Proposed Laws in Iraq “Threaten Online Speech”

There are also extreme penalties related to copyright–2-3 years imprisonment for publishing or copying “any scientific research work, literary, or intellectual properties which belong to someone else and is protected by international laws and agreements”–and hacking, punishing those who access “a private website of a company or institution with the intent to [change, modify, delete or unduly use it].”

Human rights group, Access, has issued an extensive report detailing the many troubling facets of the proposed Act, calling it “vague, broad, and overly harsh.” We couldn’t agree more: Iraq’s new bill presents a grave threat to free expression and innovation. While the harsh, disproportionate sentences are most egregious, the overbroad wording of most of the articles would strip away protections for the press, whistleblowers, activists, and even ordinary citizens.

It is worth noting that while Iraq has placed restrictions on the press, there has been no previous evidence of website blocking, although reports have suggested that Iraqi authorities struck a deal in 2009 with a French company to implement a “security system” that would allow both surveillance and blocking of sites.

Part of the reason, perhaps, that Iraq is now cracking down is the low number of Internet users in the country: an estimated 2.5% of the total of population, according to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). The number of people who access the Internet via mobile devices in Iraq is on the rise, however, with an estimated 33% of Iraqis getting news via their mobile device (that same survey states that 28% of Iraqis use the Internet for news).

Regardless of the true number of Internet users in Iraq, two things are certain: Iraqis are increasingly using the Internet and this proposed Act would severely limit their ability to do so. We echo Access in advising the Iraqi Parliament to conduct a proper human rights impact assessment of the Act and engage with civil society actors and technologists to revise the bill.

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