In a strategic leap, Jordan’s government embraced the National E-Commerce Strategy in April 2023, pursuing a “competitive and globally recognized national economy.” However, with its unrealistic demands from tech companies and citizens alike, Jordan’s newly issued cybercrime law is expected to thwart any efforts to fulfill the kingdom’s economic ambitions.
On August 12, King Abdullah II officially endorsed the Cybercrime Law despite substantial opposition. The law’s expansive clauses curtail freedom of thought and speech and restrict the activities of businesses online. It also subjects Jordanian citizens to fines ranging from 300 to 50,000 Jordanian dinars (equivalent to between 400 to 70,000 US dollars) and potential imprisonment.
Embracing technological investment is crucial to engaging with the modern global economy. It not only aids in enhancing government-provided infrastructure and services but also upgrades technological frameworks such as communication systems, digital infrastructure, ownership transfer mechanisms, and more. These enhancements streamline commercial activities and information sharing for individuals and companies, reducing time, cost, and effort.
According to Data Digital Reportal, a global statistics company, the year 2023 has seen 6.61 million Jordanians, accounting for 58.4% of the total population, actively using social media as of January 2023. Moreover, the percentage of internet users within the Kingdom has reached a substantial 88% out of the total populace of 9.95 million individuals.
In contrast, the Cybercrime Law necessitates communication platforms beyond Jordan’s borders with more than 100,000 subscribers in the Kingdom to set up offices within Jordan. Unlike some neighboring countries which do so for economic incentives, this requirement is stipulated not for financial reasons but rather to facilitate responses to requests from official judicial authorities, as indicated by Article 37 of the Cybercrime Law. According to the Meta Transparency Report, Jordan ranks among the top countries in soliciting information from social media companies.
If platforms do not comply with the aforementioned requirements, the government holds the authority to take action after six months from the date of notification. It can impose a ban on advertisements on these platforms and gradually decrease the bandwidth of internet traffic directed to them for a duration of 60 days. This decrease in bandwidth is executed progressively, starting at 25% and gradually escalating to 75%, as outlined in the same article.
Qusai Suwan, a policy expert at the Jordanian Open Source Association (JOSA), told SMEX that Article 37 could potentially lead to the prohibition of ads on social media platforms if international corporations such as Meta, TikTok, and Twitter declined to establish offices in Jordan. The Central Bank of Jordan is expected to issue a directive to all banks, urging them to block electronic payment methods for advertisements, Suwan added.
These sanctions are expected to hit Jordanian business owners harder than communication companies. Omar Arabiyat, a technology and cybercrime expert, explains that “this particular article will have a detrimental impact on companies that showcase their products on social media, as well as companies offering marketing services for these products.”
This situation could potentially result in a resurgence of traditional marketing approaches like radio, television, and print advertisements. Such a move presents an added challenge for the involved companies as they face difficulty in effectively reaching their intended audience and promoting their products, according to Arabiyat.
Arabiyat emphasizes that the size of Jordan’s market is relatively small compared to the global market. Consequently, the focus should be on attracting investments rather than deterring them. Investment firms consider external factors like regulations and laws. Arabiyat points out that a country with frequently changing laws won’t foster a conducive environment for marketing, commercial endeavors, and investments.
Certain Western countries, especially European ones, reportedly threatened to suspend certain grants to Jordan due to Cybercrime Law concerns. As per media reports, these concerns arose even before the King approved the law. Vedant Patel, the principal deputy spokesman at the US Department of State, criticized the draft law, highlighting how it could undermine Jordan’s economic and political reform endeavors.
Suwan concurs with Arabiyat’s standpoint, further noting that this situation could also place considerable stress on employees within these companies. He points out Article 25 of the Cybercrime Law, which designates the page administrator as liable for unlawful content. This provision holds the page administrator legally accountable in cases where offensive comments regarding any product they are promoting appear on their pages.
Consequently, Suwan raises a valid query: How can business owners effectively promote their enterprises under the National E-Commerce Strategy (2023-2025), which aims to propel a “diverse, competitive, and globally recognized national economy?” This challenge arises because, by law, they must allocate time to monitor arbitrary comments. This legal responsibility has been thrust upon them due to this legislation.
The repercussions of Article 25 of the Cybercrime Law, which renders page administrators legally accountable for content and comments, stretch beyond the realm of marketing and commercial activities. Ahmed Awad, the director of The Phoenix Center for Economics and Informatics Studies, a Jordanian institution dedicated to research and advocacy for human rights, particularly in the social and economic domain, highlights that this impact will permeate the work sector. This includes domains such as trade union activities. Such provisions will likely have implications for freedom of expression and opinion, as conveyed to SMEX.
Awad elaborates that this specific article “will curtail the efforts of union activists seeking their right to establish unions. The vague provisions could also empower employers to coerce workers into withdrawing their demands for improved working conditions.”
In light of union activists, workers, and trade unions being constrained due to the apprehension of using social media and the internet. “This will inevitably discourage young individuals from discussing their working conditions,” Awad warned.
The research unit at SMEX comments on the law, noting that at least five articles directly impede freedom of expression (Articles 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, and 20). Notably, prohibiting media websites could lead to numerous Jordanian journalists losing their jobs.
The research unit also highlights that the law could be employed to initiate an internet shutdown, which could adversely impact the economy. This possibility arises from Article 33, which grants the Attorney General the authority to remove, block, suspend, or disable the internet or any websites that violate regulations.
Jordan’s government had blocked various platforms and websites, including Al-Hudood, 7ibr, and TikTok. The enactment of the cybercrime law is poised to wield considerable influence over the digital landscape and social interactions. At present, Jordanians are anticipating the law’s implementation to discern how the internet’s landscape will transform and what repercussions will unfold for the media and the Jordanian economy.