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IFEX members and partners urge Iraq not to pass overbroad, punitive cyber crimes law

A bill on "information-technology crimes" with particularly broad wording and harsh punishments is due to come before Iraq's parliament this month. More than 40 IFEX members and partners have banded together to try to stop it, at the initiative of ARTICLE 19 and Access Now.

"The proposed legislation puts online actors from nearly every sector, including IT, finance, corporations, the public sector, civil society and the press, at risk of severe punishment," says a letter sent by the groups to the Iraqi Ministry of Communication.

According to the groups, the bill attempts to enforce national security and "morality" agendas, making it a crime to violate "religious, moral, family, or social principles or values" or promote terrorist "ideas."

It includes mandatory life sentences for using computers or the Internet to threaten the "unity" of the country, promote ideas which are disruptive to public order, or engage in trafficking, promoting or facilitating the abuse of drugs, say the members.

The act does not distinguish between individuals who carry out cyber crimes and Internet service providers or other web intermediaries, say the groups.

Plus, the letter points out, criminal penalties are imposed for libel and insults of others. "It seems that any criticism of the government, corporations, or even private individuals might constitute 'an insult,' presenting a serious chilling effect on the exercise of free speech," said Access Now.

"We understand that at present, Iraq lacks important legislation about the Internet on the issues of e-commerce, intellectual property, identity theft, and data security," says the letter. "However, the rush to address these gaps enables surveillance and censorship, and threatens to set back the economic, political, and social development of the nation."

According to Access Now, if the law gets passed, it could set a dangerous precedent for the region. Lebanon's government is considering an Internet law that is similar to Iraq's in breadth, if not in harshness. Egypt's Telecommunications Ministry is working on plans to censor the web for pornography.

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