Recent events involving the interception of private messages to publicly bring someone into disrepute caused me to pause to consider the issue of privacy in this current information age. While we can justifiably condemn the content of the messages, if indeed those messages were acquired through a hacked Facebook account, then I wish to call to attention the blatancy involved here. The explosion of the internet and social media has led to a redefining of personal space, and, in many cases, a diminished sense of security in information shared or stored on the internet.
The Arizona State Law Journal (2011) notes two main security concerns arising from the increased use of the internet. One concern surrounds businesses, and the hindrance that security concerns can present to the further development of e-commerce. The second concern, however, and the one in question here, surrounds individual data privacy in cyberspace.
At the national level, the challenge becomes striking a balance between individual privacy and freedom of expression. The right to privacy is recognized in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In spite of the fact that both treaties have been widely ratified, each country is challenged to define such concepts as privacy, security, and freedom of expression, and to determine what constitutes a breach of privacy.
Specifically, the issue I am calling into question here is the sharing of information acquired by intercepting a private chat conversation. This stirred my curiosity as to what protections exist in our legislative framework to protect the individual’s right to privacy in Guyana, and this led me to examine the draft legislation developed in this regard.
The Cybercrime Bill No. 17 of 2016, which has been with a special select committee since August 4, 2016 has been created to “combat cybercrime by creating offences of cybercrime; to provide for penalties, investigation and prosecution of the offences and related matters.” It is my belief that the development of this bill is a major step towards protecting the rights and freedoms of Guyanese as it relates to cyberspace.
Part II of the Bill, section 4(1) clearly states that “A person commits an offence if the person intentionally and without lawful excuse or justification, intercepts –
(a) the transmission of computer data or any communication of another person to, from or within a computer system; or
(b) any electromagnetic emission carrying computer data from a computer system.”
This is a serious charge, and one that should concern us all as many nonchalantly use cyberspace for personal conversations of varying content. Moreover, most of us would be horrified to find that those personal conversations have been intercepted and are at risk of being shared publicly. To be clear, discrimination of any kind has no place in a civilized society, and should always be denounced. By way of this letter, I wish only to draw attention to the issue of the right to privacy in this the age of the internet.
Finally, I would like to urge Parliament to move this bill towards becoming law to ensure that such breaches can be lawfully penalised.