The controversial Computer Misuse & Cybercrime (Amendment) Act of 2019 is now in effect in the British Virgin Islands after being assented by Governor Augustus Jaspert on Wednesday, February 12.
Governor Jaspert said strong consideration was given to the legislation’s provisions before deciding to make it law.
“After consulting the Premier and Cabinet, I have assented to the Act… Many of these amendments are positive steps and are needed to deter nefarious online behaviour such as cyberbullying, to prevent identity theft and fraud, and to protect children and vulnerable people,” Governor Jaspert stated.
Concerns raised by media
He also noted that a number of concerns were expressed to him by both local and regional members of the media with specific regards to the freedom of expression aspect of the Act.
“Their concerns relate to certain provisions in the amended Act that they believe may threaten the principle and guarantee of free expression and press freedom and that the citizens of any democracy have a fundamental right to debate the public figures and policies that affect their lives,” he said.
Assured that provisions will not silence freedom of expression
Governor Jaspert however said that he was guaranteed in his consultations, that those said provisions will not be used to silence the democratic freedom of expression of residents.
He said: “I have been assured that those provisions in the amended Act that have attracted criticism should not, and will not, be seen as free rein for prosecuting content which is consistent with guarantees of freedom of expression in a democratic society.”
“My view is that freedom of expression can, and should, include the right to appropriately say things that others may not want to hear. Social media and online platforms are necessary in a democracy for discussion, exchange of information and opinions,” Jaspert added.
DPP recommended to create guidelines to follow
Governor Jaspert further said that he has also sought the input of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions on the matter.
“I have also recommended to the Director of Public Prosecutions that she consider the drafting of guidelines that would help to ensure that the offences created under the Computer Misuse & Crime Act as amended can be prosecuted fairly and effectively without compromising freedom of speech guaranteed by the Virgin Islands Constitution Order 2007, particularly protection for those commenting online and for journalistic reporting,” he said.
This decision by Governor Jaspert to assent the Bill comes only days after expressing at a media conference, that he was stalling its approval, due to his concerns surrounding freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
Convicted Sentences and Fines
Now that the Bill has become law, persons who are found guilty of electronic defamation will be fined up to $100,000 or face a maximum of three years in prison or both.
For other crimes within the Bill, the fines and prison sentences have vastly increased — from convicted persons having to pay in upwards of $50,000 or face imprisonment for a maximum of five years, to $500,000 and or a maximum of 14 years in prison.