With cybercrime now surpassing illegal drug trafficking as a criminal moneymaker, netizens of the world may be paying the price in order to stop it. Cybercrimes encompass a broad range of potentially illegal activities and unlawful acts, from spamming, denial-of-service attacks, phishing scams, cyberstalking, fraud, identity theft, harassment, child pornography, drug trafficking to cyberterrorism, wherein the computer is either a tool, a target, or, both.
While governments around the world are taking needed action against computer crimes, cyber law critics warn of the dangers of government over-activism on the Net. The repercussions for cybercrimes can vary greatly between countries, but it is the balance (or imbalance) between public and private interests on the Internet, which has prompted strong reactions across the globe. Here’s a look at some of the various cyber laws around the world that may be impinging on people’s basic rights and freedoms.
Internet Censorship in China
With China’s struggling economy it is no wonder a growing number of IT professionals have turned to cybercrime over the past couple of years. As a way of cracking down on cybercriminals, China has introduced three new articles to its criminal code based on which online criminals could be sentenced up to seven years imprisonment for computer-related crimes. Before, three years was the penalty.
China has one of the world’s most advanced and complicated filtering systems, considered dangerously powerful and highly repressive. Forms of blocking include blocking by keywords or phrases or even disabling a user’s Internet access who happens to request a page with forbidden content for an arbitrary amount of time. New sites containing sensitive content get blocked almost immediately. Over 60 Internet regulations have been imposed by the Chinese government unto state-owned ISPs, businesses and organizations who have no choice but to comply with the strict censorship system.
The Internet police’s task force is estimated at over 30,000; the sum of paid employees and unpaid volunteers. One could only imagine how tightly supervised hosted exchange email and online CRM within various business sectors must be. Any unfavorable or litigious comments appearing on Internet forums, blogs, and major sites are usually erased within minutes. Not only blocking website content, the PRC can also monitor individuals’ internet access, and does. Amnesty International notes that China “has the largest recorded number of imprisoned journalists and cyber-dissidents in the world.”
Australia and the “Great Aussie Firewall”
A proposed Internet filter dubbed the “Great Aussie Firewall” is promising to make Australia one of the strictest Internet regulators among democratic countries. An Internet filter that would block at least 1,300 Web sites prohibited by the government — mostly child pornography, excessive violence, instructions in crime or drug use and advocacy of terrorism. Internet providers say a filter could slow browsing speeds, and many question whether it would achieve its intended goals. Illegal material such as child pornography is often traded on peer-to-peer networks or chats, which many argue wouldn’t be covered by the filter anyway.
India’s Information Technology Act
The Government of India brought major amendments to the Information Technology Act of 2000, in its 2008 version, which has been considered both controversial and unconstitutional. The proposed e-surveillance powers under the 2008 Act have been regarded as a death knell for privacy rights in India. Cyber law critics cited these amendments as lacking in legal and procedural safeguards to prevent violation of the civil liberties of Indians.
In 2006, the Government of India established a Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-IN) which allows for the monitoring of all incoming and outgoing Internet traffic from India. The government can intercept messages from mobile phones, computers and other communication devices. It can also block websites in the interest of national security.
The government has had no qualms exercising its power. A few years back, owing to government pressures, ISPs blocked access to all Blogspot blogs, targeting blogs which contained ‘inflammatory’ material. Inflammatory material being “any material which is lascivious or appeals to the prurient interest or if its effect is such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons”. Critics attest this is merely a polite way of saying, “surfing content that could corrupt your mind is illegal”.
And though India may be home of the Kama Sutra, the new Information Technology Bill officially banned internet porn, with prison sentences of up to five years. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, of the 429 people arrested in India in 2007 for cyber crimes under the Indian Penal Code, 99 cases (46% of all cyber crime cases) involved pornography.
The U.S. produces more malware, spam and viruses than any country in the world and also ranks 6th out of 52 nations based on how aggressively it monitors its population electronically. The maximum penalty for a hacking crime under U.S. law is 20 years in prison. The Cybersecurity Act of 2009, proposed by Senators Jay Rockefeller and Olympia Snowe, would give the federal government unprecedented power over the Internet, essentially giving the president the ability to shut down or limit Internet traffic in the case of a “cyber security emergency”, in the interest of national security. The bill does not define a “cybersecurity emergency”.
