Govt goes to Parliament with law to clamp down on ‘mailbox politics’
Ria Taitt Political Editor
Government has moved to clamp down on computer “hacking” and what National Security Minister Gary Griffith described as “mailbox politics”.
Persons who engage in the unauthorised transmission or sharing of e-mail would now find themselves in breach of the law, would be prosecuted and face fines and jail terms.
The bill requires a special majority.
One week after Housing Minister Roodal Moonilal and other People’s Partnership spokespersons accused the Opposition People’s National Movement of “hacking” into their computers to obtain private e-mails, Griffith yesterday piloted the Act to provide for the creation of offences related to cybercrime and an act to provide for the establishment of the Trinidad and Tobago Cyber Security Agency in the House of Representatives.
Griffith said the bill would create the offence of “illegally accessing a computer system, whereby a person intentionally and without lawful excuse or justification accesses a computer system for the purposes of securing computer data.”
“We can recall recent matters where information is just received and extracted. This would go a long way to eliminate that concept we see now of “mailbox politics” whereby information just comes to people, they make an announcement. Now we need to know where did you get it (e-mails) from,” the minister said.
Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley, who had last May exposed a number of e-mail exchanges allegedly among top Government officials, listened intently.
The bill also criminalises illegally remaining in a computer system “after authorisation has expired and without lawful excuse”.
It also criminalises the “illegally acquiring of computer data whether for personal use or for use by another person”.
Griffith said the act of “obtaining” the information covers any activity undertaken by the offender to obtain possession of the data, including copying files from the original source to the offender’s storage device or removing a storage device.
He added that this clause only applies where the data is protected by password or encryption.
Under the bill, “illegally acquiring computer data whether for personal use or for use by another person” is prohibited.
The bill also creates the offence of “violating a person’s privacy by capturing and sharing pictures or video of the person’s private area without his consent.
“This is usually referred to as “voyeurism”, (the practice of spying on person engaged in intimate behaviours) he said. This provoked picong from the male members of the Government and Opposition benches causing an amused Griffith to say: “Gentlemen, silence!”
Griffith said the bill would also criminalise the act of sending multiple electronic mail messages that are unsolicited and which causes harm to a person or damage to a computer”.
This clause deals with SPAM mail. However, the clause is only triggered if the messages are sent to more than 500 recipients at a time and must cause harm to a person or damage to a computer.
He said clause 21 seeks to create the offence of “harassment through the use of electronic means with the intent to cause emotional distress for both adults and minors. This clause seeks to treat with harassment, cyberbullying, damage to reputation and extortion via the use of a computer system.
Anyone who interferes with a computer system is also in breach of the law. Griffith said greater penalties would be imposed on persons whose acts affect critical infrastructure, such as national or economic security, banking and financial services, public utilities, the energy sector, communications infrastructure, public transportation, public health and society or public key infrastructure.
There is also an offence of computer-related forgery which would make it unlawful to input, alter, delete or suppress computer data, which would result in unauthentic data.
Griffith said the court would be empowered to authorise the search and seizure of apparatus and computer data necessary for establishing an offence or order an Internet service provide to remove or disable computer data or to order a partial disclosure of traffic data.
Under the bill, computer includes smartphones and any device that can process information or electronic data.
Griffith said based on reports from the Cybercrime Unit of the Police Service, Trinidad and Tobago had witnessed an increase in the number of cyber incidents including online bullying, attempted domain hijacking, website hacking and defacement.
“In April 2012, the Ministry of Finance and Parliament websites were hacked and in July 2012 the ATMs skimming scams whereby well hidden cameras were used by thieves to capture the personal identification numbers for some customers’ debit and credit cards from a few major banking institutions,” he said.