ST GEORGE’S, Grenada — Reporters Without Borders, an international organization that defends freedom of the press and of information generally, has written to Grenada’s Governor-General Cécile La Grenade expressing its concern about parliament’s final approval of the Electronic Crimes Act on 9 September and urging her not to sign the Act into law.
“We do not dispute the principle of this law or some of its provisions. The Internet should not escape the authority of the law altogether and we believe that it is perfectly legitimate to sanction such crimes and offences as the theft of documents or data, online identity theft or, even more serious, child pornography” said Christophe Deloire, Reporters Without Borders secretary-general.
“However, we regard some of the clauses in this law as extremely damaging to the free flow of news and information and to public debate,” he continued.
For example, Deloire said, section 6(1.a) of Part II says: “A person shall not knowingly or without lawful excuse or justification send by means of an electronic system or an electronic device (…) information that is grossly offensive or has a menacing character.”
Offenders can sentenced to up to a year in prison and/or a fine of EC$100,000 (US$37,000).
Deloire asked under what criteria can information be considered “offensive,” regardless of factual accuracy (which this clause refrains from mentioning). This provision could very easily constitute an obstacle to the dissemination of information of public interest. It could, for example, provide any demonstrably corrupt public figure with a strong argument for refusing to be held accountable.
Reporters Without Borders are also concerned about the range of the law’s applicability. Clause 3(e) of Part 1 says that it applies where “an offence under this act was committed by any person, of any nationality or citizenship or in any place outside or inside Grenada, having an effect on the security of Grenada or its nationals, or having universal application under international law, custom and usage.”
Here again, the lack of precision about the nature of the security to which this clause refers could result in significant obstacles to freedom of information.
The danger posed by these provisions is, in their view, all the greater because the law gives the police and judicial authorities a great deal of scope to access the personal data of someone who is being investigated.
“For all these reasons, we urge you not to sign this act into law in its present form and to ask parliament to amend the most sensitive clauses,” Deloire concluded.