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Saturday, July 13, 2013

Does Grenada Need This Electronic Crime Bill?

The Electronic Crime Bill has triggered a fire storm of discussion among Grenadians. What is most noticeable from these discussions is how emotionally disturbed Grenadians are about the Facebook incident that formed the pretext for the Bill. “Did you see the pictures on Facebook,” I was asked by one woman. “Keith Mitchell is right,” she continued with sincere conviction. To them, PM Dr. Kith Mitchell is the ‘knight in moral shining armor’ riding to Grenada’s rescue.

These Grenadians are angered that something so atrocious has happened to a fellow Grenadian. To them Grenada moral fabric has been shaken. As a result, Grenada exploded into a barrage of knee jerk reactions, and “a public outrage on talk shows with callers demanding that the law enforcement take appropriate action” – (Now Grenada). Thus, in my conversations, almost all with whom I spoke, agreed with the passing of this Electronics Crime Bill, without displaying a tread of forethought.

So, is Prime Minister Dr. Kith Mitchell trying to employ a bit of what author Naomi Klein called “The Shock Doctrine,”of his own? In that, did Dr. Mitchell’s administration view the shocking situation on Facebook as a pretext to pass this vague intrusive Electronic Crime Bill, for political purpose? The answer we may never know

Using situations that place citizens in a state of shock to implement intrusive laws and policies that would otherwise not be considered have been a long, standing tactic of many governments. Klein argues that political leaders exploit crises, pushing through controversial, exploitive policies while the citizens are busy emotionally, and physically dealing with horrible situations.

Despite all this emotional outrage, however, we have to stop and think, and as we do that, here are some questions we must ponder. Do we need such a Bill? Are there mechanisms already in place that give our government the capable of handling criminal acts perpetuated online and offline? The answer seems to be yes. To all accounts, the person responsible for, not just posting such despicable photo on Facebook, but also sexually violating a minor has already been apprehended and charged. If not, this should be the government's priority. Ensuring that this criminal is of the streets. Not trying to censor free speech.

According to Randall Robinson, who was a candidate for the National Democratic Congress in last election, “We already have a remedy in the Civil Courts that adequately compensates offended parties where they sue and win.” In addition, Facebook and other online social networks have mechanism in place where individual users can flag unwanted immoral posts and photos – Facebook Community Standards. Thus, as reported, “the matter was reported to Facebook as abuse and it was eventually removed,” (Now Grenada).

According to Grenada’s minister for legal affairs, Elvin Nimrod, the law was necessary “to protect society, especially those who are vulnerable to modern technology.” This is certainly a noble thought, indeed. We do this by holding people accountable, which we already can and have done; so why do we need this intrusive law?

As regular citizen of Grenada, we are in the right place to show anger to such horrendous behavior displayed by this individual who violated the young, teenaged lady’s humanity. However, we have to pay more attention. “The law appears intended to address defamation not only via social media, but also via user-generated content on news websites, usually in “comment sections,” (Grenada Connection). Our right to freedom of expression is at stake from this Bill.

Despite, the public knee jerk reaction that lead them to be in agreement with this far reaching Bill, many Grenadians, most in the intellectual community, home and abroad, pushed back, exposing the shortcomings and potential implications of the Bill, leading Prime Minister Dr. Kith Mitchell to “asked his legislative team to review all sections of the bill to ensure that it remains consistent with his commitment of not just protecting open debate and dialogue, but to reflect the new commitment to broaden patterns of democracy that will be reflective in other upcoming legislation,” (Grenada Connection). He said that his government is “committed to looking at the segment to ensure that in no way free internet comment is either inhibited or by any slightest measure, threatened," - (Nation News)

According to Prime Minister Dr. Mitchell, “we are confident that at the end of the process we will have legislation that will deal with issue of cyber crime, identify theft, child pornography and electronic stalking without infringing, or undermining public debate or any matters attendant to an open, free and democratic society.” (Now Grenada).

To some, however, this is a joke. Not only should this Bill be squash, but as stated by one Grenadian blogger “given the very well-known fact that literally NO ONE in the government or judiciary of Grenada – irrespective of party affiliation – knows anything about computers, the internet, electronic communications or social media, I am at a loss as to how they are going to establish such legislation.” (Pam Northman's blog)

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Free Speech Under Attack in Grenada

When one thinks of natural rights, for many, the freedom of expression stands at the top of the list. In fact, a society cannot be free if the freedom of speech isn’t protected. According to our constitution, Chapter 1 section 1b, Grenadians have the right to “freedom of conscience, of expression and of assembly and association."

However, this freedom of speech which is guaranteed and protected under the constitution seems to again be under attack. As per the new political administration, Grenadians can be charged EC $100,000 or face three years in prison for what the administration termed “offensive” speech, posted or transferred online, as part of an Electronic Crime Bill. 

Of course, with the advent of the internet our social interactions are now transferred from the real world to an online world. Thus, law makers have to rethink law making. In that, the internet has to now be taken into consideration. But how can this be done while ensuring user protection? How can our free speech not be infringed? This new Grenadian law that seeks to make it a criminal offense to insult someone online provides no guaranties.  

According to the Now Grenada online news network, the legislation says that you can be charged for electronically transferred “information that is grossly offensive or has a menacing character.”

The troubling thing with this legislation is its vagueness and broadness. Who determines what “offensive” means? It is left undefined, leaving it open to interpretation. “According to the new law, complaints about offensive comments would be filed with the police, and a judge would then decide if the message was offensive” (Grenada Connection). This means that any “Electronic Mail or an electronic message,” can indeed be viewed as being “offensive" and is being transferred “for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience.” There is no guard lines. It is all up to the person making the charge and the "judge" hearing the case.    

Grenada has had a history with political leaders’ infringement on the freedom of expression before. I am speaking of the Eric Mathew Gary regime (1967 - 1979) and the Maurice Bishop and his revolution regime (1979 - 1983). With this backdrop, many Grenadians fear that this move seems to be going down the same road. In that, Prime Minister Keith Mitchell passed this law as a way to curtail his opposition; to restrain the media, journalists and others from speaking out against him and his regime. In fact, Keith Mitchell is no stranger to such tactics. He, in his previous tenure as Prime Minister of Grenada for thirteen years (1995 - 2008)  sought to suppress the media. He, on many occasions, brought criminal charges against media people and journalists with “intentional criminal libel” for reporting stories that exposed his wrongdoings. He even threatened Tillman Thomas, the then opposition leader, with prosecution for criminal libel - (Grenada Connection).  

“In June 2004, the US-Based Committee to protect Journalists (CPJ) wrote a strongly-worded letter to then Prime Minister Mitchell, calling on him to “desist from any efforts to curtail the work of the press.” (Grenada Connection)

Indeed, Grenada has a criminal code “which established the offense of intentional criminal libel,” as per Criminal code Section 252. There is, however, a growing call for the elimination of this law. Tillman Thomas, as Prime Minister (2008 - 2013), had made the “move to eliminate criminal penalties for defamation under Section 252 of the Criminal Code, and was praised by the International Press Institute (IPI) for his courage.

We, however, in light of Prime Minister Keith Mitchell's apparent  move to curtail the freedom of expression, have to take action. We most not sit back and crack jocks about this. It's not funny! As concerned citizens who want the best for the country, we must stand up for free speech. We must protect our constitutional rights, and push back on this encroachment. We must stand and protest not just this Electronic Law, but also the “Criminal Libel” code. These codes most often than not provide legal cover for political regimes to muzzle any opposition, and Journalists from reporting their wrongdoings.