In an article titled Expert slams newly-enacted Cybercrimes Act, Legalbrief today reports as follows:
An expert has slammed the newly-enacted Cybercrimes Act, saying that jailing and fining Internet users for, among other things, ‘harmful messages’ is unrealistic.
A Cape Argus report notes that the Cybercrimes Act was signed into law by President Cyril Ramaphosa recently. It was first proposed by the Department of Justice & Constitutional Development in 2015, and was introduced in the National Assembly in 2017.
Cyber security expert Professor Bruce Watson, head of Information Science at Stellenbosch University, said even though many would agree with what the government was trying to achieve, he thought the Act was wildly unrealistic. He said the notion of harmful messages was vaguely defined, and it would be interesting to see what the courts said about it. ‘Of course, in this country we have very strong crimen injuria laws, and if those are applied directly on social media, a lot of people can be charged,’ said Watson. ‘When I say wildly unrealistic things, it reflects a very deep misunderstanding of how cyberspace works. For example, most social media – Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, but also direct media like WhatsApp – have some form of security for secrecy, but they do not have security for ensuring that messages are signed. So someone will be able to very quickly deny they sent the message,’ he said.
He said getting evidence to prove it would be immensely difficult and costly, and required the co-operation of those companies. Watson said there was no hope that the government would build up the capacity to investigate, and the police were already overworked and under-equipped. He also said the notion of ‘harmful’ could be used to suppress political dissent, which according to him, was always dangerous.
We have, too often, seen the effect of unintended consequences, often the result of good intentions without a proper perspective of the current reality. The Afrikaans expression “Moenie krap waar dit nie jeuk nie” comes to mind. Alternatively, “Don’t fix what ain’t broke”.