The purpose of the bill:
To ensure the continued free flow of commerce within the United States and with its global trading partners through secure cyber communications, to provide for the continued development and exploitation of the Internet and intranet communications for such purposes, to provide for the development of a cadre of information technology specialists to improve and maintain effective cybersecurity defenses against disruption, and for other purposes. [S.773-Cybersecurity Act of 2009]
UPDATE: The original bill that would have given the president near complete authority to disconnect private and government networks from the Internet in the event of a cyber emergency has been removed in the new version of the 2010 bill.
Real-Name System (South Korea)
One of the wonderful privileges we get to enjoy when posting comments or sharing thoughts over the World Wide Web is anonymity. The right to anonymity is a freedom, a means of self-expression. In Korea (as well as in China) however, it is illegal to use an online nickname as the internet real-name system requires Web users to identify themselves with their real names when posting entries and commenting on others’ articles.
Designed to prevent cybercrimes such as libel and privacy infringement, South Korea’s government enacted a law that requires all websites that have more than 100,000 visitors a day to verify their users’ identity against a “real-name” system. If the name cannot be verified, the comment is immediately deleted. Google decided to refuse enacting such a system on the Korean version of YouTube and instead decided to turn off the uploads and commenting features of their site.
Imagine social networking sites devoid of the profane, frequently off point comments, and being held accountable by law for what you post. As former executive editor of washingtonpost.com, Doug Feaver states: “Comments provide a forum for readers to complain about what they see as unfairness or inaccuracy in an article (and too often they have a point), to talk to each other (sometimes in an uncivilized manner) and, yes, to bloviate.” As Oscar Wilde wrote in a different context, “Man is least in himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”
Cyberterrorism: Punishable by Death (Pakistan)
In December 2008, President Asif Ali Zadari promulgated the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Ordinance making cyberterrorism punishable by death or imprisonment for life. The law applies to Pakistanis and foreigners whether living in Pakistan or abroad.
What is defined as a cyberterrorist attack?
• Altering by addition, deletion, or change or attempting to alter information that may result in the imminent injury, sickness, or death to any segment of the population;
• Transmission or attempted transmission of a harmful program with the purpose of substantially disrupting or disabling any computer network operated by the Government or any public entity;
• Aiding the commission of or attempting to aid the commission of an act of violence against the sovereignty of Pakistan, whether or not the commission of such act of violence is actually completed; or
• Stealing or copying, or attempting to steal or copy, or secure classified information or data necessary to manufacture any form of chemical, biological or nuclear weapon, or any other weapon of mass destruction.
Punishments for other offences such as illegal electronic entry into systems of any sensitive installations, electronic fraud, electronic forgery, system damage, unauthorized access to codes and misuse of encryption range from 3 to 10 years in prison.
On October 3, 2007, Hani Nazeer, a 28-year-old high school social worker from Qena, Egypt and author of the blog “Karz El Hob”, was arrested by Egypt’s State Security Investigations (SSI) and sent to Burj Al-Arab prison. Nazeer was given a four-year prison sentence for criticizing his government and university on his blog.
In Morocco early September (2008), Mohamed Erraji, who was blogging on social and political events in his country, was found guilty of “lack of respect to the King” for publishing an article on Hespress, an independent Moroccan website, titled “The King encourages the nation (to rely) on handouts.” He was given a two-year prison sentence and fined.
Amnesty International reported that the trial took place so quickly he had no time to seek legal counsel and was convicted without a lawyer. Moreover, his relatives were not informed of his detention, which was in breach of Moroccan law [Source].
On Friday, September18, 2009, access to popular social networks Myspace and Last.fm were blocked from Turkey. The blocking order was issued by the Beyoğlu Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office . Both sites were likely blocked because of “intellectual property infringements” following a request by Mu-yap, the Turkish Phonographic Industry Society. It is also alleged that Myspace and Last.fm were part of about 100 websites which were subjected to blocking on that Friday. Independent musicians in Turkey were furious, a particular artist claiming: “We do not want to be forced to return to music channels and record companies with their filthy politics. We want our music to be available freely to everybody who wants to listen to it.”