Why law on cyberspace is long overdue



The level of cyber crime in Kenya at the moment is such that businesses are grounding to a halt. Cases of those who have lost money online simply because sensitive information was leaked are many and diverse. As always the case, whenever you go online you are never sure whether you’ve engaged in a secure manner or not. You could just be checking your account balance or paying bills only to fall prey to the sly hands of online criminals. That’s why the Computer Misuse and Cyber Crimes Act (2018) that was recently signed into law by President Uhuru Kenyatta is good news.

The new Act will do a lot towards securing online transactions by clearly defining online crime and laying out its just desserts in law. Some of the offenses provided in the Act include cyber bullying, interception of messages, identity theft, distribution of obscene images and fake news as well as computer fraud. This Act will help restore and maintain sanity online, and will most likely benefit those who are big on digital platforms like Face book, Twitter, WhatsApp, Google and their host of users and beneficiaries, which include individuals and companies and community groups among others. Many have seen this law as constituting an attack on so-called online freedom, as spearheaded mainly by political bloggers, which is simply not the case. Yes, in the spotlight are rogue bloggers who have time and again been found mudslinging and holding commerce in innuendo, slander, tribal jingoism and incendiary propaganda, the objects of the Act go much further than these and their ilk. The object of any law is always to set new standards, regulate a sphere of activity, ensure public safety and security, safeguard private freedom all of which the Act deigns to do. In short, the Act simply sets out to extirpate the nonsensical digital games that unethical online users have perfected. The whole array of fake news, freewheeling mudslinging and outright defamation of individuals, companies and brands must stop, surely.

Even politics has its confines and proprieties, and some lewd and outlandish claims and comments made in the name of politics simply do not make the cut. Would you call denigrating an entire ethnic group politics, or the calling for forcing removal of a people from their legally acquired properties simply campaigning?  No, such antics dangerously cross the border and tread on the forbidden provinces of instatement, and worse. The perpetrators of such ills must be made to carry their own cross and not hide under the chimera of political party, tribe or whatever juggernaut is current.

The call is thus for all producers and purveyors of online content, including bloggers, members of the Fourth Estate as well as ordinary writers and website owners to triple check the details of their work before clicking the mouse. The environment to be fostered by such a law would give rise to a vibrant Internet-based industry where only reputable content producers will stay in the game, creating an avenue for secure deals to be shared across the board – from websites to apps, and from cloud computing to social platforms, thus guaranteeing good returns. People will be able to do what they do best online with the full legal assurance that they can have full recourse to the law for any mishaps online.

A case that’s still fresh on the minds of many is that which went viral in 2016. A hacker was allegedly able to access data systems of a leading local bank and publicly leaked more than 500,000 customers’ details, including their phone numbers and full names. Based on first-hand experience, having worked in a bank, when things like that happen, the corporate image is severely dented and legal and financial liabilities of colossal amounts may be incurred. Businesses that have an online presence hence stand to gain immensely from regulation of cyber space. For PR practitioners, it would remove so much clutter that clouds the online space, making it much more difficult to pass legitimate and genuine business massages and offers online. Telling your story, pitching a cause, selling your wares or even refuting or supporting need not involve use of incendiary and degenerate language and antics, blatant incitement or ethnic profiling. For those with a story to tell, the Act would actually  aid, not  hinder. It is the cyber bullies and buccaneers who have the most to lose, and it is precisely these who are the target of the Act.

It is noteworthy that the Media Council of Kenya, founded under the Media Council Act, 2013 and working under the Ministry of Information, Communications and Technology has been grappling with the dilemma of fake news as part of their mandate of regulating the Media. It has established a fake news-flagging desk that works closely with Media houses to prevent publication and subsequent dissemination of fake news. That has included setting standards for journalism in service of the public good. Through the Kenya Media Sector Working Group, co-chaired with the Kenya Union of Journalists, the council has pursued a collaborative approach that combines strong elements of industry self-regulation. Has this approach failed, or does it just need strong legal teeth through appropriate statute?

Whatever the case, we appreciate the right of all affected individuals and groups to seek legal redress, as that is a right of every citizen that is expressly enshrined in the constitution, no less. Already, the Bloggers Association of Kenya has moved to court in a suit backed by the Kenya Union of Journalists to challenge implementation of the Act, which they argue would not only infringe on freedom of expression but also the right of privacy, both fundamental freedoms guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. The Court will have the final say. Regardless of any eventual outcome, however, what is beyond doubt is the fact that we all need effective laws to improve our experiences, whether online or offline.

writer is CEO Lens Media, a public relations agency operating in Kenya