set stiff penalties for cyber crimes following the passing of the Electronic Transactions Bill into law on Monday.
The Bill was enacted to make provisions for electronic transactions such as electronic agreements and commerce, the creation and recognition of offences relating to cyber crimes and establish department of e-government and Malawi Computer Emergency Response Team and outline its functions.
In the Bill, to become law after President Peter Mutharika assents to it, Malawians will be punished for unauthorised access, interception or interference with data, child pornography, cyber harassment, offensive communication, cyber stalking, hacking, cracking and introduction of viruses.
Other crimes include unlawful disabling of a computer system, spamming, illegal trade and commerce, attempting, aiding and abetting crime, offences committed by legal persons and other general offences.
The Bill has laid out fines ranging from K1 million to K10 million which will be meted for the violations of the electronic transactions.
Human rights activist Billy Mayaya, also an ardent user of social networks, said there was need for civic education for Internet users in the country on the general usage of Internet and social media networks and the imposed penalties.
He observed: “Cyber culture is developing in Malawi and there is a need for people to understand that when you use Internet you have to be responsible.”
Mayaya also welcomed the fines imposed and sentencing rules, saying it was an attempt to bring sentencing rules to modern level and should be across the board.
However, he observed that the sentencing amount for some of the offences were too high for ordinary Malawians, singling out cyber stalking and child pornography for high penalties.
In his reaction, lawyer Sunduzwayo Madise described the Bill as strange in that it combines issues of electronic commerce with online communication as well as cyber security.
He observed: “When the Bill becomes law, courts will start accepting electronic messages or communication as evidence. The main problem with digital messages is that it is easy to edit [copy, paste, cut and alter].
“Of course, with the right equipment; all leave a trail, the so-called digital footprint. Whether we have the technology available to follow this trail is something else. Even if such technology were to be available; most likely it maybe with the State security agents and not accessible to the general populace. Welcome to the age of ‘big brother is watching’.” changes to a digital message Madise said the provision of a part that deals with online publications is odd.
“Ideally, regulating online publication is not the same as regulating electronic transactions. It should not be part of the same law. But there we have it. However, the default position is that ‘there shall be no limit to online public communication’. However, as always, there are exceptions. And the devil, as they say, is always in the detail.”
The Bill empowers the court, on application by a cyber inspector, to issue a warrant of arrest for an offence committed in Malawi or the subject of an investigation is a Malawian or a person ordinarily resident in Malawi, present in Malawi at the time when the warrant was applied or information relevant to an investigation is accessible within the area of jurisdiction of the court.
The Act also imposed a fine of K10 million and 15 years imprisonment to any person who hacks into any computer system, or introduces or spreads a virus into a computer system or network and it also imposes a K5 million fine and seven years imprisonment to any person who wilfully or maliciously renders a computer system incapable of providing normal services to its legitimate uses.
It also imposes 10 years imprisonment to any person who uses Internet as a medium for any illegal activities or trade fraudulent transaction or a means of procuring any Internet related fraud. n