EDITORIAL: Ensure cybercrimes Bill doesn’t violate Constitution

ICT secretary Joe Mucheru. FILE PHOTO | WACHIRA MWANGI | NMG
ICT secretary Joe Mucheru. FILE PHOTO | WACHIRA MWANGI | NMG 

As the State prepares a Bill to tame hacking of government databases, it is critical to align the proposed law with the Constitution and modern ways of dealing with cyber espionage.

It makes a good attempt to deal with damaging data breaches in an environment where computerisation of everyday objects has turned the whole world into a hacker’s playground.

The weakest link of the proposed law is that it runs afoul of the Constitution. It also targets purveyors of fake news, which was prevalent during the August elections. 

A clause in the Computer and Cybercrimes Bill 2017 sets a penalty of Sh5 million and a prison term of two years for publishers of “false, misleading or fictitious data” with the intention that such “data shall be considered or acted upon as authentic.”

Here comes a broad definition of fake news that may include errors made by mainstream news channels.

This might offer a tool for unscrupulous people to silence the media with contents of the Bill threatening reporters with fines and prison if they published anything misleading.

The Bill does not offer remedy for the errors—which is against Article 35 of the Constitution that states: “Every person has the right to the correction or deletion of untrue or misleading information that affects the person.”

Our criticism of the Bill should not be misconstrued to mean we are against the proposed cybercrime law.

Hacking has the potential to undermine institutions that anchor the existence of nations, including powerful states like the US. American officials are investigating allegations that Russian hackers influenced last year’s election in favour of Donald Trump.

Still, the Bill should have gone further and met international threshold that demands the state, its agencies and private firms set cyber-security standards that make it difficult for hackers to thrive.

The law must envisage hefty fines for non-compliance. It is also key to think about data more intelligently, including how much is stored, and for how long, because it’s the bait for hackers.

Therefore, the promoters of the Bill should make it consistent with the Constitution and global standards in the battle against hackers.