absolute horror of what the clause represents in the context of what cyber crime laws look like internationally should be raised and put on record.

    Now. Who will do that?

  25. This is troubling to say the least. Question is, are we as a nation going to sit by and let it happen?

  26. How is this happening in 2015? I cannot fathom how this was presented with a straight face? Then again I would put under intense scrutiny any legislation being put forward right now.

  27. Yes. It is already hard enough to get sources due to the risks involved in accessing files on computers where log-ins are required. So many people have lost their jobs exposing wrongdoing. The gov’t promised to pass legislation to protect whistleblowers, instead they are trying to jail them.
    And yet the Prime Minister offers a financial reward for information leading to a conviction in the Dana Seetahal murder case.

  28. And of course, it is just not the threat of prosecution that is worrying. Once you become a target of such an investigation, any and all of your communications become subject to scrutiny. So technically all of your sources and stories can become compromised because a whistleblower chose to contact you.

  29. It is pretty intimidating. Remember Nicole Philip Greene that simply to cost of defending yourself in court can be a deterrent or an opportunity to harass.
    When Warner challenged me, I defended myself to save money because I gambled that even if he won he would never be awarded anything more than a token sum.
    But if there was a possibility of jail time, I would have been forced to not only use resources from family and friends but possibly to raise funds too. Who can feel certain of justice before the court in these times against powerful, well-financed corporations or bigwigs?

  30. “computer data from another person knowing that the other person has obtained the computer data through unauthorised means.”

    Is that an excerpt from the bill? It is so badly written, I wonder whether it could even be enforced.

  31. Venezauela looking closer and closer i tell you. Desperate measures from a Government running scared. Ras Shorty I was close. Watch out my People, Watch out my People, They have a Woman call Lucifer with a piece ah white paper and yuh better doh mess with she face cause she go bring shame and disgrace to our beautiful place.

  32. Is anyone really surprised?

  33. One step closer to socialism.