Cyberspace Crime Law: Concerns, Reassurances, and Thoughts

Jordan’s ICT Ministry published the text of the latest Cyberspace Crime Law recently, introducing some regulation, but also protection and possible restrictions to the largely unregulated IT sector in Jordan. The law is a major step forward for privacy and security, creating punishments for unauthorized access of all types, as well as unauthorized modification of data, etc. But the text of the law at certain articles is vague, providing multiple possibilities of interpretation and thus some concerns.

Note that I translated all relevant snippets from Arabic to English myself, and I am by no means qualified to give a proper legal translation or correct legal terminology. It is only done for the sole purpose of giving context to non-Arabic readers and not to be taken seriously as correct technical interpretations.

Concerns

Article 8 is probably the greatest possible concern, stating:

المادة8- كل من قام قصداً بإرسال أو نشر بيانات أو معلومات عن طريق الشبكة المعلوماتية أو أي نظام معلومات تنطوي على ذم أو قدح أو تحقير أي شخص يعاقب بغرامة لا تقل عن (100) مائة دينار ولا تزيد على (2000) ألفي دينار.

Translated:

Article 8- Any person who has, on purpose, sent or published figures or information via the Web or any other network to vilify or slander or insult any person is punished by a fine no less that one hundred Jordanian Dinars and no more than two thousand Jordanian Dinars.

In theoretical terms, the article is actually healthy, as it legitimizes the Internet as a normal continuation of a physical world, where accountability and responsibility still exists, and where the author or creator of information is still responsible for one’s words, just as one is in the physical world. The problem, however, is two-fold:

  1. The first problem is the general nature of the offense. While the article appears to target libel, slander, and defamation, however, the final (أو تحقير = or insult) is concerning as it might generalize the article to include all insults/attacks, as opposed to defamation/libel. A common requirement for defamation is that the claim is non-factual and communicated to those other than the defamed individual. The vague and general final term to describe the offense, might be interpreted to render these requirements moot. For instance, if an individual blogs about a government figure and sharply criticizes him with correct information, making valid corruption allegations, it is an insult in general but not libel/defamation. The lack of a specific meaning to the term used makes this concerning.
  2. The second problem, which is greater, is that it provides no context-requirement. For instance, the article doesn’t address articles only, or publications, or blogs, but “any communication”. I personally agree with subjecting online publications, articles, and even blogs to such article. I’d also agree with subjecting mass e-mails, or perhaps hall e-mails (i.e. person A sending e-mail to businessman B, slandering potential client/partner/employee C) (side not: provided no external monitoring by the government). However, when it comes to blog comments, online forums, chat websites, etc. I think such article becomes a violation of freedom of expression.

What do you think?

Article 9 also uses general terminology which I found open to much interpretation. Subsection (a) of Article 9 states:

المادة 9- أ- كل من أرسل أو نشر عن طريق نظام معلومات أو الشبكة المعلوماتية قصداً كل ما هو مسموع أو مقروء أو مرئي مناف للحياء موجه إلى أو يمس شخصا لم يبلغ الثامنة عشرة من العمر يعاقب بالحبس مدة لا تقل عن ثلاثة اشهر وبغرامة لا تقل عن (300) ثلاثمائة دينار ولا تزيد على (5000) خمسة ألاف دينار.

The article basically prohibits “indecent” materials that targets (or is accessible to) those below age of 18, as well as indecent material that affects those below age 18. The article supposedly refers to sexually indecent material, whether in writing, imagery, or video. The problem however is the social meaning for indecent may also be open to interpretation. Would it include an insult on religion? Would it include a religious debate? Someone claiming that Religion A is a fairy tale? Certainly by standards of our society these are considered indecent. Is that possible? I don’t think its a serious concern, but certainly more concise terminology (as achieved by sub-section B of the very same article) can help.

Article 13b+c are another concern, perhaps more valid than the previous one. 13b goes to state (truncated):

… يجوز لموظفي الضابطة العدلية ضبط الأجهزة والأدوات والبرامج والأنظمة والوسائل المستخدمة في ارتكاب أي من الجرائم المنصوص عليها أو يشملها هذا القانون والأموال المتحصلة منها والتحفظ على المعلومات والبيانات المتعلقة بارتكاب أي منها.

