Legal expert calls for ‘careful application’ of cybercrime law
February 27 2015 08:43 PM

Qatar University College of Law assistant professor of International Law Dr Adamantia Rachovitsa. PICTURE: Najeer Feroke

By Peter Alagos/Business Reporter

Having some grey areas and currently being on a “certain degree of experimentation,” authorities should be “cautious” and “careful” in the application of the recently-issued cybercrime law, an official of the International Legal Association (ILA) Qatar Branch has said .
“You could characterise most of the cybercrime legislations worldwide as problematic. From the US, Australia, or the UK, all of them are struggling with certain issues,” said Dr Adamantia Rachovitsa, who is also Qatar University College of Law assistant professor of International Law.
A video survey conducted by the Doha Centre for Media Freedom (DCMF) revealed the public’s lukewarm reception and unfamiliarity with the cybercrime law issued in September 2014, but Rachovitsa noted that Qatar is not an exception.
“Nobody has answers right now. Not only in Qatar; it is everywhere. That is the reason why we should be very cautious and very careful on how we’re going to apply and implement the law in practice.
“The law leaves lots of room to discretion and how are you going implement it? How are you going to prosecute? Or what kind of penalties you will impose? And that’s very, very important,” said Rachovitsa, who spoke to Gulf Times on the side-lines of the “Consultative Meeting on Cybercrime Law” organised by the DCMF.
Rachovitsa agreed that most of the resistance coming from the public stems from one of the law’s provisions on “content crimes.”
The new cybercrime law would punish anyone who creates and shares online content that’s deemed harmful to the country’s “social values” or “general order.” The law also requires telecommunications providers – which right now are Ooredoo and Vodafone – to comply with all prosecutorial requests for evidence.
“If I have to highlight specific issues in the cybercrime law in Qatar, there is a very big issue with the so-called ‘content crimes.’ Obviously, the cybercrime legislation is needed; we need to address specific issues like intellectual property protection and protection from crimes like cyberterrorism. But when it comes to content and how you assess what kind of content you are going to criminalise, it is problematic,” Rachovitsa explained.
She added, “For example, the issue of criminalising the spread of ‘false news.’ How do you define ‘false news’? Nobody knows. And many times, not always, it is subject to abuse in specific situations.”
According to Rachovitsa, content-related criminalising initiatives on the international level are generally-accepted on pornography. “Besides this, everything else is highly-debatable and highly-controversial,” she noted.
“I think there is a certain degree of experimentation right now. For better or for worse, I think it would depend on how they would handle specific criminal cases and what would be the reaction of society.
“It would make a great difference how society would react because many people, either Qataris or expatriates, are not aware of the laws or they might react negatively to specific ways of applying the law,” Rachovitsa stressed.
She also said authorities should be open to opportunities that would allow some changes or amendments to provisions that are deemed “problematic.”
“It’s a good thing for the legislator to say, ‘I think this provision needs to be changed or needs to be amended’…There should be room for change because the online environment and the legal concepts that we have and we are trying to understand continuously evolve.”
Rachovitsa also expressed optimism when asked if public perception and acceptance towards Qatar’s cybercrime law would improve in the future.
“I remain positive. Let’s acknowledge that many of the people here working at the prosecutor’s office and in the ministries are struggling to understand specific concepts and how to apply them. And, of course, all of us should support it and point out problems ,” Rachovitsa said.

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