The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to defending press freedom worldwide, is deeply concerned about a provisional law on cyber crimes that was approved by the cabinet of ministers on August 3. We believe that the law contains several repressive aspects that can be used to harass online media. The law, if you endorse it through a royal decree, would undermine Jordan's image as a free and open society.
While the provisional 2010 Information Systems Cyber Crimes Law addresses important issues of electronic crimes like hacking or illegally obtaining information for financial transactions, it also includes a number of broadly written provisions that could hinder online expression and restrict the ability of journalists to report the news.
In all, the law provides authorities with sweeping powers to restrict the flow of information and limit public debate. Article 8 penalizes "sending or posting data or information via the Internet or any information system that involves defamation or contempt or slander," without defining what constitutes those crimes. Article 12 penalizes obtaining "data or information not available to the public, concerning national security or foreign relations of the kingdom, public safety or the national economy" from a website without a permit. Article 13 allows for law enforcement officers to search the offices of websites and access their computers without prior approval from public prosecutors.
We fail to see the urgency with which this law is being enacted. According to Article 94 of Jordan's constitution, the government has the right to issue provisional laws on urgent matters in the absence of a parliament. Since the Jordanian parliament was dissolved in 2009 following widespread criticism of ineffectiveness and corruption, the next parliamentary elections are scheduled for November.
National Internet and human rights groups have expressed their concern already. A consortium of electronic websites organized a conference in Amman on August 10 and issued a statement calling the law "a major blow to new media," expressing hope that "the Jordanian government will reverse its political decision and take the initiative to withdraw the law." On Wednesday, the state-funded National Centre for Human Rights urged the government to amend the law, saying it violates press freedom, yet news reports said that government pressure caused the center to voice its support the very next day. The Jordan Professional Associations Complex said in a statement that the government "has once again violated the constitution by issuing more temporary laws that are not of an urgent nature, as stipulated in Article 94a of the Jordanian constitution." According to the association, the government is now about to endorse its 25th temporary law in less than a year since it was formed.
Additionally, we ask that you lift a ban imposed earlier this month on public-sector workers from accessing 48 local news websites at work. Information Minister, Marwan Juma, told the BBC that the step would "improve services" by saving time and money. We are disturbed that the ban mainly targets local news agencies.
The government's decision to ban news sites and the approval of the cyber crime law comes at a crucial time--as the country prepares for parliamentary elections in November and citizens rely on local agencies for news. Now, more than ever, is a time to allow free and open access to journalism both in print and online. We ask that you not sign the 2010 Information Systems Cyber Crimes Law and allow full access to all news sites.
Thank you for your attention to these important matters. We look forward to your reply.