In a strong stand for digital rights and freedom of expression, the Geneva Council condemns the Jordanian government’s proposed cybercrimes law currently before parliament. The bill, if passed, would undermine online liberties, jeopardize internet users’ right to anonymity, and grant unprecedented authority to control social media, leading to a concerning surge in online censorship.
Expressing deep concerns over the proposed legislation, the Geneva Council highlights the detrimental impact it could have on civic space in Jordan. Over the past few years, the authorities have intensified their crackdown on peaceful civic organizers and individuals engaging in political dissent, exploiting existing vague and abusive laws that criminalize speech, association, and assembly.
The draft cybercrimes law, intended to replace Jordan’s 2015 law, consists of 41 articles compared to the current law’s 15 articles. The Geneva Council has identified several aspects that deviate from international human rights standards and principles that Jordan has already endorsed:
- Utilization of Overly Broad and Vague Terms: Articles 14, 15, 16, 17, and 19 employ imprecise and undefined language, including terms like “fake news,” “promoting immorality,” “online assassination of personality,” “provoking strife,” “undermining national unity,” and “contempt for religions.” Such ambiguity fails to meet the necessary precision for legal texts, creating uncertainty and risk of misuse.
- Impact on Free Expression and Access to Information: Article 24 imposes penalties for publishing information about law enforcement officials without prior authorization, effectively criminalizing any speech perceived as offensive towards these officials. International freedom of expression standards emphasize the right to share offensive content and publicly criticize officials, an essential aspect of democratic discourse.
- Impact on Online Anonymity: Article 12 introduces penalties for individuals circumventing IP addresses with the intent of committing a crime or preventing its discovery. While legitimate restrictions on anonymity for criminal investigation purposes are necessary, the proposed provision poses a risk to privacy and free expression online.
- New Controls over Social Media: Article 37 would require social media companies with over 100,000 subscribers in Jordan to establish offices in the country to comply with authorities’ requests. Noncompliance could lead to severe penalties, potentially stifling freedom of expression on digital platforms.
The Geneva Council strongly urges the Jordanian government to reconsider the proposed cybercrimes law and to engage in constructive dialogue with civil society groups. Alternative, rights-respecting measures to address concerns around hate speech and disinformation should be explored, acknowledging that these issues are not unique to Jordan.
By taking these crucial steps, Jordan can safeguard digital rights, uphold freedom of expression and information, and demonstrate its commitment to international human rights standards.