Governor Augustus Jaspert has said the delay to assent the VIP government’s Computer Misuse & Cyber Crime Amendment Act of 2019 is because of a few concerns he has in the Bill surrounding freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
Governor Jaspert was at the time responding to a question posed from members of the media on Monday, February 3, following Premier Andrew Fahie’s recent call for him to assent the Bill, which passed in the House of Assembly last year.
“The bill is an important bill. It includes areas in there about how we protect children online, how we tackle issues like fraud and people who are abusing the online space. It also has some very important areas that have been flagged to me and to the Premier as well about speech and what is the right level of speech online, including for the media in particular,” Governor Jaspert stated.
“Those are important issues. What is the right of the media to cause inconvenience or annoyance? Is it right or wrong that a journalist can cause inconvenience? Those are some of the issues that are being debated,” he explained.
Discussions being had with Premier
Governor Jaspert further said that active discussions are being had between him and Premier Fahie as the two has been corresponding with regards to the Bill since December 2019.
“The Premier is aware of the issues. I have written to him on them and as he responds I’ll consider that and make a decision as to how we proceed … I hope to be able to talk through those issues or come to a conclusion on those issues and make a decision soon,” he added.
Bill underwent most democratic process
Meanwhile, Premier Fahie in a media conference last month had expressed confidence that the Computer Misuse & Cyber Crime Amendment Act of 2019 had undergone the most democratic process in the Virgin Islands and questioned why it had not yet been passed into law.
He said: “We totally ventilated that bill just like the other times, clause by clause, page by page, word by word, spot by spot on the page. Now, you tell me that this was the most ventilated bill in the history of the Virgin Islands what could possibly pop up that should not have been seen before by any entity even those who have concerns now? When everybody had a chance to deal with it from the onset.”
Bill met with huge criticism locally and internationally.
Since the announcement of the Bill, it has been met with vast criticism from international entities and local political figures who expressed concerns that the Bill could jeopardize the freedom of media workers and outspoken residents in the territory.
The Bill, once made law, will see persons who are found guilty of electronic defamation being fined up to $100,000 or a maximum of three years in prison or even 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.