Cyberbullies to face big fines

October 16, 2015
File Dr Andrew Wheatley

Cyberbullies are being warned to brace for stiff fines and lengthy prison sentences if they wilfully use the Internet or any computer device to send threatening, obscene or malicious material such as nude photos of an ex-girlfriend with the aim of causing harm.

Parliamentarians in the House of Representatives on Tuesday passed the Cybercrimes bill, which if approved by the Senate, would see people who engage in the malicious use of a computer being fined, in the case of a first offence, up to $4 million or imprisoned for a term of up to four years.

If any damage is caused as a result of the commission of the offence, a fine not exceeding $5 million or imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years, or both such fine and imprisonment has been prescribed.

The bill proposes that where a person is convicted of a second cyber bullying offence in the Resident Magistrate's court, the fine should be as much as $5 million, or imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years.

If the conviction takes place in the Circuit Court, a person can be fined, or face imprisonment of up to 20 years, or both such fine and imprisonment.

Specifically, the bill proposes that a person commits an offence if he/she wilfully uses a computer to send to another person any data that is obscene, constitutes a threat, or is menacing in nature.

The offence is created if the sender or the data is intended to cause, or is reckless as to cause annoyance, inconvenience, distress, or anxiety, to that person, or any other person.

Andrew Wheatley, the Opposition Spokesman on ICT and Digital Technology, expressed discomfort with the provision saying that it could result in unnecessary prosecution and embarrassment to people.

"The intention of this section is no doubt to reduce instances of cyber abuse and bullying, which we fully endorse. However, it seeks to be fully oblivious to the level of sophistication of the layman technology user," Wheatley said.

"I am sure that members of both sides of this house will agree that this section cannot stand. Some of us on both sides of this chamber, and for that matter, thousands of citizens, will be held criminally libellous."

His plea for a revision of the proposed clause led to an amendment in the proposal law, making it clear that the data must be wilfully sent with a malicious intent for it to constitute an offence.

Julian Robinson, junior minister in the technology ministry, said that the move to criminalise the distribution of certain data via the Internet done with the intent to commit harm is an important element for a society like Jamaica, which is a developing country.

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