Qatar’s Law number 14 of 2014, the Anti-Cybercrime Law (Law), was issued on September 15, 2014, and seeks to target aggressively a wide range of crimes and abuses relating to electronic data and online activity through the imposition of significant penalties.
Types of crimes
There are several types of crimes which are dealt with in the Law, ranging from crimes committed directly to electronic data and software, to the use of technology to facilitate the commission of traditional crimes such as defamation, blackmail, etc.
Hacking and unauthorised access: The deliberate unauthorised access to any website, information system (including hardware), network or item that falls within the definition of information technology is a crime which can result in either imprisonment for up to three years and/or a fine of QR500,000.
More significantly, any unauthorised access to websites or information systems, including hardware, belonging to any government agency, authority or entity will result in imprisonment for a maximum of three years and a fine limited at QR500,000.
The punishment in both cases is doubled where data is retrieved, manipulated or any interruptions are caused. In the case of government websites and information, this would also include the scenario where confidential information has been obtained, or information which would affect security of the state. It is also a crime to intercept unrightfully or spy on any electronic data.
Content crimes: Certain electronic data and certain types of contents of websites and electronic communications may also attract penalties under the Law.
(i) Terrorist activities: websites created for terrorist groups, or which facilitate contact with such groups, the financing of these groups or promotion of their ideas will be punishable by imprisonment for a maximum of three years and a fine of QR500,000. This would also include publication of any information relating to the manufacture of explosive devices or any other device for terrorist activities.
(ii) “False news” that may affect national security: the creation or administration of websites which publish false news with the intention to undermine the safety, public order, internal or external security of Qatar may result in imprisonment for a maximum of 3 years and/or a fine of QR500,000. Broadcasting or publication of such information will attract a lesser sentence of one year imprisonment and/or a fine of QR250,000.
(iii) Child pornography: the production, sale, import, display, transfer, exchange, distribution, broadcast of such material through the use of information technology will attract a higher penalty of imprisonment for up to five years and a fine of QR500,000. Possession of such material shall result in imprisonment for a maximum term of a year and/or a fine of QR250,000. For the purposes of the offence, a child is anyone under the age of 18 years, and the consent of the child is vitiated.
(iv) Infringement of social principles, privacy, defamation and blackmail: any infringement of social principles and values, the publication of audio or visual media associated with private or family life, regardless of the accuracy of the information, and use of networks or information technology for defamation, blasphemy or blackmail may result in imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 years and/or a fine of a maximum of QR100,000. It is important to note the Law does not provide further clarification as to the definitions of “social principles and values”, “defamation” or “blasphemy”. As such these provisions may potentially have far-reaching implications.
Fraud and forgery: The penalty for the forgery of any electronic document or where such a forged document has been knowingly used, is a fine of up to QR100,000 and/or imprisonment for a maximum of three years. Where the forgery is of a governmental electronic document the penalty is increased to a fine of QR200,000 and imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years.
The use of information technology or online networks to impersonate an individual or corporate entity, to fraudulently appropriate property may result in imprisonment for a maximum of three years and/or a fine not exceeding QR100,000.
Electronic transactions with cards: The following crimes involving credit cards, ATM cards and other cards with chips or magnetic tapes containing electronic data (Cards), may result in imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years and/or a fine not exceeding QR200,000:
(i) The unauthorised use of Cards through the use of information technology tools, the internet, or any other networks and stealing information relating to Cards online;
(ii) Forging Cards using any means;
(iii) The unlicensed production or possession of materials and devices which are used to forge or issue Cards;
(iv) Knowingly using or facilitating the use of forged Cards; and
(v) Knowingly accepting invalid, forged or stolen Cards.
Infringement of intellectual property (IP) rights: The infringement or facilitating the infringement of IP rights which are protected by Qatari law, including patents, trade secrets, trademarks, using information technology tools, the internet or any other network may be punished by the imposition of a fine with a limit of QR500,000 and/or imprisonment for a maximum of three years.
The Public Prosecution is responsible for investigation and enforcement of the Law. As such it has wide powers to order inspections, investigations and can seize or order the surrender of devices, equipment, tools and electronic data associated with crimes or where these items might assist with any investigation. Trade secrets or confidentiality, unless protect by the Law, cannot be used as grounds for resisting an order issued by the Public Prosecution.