Basically stating that authorities have the right to possess or confiscate any equipment or tools or software or systems and “methods”  used to commit any of the mentioned offenses and retaining related information and data.

Sub-section c goes further:

ج- للمحكمة المختصة الحكم بمصادرة الأجهزة و الأدوات والوسائل وتوقيف أو تعطيل عمل أي نظام معلومات أو موقع الكتروني مستخدم في ارتكاب أي من الجرائم المنصوص عليها أو يشملها هذا القانون ومصادرة الأموال المتحصلة من تلك الجرائم والحكم بإزالة المخالفة على نفقة مرتكب الجريمة.

Translated:

c- Respective courts have the right to rule to confiscate equipment, tools, and methods, as well as terminate or disable any ICT system or Internet Website used to commit any of the crimes described and included in this Law, and the confiscation of funds obtained from these crimes, and ruling to remove the offense on the expense of those guilty.

Again, this is certainly important and valuable taking into consideration articles that refer to terrorism, national security, pornographic materials, etc. However, given the existence of Article 8, does any form of libel warrant the mere possibility of confiscation of servers or information. And given the concerns on the general nature of Articles 8 and 9, could such a procedure of confiscation of servers or retaining information be a restriction on internet freedom?

I am one who truly believes in the goodwill  of the government. As such, I am comfortable that the government will not take any extreme measures to make the worst of these concerns into truth, ever; however, I am still uncomfortable, and again the reason is two-fold:

  1. The potential for abuse is there. While right now the probability of such abuse is zero for all intents and purposes, the potential that such abuse would arise one day, by a future government or under different circumstances in the future, is there. And this can be easily circumvented.
  2. Some of these offenses, especially the ones mentioned above, will allow the general public to seek the judicial branch (article 17). Here, vagueness of some of the terms, as well as the possibility for interpretation, combined with the strong powers given to the court, creates greater potential for abuses by the public against owners of websites expressing themselves, facilitated by the courts.

Reassurances

The law finally provides protections to owners of websites and their users by restricting access to equipment, files, data, and information, addressing hacking, and providing a range of punishments depending on the nature of access violations. The term also refers to important cyber crimes, such as Article 11 which addresses those who attempt to use cyberspace to facilitate terrorist activities, subjecting these persons to hard labor.

Article 17 itself, while addressed in the concerns section, is a great step forward to make Jordan grow as a state of Law and Institutions, per the king’s vision. Article 17 reserves the general public’s right to seek justice for any violation personally through our legal institutions. With liberal and progressive interpretations of the laws, and care from the judicial branch, we will have a population that hold one another accountable, and a population that is responsible to one another on the internet, as it is in the “physical world”.

My Problem with Sheer Exaggeration and Loaded Words in Argumentation

Prelude

I have been thinking about this one for a while. You see, I am very interested in regional politics (“region” here comes from the Latin “to Middle East“…), and I like to read about it in as many places I could, including blog posts of course, and I often comment when I feel compelled to share or add.

But I dislike exaggerated points and wrong facts, logical fallacies, an unfounded appeal for emotion, loaded non-arguments, etc. In normal conversations, these might not be that common, but when conversation shifts to politics or religion, where people are passionate about their arguments, often extremely committed to one side — blind to all the rest, these logical “mishaps” become more and more imminent.

When reading such points, I am often compelled to write back, with a counterargument.

The reason I share this now is because, in the Jordanian blogosphere, most points that bother me just so happen to be concentrated on one side, and as a result, most counterarguments I make happen to be concentrated on the inverse side. And I’m not a hard-liner-loyalist, but increasingly I feel that this is what it seems. And its something I’m used to, anti-religious friends, upon conversation, often deem me as extremely religious, while religious friends often deem me as extremely anti-religious. That is because, by my very nature, I like to respond to one-sided arguments (arguably, all passionate arguments are one-sided, but I disagree) with a one-sided counter-argument.

But to cut the crap, and go directly to the real unambiguous point:

Jordan, is a state with its own strengths and weaknesses, achievements and counter-achievements, perks and downsides, and ultimately, the government, is both right and wrong, depending on the issue. I am all for the continuous improvement of the country, society, and the establishment, and I understand and support that this entails criticism of the wrong.

