Social messaging and jail time

Earlier this year, Adam Catzavelos filmed himself using the k-word during a racist rant on a beach in Greece. He later shared the video with a group of friends on WhatsApp and one of them made the video more widely available until it was shared across virtually all social media platforms.

In another video that went viral, Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader, Julius Malema, was filmed shooting an AK47 at a political rally.

Realising the threat posed, the South African government has set out to criminalise the sharing of any and all malicious communication.

To achieve this, it has set out a number of vague new messaging rules which could see people receiving a hefty fine, jail time or both – even if your message is private.

The Cybercrime and Cybersecurity Bill, will be entered into parliamentary discussion in the coming weeks and is intended to bring South Africa in-line with cyberlaw being implemented internationally. While the majority of the Bill focuses on criminalising the theft and interference of data, it also introduces new laws governing “malicious” electronic communication.

Messages could result in jail time and/or a fine if they:

  • incite the causing of any damage to any property belonging to, or violence against, a person or a group of persons;
  • intimidate, encourage or harass a person to harm himself or herself or any other person;
  • are inherently false in nature and aimed at causing mental, psychological, physical or economic harm to a specific person or a group of persons;
  • are intimate in nature, and distributed without the consent of the person involved.

In addition, the Bill compels all banking institutions, internet service providers and cellular companies to assist in an investigation – allowing the government to access any pertinent private information as evidence.

However, Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, John Jeffery, has insisted that the new Bill is not an extension of government’s surveillance powers.

“Data is merely a means to commit offences such as fraud, damage of programs and computer systems, extortion, forgery and uttering. It can also be used to commit murder by remotely switching of a respiratory system, or terrorism by overloading the centrifuges of a nuclear station, or remotely opening the sluices of a dam which causes large-scale flooding,” says Jeffery.

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