Service providers’ liabilities: The Law defines “Service Provider” to be any public natural or corporate person that, provides subscribers with services to interact using information technology or processes the saving of information. Service Providers are required to comply with any order requesting information and data required for investigation purposes issued by the Public Prosecutor.
It will also be required to hold subscribers’ information for one year, and may be requested by investigating authorities to hold electronic data for 90 days in connection with an investigation. Judicial authorities are permitted to order Service Providers’ to block certain links over the internet or other networks.
Finally there is an overarching duty imposed on the Service Provider to co-operate with and assist the Ministry of Interior (Ministry) with all electronic data and information pursuant to the instructions of authorised judicial bodies. Any violations of these provisions by Service Providers may result in a fine of a maximum of QR500,000.
Liabilities of state agencies: Government agencies, entities, including companies, also have duties under the Law. They are required to hold electronic data and subscriber information for a minimum of 120 days and to provide the Ministry with such data.
Government entities will be expected to take precautionary measures to protect their information technology systems, electronic data, networks from cyber threats. There is also a specific obligation on the government entities to report any incident which qualifies as a crime under the Law that has come to their attention to the Ministry, including any threat or an attempt to intercept or spy which has been detected. More generally, there is an obligation to cooperate with the Ministry.
The Law also seeks to prevent cross-border cybercrime that may be linked to Qatar, by providing rules in relation to mutual legal assistance with other countries and extradition of suspects and criminals in relation to the commission of the types of crimes set out in the Law.
The requests for extradition and mutual legal assistance should be in relation to crimes which are in substance similar to crimes recognised under Qatar law and pursuant to bilateral or multilateral agreements between such other countries. The Law sets out the procedure and form such requests should follow.
The Public Prosecutor is the first point of contact in terms of receiving and assessing requests for mutual legal assistance and extradition. The Law outlines the manner in which the Public Prosecution is to deal with requests for investigation, confiscation and temporary measures from other countries.
Requests for mutual legal assistance may only be dismissed in certain specific situations which have been outlined in the Law. For instance, the request may be procedurally flawed, i.e. if the request is not issued by the designated authority in the country issuing the request or in accordance with the laws of the country. It may also be dismissed if the request is in violation of the Law, other Qatari laws, or its enforcement may affect the “security, sovereignty, public order or main interest” of Qatar.
Some of the grounds on which extradition requests may be dismissed are for instance, where there are substantial reasons that lead to the belief that the request or the purpose of accusing or punishing an individual is on the grounds of his/her gender, descent, religion, nationality or political will.
In addition, extradition requests may be dismissed where they relate to Qatari nationals, or crimes which were adjudicated upon in Qatar and where a conclusive judgment was passed by the Qatari courts.
The Law also provides that extradition requests will be rejected where judicial investigations were already underway in Qatar in relation to that individual for the crime stated in the request or if the “State of Qatar” considers that in the context and circumstances of the crime, extradition would be inhumane for reasons related to the health or personal circumstances of the individual.
General provisions – penalties
The Law provides that more severe punishments under Law No 11 of 2004, the Penal Code may apply where applicable. Furthermore the maximum fine applicable to corporate entities which are responsible for a crime under the Law, either because the crime was committed in their name or for their benefit, will be QR1,000,000.
Anyone deemed to have incited and assisted with the commission of crimes under the Law will receive the same punishment as those who have committed the crime.
Finally, the punishment prescribed for the offences under the Law will be doubled where the crime is committed or facilitated by a public official who has used his position to his advantage.
Note: All Qatari laws (save for those issued by the QFC to regulate its own business) are issued in Arabic and there are no official translations; therefore, for purposes of drafting this article Clyde & Co has used its own translation and interpreted the same in the context of Qatari laws, regulation and current market practice.
♦ The views set out in this article do not constitute legal advice and readers are urged to seek specific legal advice in relation to any particular issues which arise from the subject-matter of this article. For further information on this topic please contact David Salt at [email protected] or Maryam Shaikh at [email protected]
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