As such, the arguments I try to fight are those that say its all good and dandy, and those that entail its all bad and horrible. But can’t we engage in more balanced critique where we can actually know where Jordan really stands — what are the upsides and downsides of establishment, where to improve, where to reform, where to revolutionize, and where to simply support?

Just because one might be dissatisfied by Jordan’s attitudes towards certain aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict, doesn’t mean that we should criticize the Abdali Regeneration project as a plan to suppress Ammanis, or even criticize all aspects of the attitudes towards the conflict to begin with. And when one is dissatisfied by internal policies, linking them to a national plan of intellectual suppression isn’t helpful either; it ignores real growth and real improvement in some places. All I say is, know where you stand, know where Jordan stands, and then engage in activism accordingly.

On the Making of a Country: A Walk through the Course of Political Development in Jordan

This took a good portion of my energy for the past month, and discusses the history of political development, and its lack thereof, in Jordan. It is rather long, but nevertheless, if you have a comment or something to say, then at least more than the abstract. You can either view it here, or, for more comfortable viewing, check the PDF at Scribd.

Abstract

This paper discusses the development of a political system in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, in an effort to understand the state of the current political system in the country. Different phases and defining moments in the history of Jordan will be studied, and will often directly correspond to phases of Jordanian national identity. Starting from the assassination of King Abdullah I and the short-lived reign of Talal, through the numerous coup d’état attempts in early reign of Hussein I, up to the 1994 Wadi Araba Treaty of Peace, the effect of ongoing events in shaping a political system in Jordan will be explored.

The development of a political system in Jordan will be discussed hand-in-hand along with contemporary regional politics and political movements, coupled with internal views regarding national identity. As such, the rise of Nasser and Nasserism is examined, illustrating the impact of the increasingly popular Nasserist movements in the 1950’s on the government, its policy, and the political system. Similarly, the Arab-Israeli Conflict as a whole, including the Six-Day war, the influence of the PLO, the rise of Fedayeen, and Black September will be reviewed, showing how these also shaped state policy. In addition, the rise of Islamic movements, particularly the Islamic Action Force (IAF), the Jordanian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, and its relation to and impact on the political system will be discussed throughout the course of history.

It will be argued that the period of the late 1950s in King Hussein’s reign, the Six-day war of 1967, the battle of Karameh of 1968, and most importantly, Black September of 1970, have been defining moments in the history of a Jordanian national identity and the formation of its current-day political system. The paper will reason that Black September represents the climax of an internal political crisis that lasted throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s.

The development of a Jordanian political system will be studied, beginning with King Talal and Prime Minister Tawfiq abul-Huda’s rewriting of the constitution and the establishment of some sort of a semi-democracy that is put to the test in the 1952 abdication of King Talal. The effect of Nasserist-inspired coup d’état attempts, as well as Black September on the Jordanian political system will be investigated, as well as the 23-year-long era of martial law, and the still-developing political system that emerged afterwards.

The essay aims to argue that the current political system – as well as its lack-thereof – in Jordan, is a result of a combination of organic development and non-development due to a century’s internal, as well as regional, political repercussions. It is my hope that this paper would illustrate the malleability of the political system and the possibility of continuous improvement. More so, it is my hope to illustrate that the existing political system (whether its current state is fortunate or unfortunate) is a result of internal, regional, and – seldom – external political repercussions, rather than a set static agenda by the ruling elite.

Background

Since Abdullah I’s reign, the newly-created kingdom of Jordan was particularly unstable; the Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan (East Bank) has just merged with the West Bank, absorbing highly politicized Palestinian West Bankers, as well as refugees, giving them all Jordanian citizenship, and tripling the population of the country[1]. The entering population of Palestinians was more sophisticated, urbanized, and educated than the average Transjordanian population, which was predominantly Bedouin. Palestinians loyal to the Mufti also saw Jordan as an occupying power, and held a “high moral ground”, believing that Jordan’s Arab Legion, along with other Arab armies, have failed them, while others looked at King Abdullah as a “protector against Israeli aggression”. It is important to note that, until 1967, these Palestinians never demanded separation from the East Bank.[2]

Thus, with a tripled population, a Transjordanian-Palestinian divide, strong Palestinian nationalism, and a growing refugee problem, the newly-created Hashemite kingdom was in highly critical times…

