As the age-old saying goes "think before you speak". It's a life lesson that has served us well and has been passed down from generation to generation. Communication has drastically improved over the last few decades, and we now have more ways to communicate with one another than ever before.
Platforms like social media and instant messaging have become so ubiquitous that in many instances it's the primary source of communication for many people. As users begin to flock to these platforms so do those who have intent to harm and this is why scams have increased on these online platforms.
New rules for a new means of communication
In a bid to curb this kind of behaviour a new Cybercrimes Bill has implemented to govern instant messaging behaviour. Which means that South Africans will have to start thinking twice about certain types of messages they send over WhatsApp and other forms of social media
The legislation wants to reduce the number of harmful text messages that do the rounds on the messaging service. Committing such a crime can lead to “a fine or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding three years, or to both a fine and imprisonment.” – a quote is taken directly from the bill.
Before we dive into what kind of messages are prohibited, let’s first briefly look why we need the cybercrime bill.
Why do we need the Cybercrimes Bill?
Cybercrime is on the increase, and to reduce its effectiveness; the Cybercrimes Bill aims to keep people safe from criminals, terrorists and other states. It also amalgamates cybercrime laws into one place.
While mainly crucial amendments have been made since it was first suggested in 2017, the Bill is still largely aimed at bringing South Africa in line with other countries’ cyber laws as well as the ever-growing threat of cybercrime.
Who is affected by the Cybercrimes Bill?
The Cybercrimes Bill impacts all of us who process data or use a computer. Individuals, parents, journalists, organisations, banks and many others will probably commit many offences daily. Including:
- People involved with IT (or data protection) regulatory compliance.
- All Electronic Communications Service Providers (ECSPs).
- Financial institutions.
- Representatives from various government departments.
- Cybercriminals and terrorists.
- Providers or vendors of software or hardware tools that could be used to commit offences.
- Information security experts.
- Everyone who uses a computer or the internet.
- The Police Service.
What are the proposed new crime messages?
It is essential to understand that this Cybercrime does not solely focus on any ‘malicious’ electronic communication but that its principal focus is on criminalising the theft and interference of data.
However, concerns have previously been raised about the ‘vagueness’ of these messaging rules, especially because of the steep consequences attached to them.
So what type of messages could land you in hot water?
A message which incites damage to property or violence
Any person who unlawfully makes available, broadcasts or distributes by means of a computer system, a data message to a person, group of persons or the general public with the intention to incite:
- (a) the causing of any damage to property belonging to; or
- (b) violence against, a person or a group of persons.
It further clarifies that ‘violence’ means any bodily harm, while ‘damage to property’ means damage to any corporeal or incorporeal property.
A message which threatens persons with damage to property or violence
As an extension of the above, the Bill also makes it an offence to distribute messages which endangers a group of people with violence, or with damage to their property.
The Bill clarifies that ‘group of persons’ means characteristics that identify an individual as a member of a group,
These characteristics include without limitation:
- Marital status
- Ethnic or social origin
- Sexual orientation
- And Birth and nationality.
A message which unlawfully contains an intimate image
Any person who sends a message containing an intimate image of a person without their consent is guilty of an offence.
The Bill describes an ‘intimate image’ as both real and simulated messages which show the person as nude or display his or her genital organs or anal region.
This includes instances where the person is identifiable through descriptions in the message or from other information displayed in the data message. It also notes that the message is an offence if the person is female and her covered genitals or breasts are displayed in a manner that violates or offends her sexual integrity or dignity.
Think before pressing send
While this bill will go a long way to discouraging bad behaviour on instant messaging platforms, it doesn't mean it will be completely stamped out. Users still need to take special care of what types of information they distribute online as well as the messaging they put out into the digital world.
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