New cybercrime offences contradict whistleblower protections

-Manickchand

The Cybercrime Bill, which was passed last week by the National Assembly, negates the benefits and protections which were granted to citizens by the law to protect whistleblowers, according to attorney and opposition parliamentarian Priya Manickchand.

In January, the National Assembly by acclamation passed the Protected Disclosures Bill in order to protect persons making specified disclosures of improper conduct, in good faith and in the public interest, from detrimental action.

At Section 8 (1), the law provides for a person to make a disclosure to the Protected Disclosures Commission by electronic mail or electronic message.

It further provides at Section 7 (4) that where, for any reason, a person is fearful of making the disclosure to the Commission, s/he may, in writing, authorise any person to make the disclosure on her/his behalf to the Commission. 

However, under Section 9 of the Cybercrime Bill, a person commits an offence if s/he, through authorised or unauthorised means, obtains or accesses electronic data which (a) is commercially sensitive or a trade secret (b) relates to the national security of the State or (c) is stored on a computer system and is protected against unauthorised access and intentionally and without lawful excuse or justification grants access to or gives the electronic data to another person, whether or not s/he knows that the other person is authorised to receive or have access to the electronic data.

For Manickchand, the provisions set out in the two laws are contradictory.

“This clause is completely negating the benefits and protections we granted our citizens under the whistleblower legislation. Even the amendment seeks to play with words and then comes back to say any person commits an offence who, through authorised or unauthorised means, obtains or accesses electronic data stored on a computer system and is protected against unauthorised access,” she declared during the parliamentary debate of the bill last Friday, while arguing that “almost all information that would come to us through a whistleblower is stored on a computer system and is protected against unauthorised computer access. That’s why the person has to blow the whistle… because it’s unauthorised information.”

Government used its majority to pass the Cybercrime Bill, albeit with an amendment excising a controversial sedition clause. However, it failed to win the support of the parliamentary opposition, which said the amendment did not go far enough.

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