Beginning of Change

With three fatal gunshots[3] the life of newly-created kingdom of Jordan’s first monarch ended, marking the beginning of decades of uncertainty and instability that continue to leave a distinctive mark on the country’s political system today. Abdullah’s successor, his son Talal, shaped by his father’s mistreatment during his upbringing, was resolved on becoming his father’s polar opposite, and as such initiated far-reaching reforms to the Jordanian political system.[4]

Continue reading “On the Making of a Country: A Walk through the Course of Political Development in Jordan”

Election Law & Selective Representation

As part of a final paper I’m working on, I requested, and obtained a copy of a M.Sc. and B.Sc. thesis in Political Science at MIT, entitled “Containing the Opposition: Selective Representation in Jordan and Turkey”, by Raffaela Wakeman, who also worked in the Center for Strategic Studies in the University of Jordan for a while.

So, I went through a good chunk of it and read it, and while it reaffirms most of what we hear already about representation being the most fundamental problems, it also hows how fundamental a problem it is. Cities like Amman, Irbid, and Zarqa are between 2-3 times under-presented than Balqa’a, Karak, and others.

However, upon reading this, a very common fallacy also came to mind, in which the ruling power’s decisions are always rationalized on the basis of self-interest/ill-intentions, which I think is not the right approach. For instance, Jordan’s sheer under-representation of Palestinian-Jordanians in the parliament (or rather, under-representation of intellectuals in the parliament), is not part of a master plan to create a nation with an idle mind, or dominate the people, but rather (very unfortunate) measures to secure the 1994 Peace Treaty, or (very unfortunate) responses to events ranging from Abdullah I’s 1951 assassination, to Black September.

In any case, saying Jordan’s selective representation (which is a real problem) is a plan to “contain the opposition”, ignores the strong opposition that many Islamists as well as Bedouin “loyalists” possess to many crucial Hashemite plans.

I do hope the new election law is more representative. Current rumors are not so promising; Amman and Zarqa seem to be getting more seats, but not nearly enough.

My two-cents.

On the Arab Revolt

As an assignment, I was to write a review of the movie Lawrence of Arabia. Part of the such review included, of course, a comment on the Arab Revolt, which I think might be relevant to share. In any case, for the relevant parts, here we go:

The status of the Arab Revolt is complex, especially when considered by an Arab. While on the one hand, the Arab Revolt signifies a rebirth of the Arabs, in which attempts for independence re-emerge, and in which the yearning to greatness after years of dormancy is rekindled. In that respect, there is a big chance that Sherif Hussein’s correspondence with the British to secure an independent Arab future lead to the existence of the modern Arab states. One the other hand, however, while the Arab Revolt might signify the birth of Independent Arab entities, it also embodies some sort of death; a more serious Arab decline.

The deep involvement of the British with the Arab Revolt, as well as the Hashemite-British alliance have given leverage to Britain over the Arabs and allowed it to secure an autocratic role in handling the remains of the Ottoman Empire after its dissolution. The Arab Revolt, instead of resulting in the Birth of a unified and independent Arab state in the Arab regions of the Ottoman Empire, lead to the partitioning of the entire empire, the creation of artificial nation states, often with imported regents or rulers, the birth of the Palestine Question and the greater Arab-Israeli Conflict, the continued ‘colonization’ of the fragmented Arab states as a weak periphery ever supporting the west.

This complex two-sidedness of the Arab Revolt makes it particularly hard, especially for an Arab, to determine one’s views towards it. While an Arab might owe it to the revolt to still call oneself ‘an Arab’, its long term political failure means that an Arab also owes it to the revolt that he probably is, with an increased probability, regretful of being ‘an Arab’.

I do not think I am in a position to comment if the Arab Revolt was benign or not, worth it or not, positive or not. My point is not to comment on Sherif Hussein’s efforts in the revolt, nor the efforts of the Arabs as a people, because I think it is largely irrelevant. Regardless of the motivation, goals, and intentions of the revolt, the reason I view it with some sort of melancholy or regret is the end result of fragmentation and instability. And I do not think that Hussein or any of his peers had an impact on that. I look at the revolt with melancholy because of the British involvement, the broken promises, the double-alliances, and the way history unfolded. What a shame.

%d bloggers like this: