18 August 2010

Cyber crime law attacks free expression; Internet cafés monitored

Jordanian authorities are attacking Internet freedom on all fronts. On 3 August they decreed a provisional cyber crime law, setting up a legislative arsenal to regulate the Internet and punish those critical of the state, report the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The law gives authorities sweeping powers to limit the flow of information and control debate prior to presidential elections in November. The government also recently blocked dozens of independent news sites and ordered Internet café owners to install surveillance cameras, reports the Arabic Network for Human Rights (ANHRI).

The penalties for violating the cyber crime law range from fines to forced labour, depending on the content. The law can be used to judge content that is deemed to defame or violate public decency or national security. Authorities say they are protecting public interests, but journalists see the law as a threat to media freedom, says RSF.

The provisions reveal a government intent on controlling online information. Posting defamatory or insulting comment is punishable by fines ranging from 105 to 2,100 Euros. Journalists fear that this will create more defamation prosecutions interfering with the work of reporting. Another stipulation says the posting of hitherto unpublished information affecting Jordan's national security, foreign relations, public order or economy is punishable by a fine of 527 to 5,265 Euros and a minimum of four months in prison.

The government blocked 48 local news websites in all public workplaces in recent months, saying that browsing the Internet is a waste of work time and a huge drain on public money. Most of the blocked sites report on what state-owned news agencies conceal, such as a teachers' crisis and the rights of day labourers.

A consortium of electronic websites organised a conference in Amman on 10 August and issued a statement calling the law "a major blow to new media."

ANHRI also reports that the Jordanian Ministry of the Interior has instructed Internet café owners to install software that prevents access to sites that contain pornographic material, insults to religious beliefs, promote the use of drugs or tobacco, as well as gambling sites and sites that contain any material for military purposes. Café owners must also use a device that records website information and browsing data for a period of no less than six months and keep an electronic record of a visitor's name, national ID number and the computer used.

Internet users in Jordan represent 28 percent of the population (1.8 million users), half of whom are active members of Facebook, reports ANHRI.

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