Balancing Security and Freedom: Cybercrime Legislation and Fundamental Rights

The internet has revolutionized the way we live, work, and communicate, but it has also ushered in new forms of risks, vulnerabilities, and crime, including cybercrime. As technology continues to evolve, so do the cyber threats that come with it. To combat this, governments around the world are enacting cybercrime legislation to protect their citizens online and to counter the previously unknown risks brought about by technology. However, it is essential to ensure that these laws do not impede freedom of expression, access to information, women’s rights online, data protection, and privacy. Oftentimes, governments enact laws that impede on the cyber freedoms of their citizens, and yet cybercrime legislation should strike a balance between protecting citizens online and safeguarding their fundamental rights such as freedom of expression.

In order to enable the safety of online users in the increasingly digital spaces, there is a need to adopt the Cyber Safety framework. This framework involves measures that promote safe usage of the internet such as protection against online gender-based violence and other forms of cyber attacks that majorly target women and girls.It requires awareness creation / digital literacy among women and girls and an enabling legal and policy framework to protect them and ensure that abusers are held to account.

Women face unique challenges in cyberspaces compared to their male counterparts, including Sexual harassment, stalking, and distribution of Non Consensual intimate Images (NCII) among a wide range of challenges. Cybercrime legislation should ensure that such behavior is criminalized and punished. These laws should also protect the anonymity and privacy of victims who report such offenses. Governments should also promote digital literacy and provide resources to help women protect themselves from online threats. Any cybercrime legislation must also protect the right to freedom of expression. Laws that are too broad or vague can be misused to censor, dissent and restrict the free flow of information. For example, some governments have used anti-terrorism laws to prosecute journalists and activists for expressing opinions that criticize the government. To protect freedom of expression, cybercrime legislation should have clear definitions of what constitutes an offense and ensure that penalties are proportionate to the offense.

Information is essential for citizens to make informed decisions, participate in democratic processes, and hold governments accountable. However, some governments have used cybercrime legislation to block access to information and websites that they deem “unacceptable.” To protect access to information, cybercrime legislation should not be used as an excuse to restrict online content that is legal and legitimate. Furthermore, data protection and privacy are critical issues in the digital age. Any cybercrime legislation must protect citizens’ personal information from theft, misuse, and abuse. Such legislation should ensure that individuals have control over their personal data and are informed of how it’s being collected, stored, and used. Cybercrime legislation should also provide citizens with the right to access their data and have it deleted if they choose.

Therefore, cybercrime legislation is essential to protecting citizens from online threats and safeguarding fundamental rights such as freedom of expression, access to information, women’s rights online, and data protection and privacy. However, Governments must strike a balance between security and individual rights and ensure that laws are not misused to suppress, dissent or restrict access to information. With the careful crafting of cybercrime legislation, it is possible to have a safe and secure online environment that respects citizens’ rights and freedoms.

On Friday 10th February 2023, at Mestil Hotel Kampala, WOUGNET conducted a multistakeholder training engagement workshop for policymakers, government agencies, CSO’s and lawmakers to better understand how women are affected by the cybercrime legislation, focusing on freedom of expression, access to information, women safety online, privacy, and data protection.

Authors: Peter Ongom and Irene Marunga
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Twitter: @Karlvoo, @marungairyne


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