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Debate stalled on Cybercrime Bill

Published on the Trinidad Express: Thursday, May 21, 2015
Communications Minister Vasant Bharath, right, responds to questions raised by media stakeholders during yesterday’s meeting on the Cybercrime Bill 2015 at the Ministry of Communication in Nicholas Towers, Port-of-Spain. Also in photo are GML’s managing director Lisa Agard, left, TTPBA’s Fazilette MacIntyre and National Security Minister Carl Alfonso. PHOTO: SHIRLEY BAHADUR

Government intends to stall debate on the controversial Cybercrime Bill in the face of objections from media practitioners that certain provisions threaten freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

Communication Minister Vasant Bharath gave the assurance yesterday after meeting with executive members of the Media Association of T&T (Matt), T&T Publishers and Broadcasters Association (TTPBA) and Association of Caribbean Media Workers (ACM). Attorney General Garvin Nicholas, National Security Minister Carl Alfonso, Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj and Bharath formed the government’s team.

The meeting took place at the minister’s office in Nicholas Towers, Port-of-Spain. “Government’s decision is to not continue to a conclusion of the debate that is currently before the House and these suggestions will be further discussed between the ministry, the Attorney General and Ministry of National Security with the views coming out that we hope will be consensual and acceptable,” Bharath said.

Last year when the bill was presented in Parliament, the TTPBA raised objections to the bill. However, when the bill was brought to Parliament again this year, the problematic sections nine and 13 that were objected to were retained in the document. Sections nine and 13 are intended to combat illegal data access but critics warn they could pressure journalists and whistleblowers into silence. Breaches of the provisions carry jail terms of up to five years.

Bharath said it was never the Government’s intention to introduce legislation that would threaten the freedom of speech of any citizen, including members of the media. He said when the bill was first laid in Parliament in 2014 members of the media presented written complaints with suggestions, but those suggestions were not passed on.

“Some of those were written and sent in a form of a letter to the then minister of National Security (Gary Griffith) and when Parliament prorogued, there was a lapse. In the interim there was a new Minister of National Security and it appears those comments were not passed up and as a direct result those comments were not passed on,” Bharath said. 

Matt president Francesca Hawkins said the executive welcomed the decision from the Government not to wrap up the bill until there was a broader dialogue on the matter. She said that she could not comment further on the matter until a formal response from the Government was made regarding their discussions.

Daren Lee Sing, president of TTPBA, said his organisation was also happy to see consultation finally happening as requested since last year. Lisa Agard, managing director of Guardian Media Ltd, said once sections nine and 13 were removed from the bill then the other two threatening sections, sections 22 and 23, would not be as problematic. 

The Government intends to discuss the proposed amendments to the Cybercrime Bill on Monday.