Libya’s New Cybercrime Law: Legislating Repression

On October 26, 2021, the Libyan House of Representatives passed the “Cybercrime Law,” one day after approving the “E-Transactions Law.”

In reality, cybercrime laws in the region only serve those in power. These laws are often repressive and pose many restrictions to freedom of expression while legitimizing government control and censorship.

The new Libyan Cybercrime Law is by no means an exception. It blatantly undermines freedom of expression in cyberspace by imposing ambiguous provisions that allow for full control over the public and the press without any judicial authorization. Some Libyans see this law as repressive, especially since it punishes those who publish content online.

Under the new Libyan Cybercrime Law, the National Information Security and Safety Authority is granted the freedom to block websites and “unwanted” content in the absence of any judicial authorization.

In several articles, the Law mentions general expressions that leave judges with a lot of room for interpretation and a broad discretionary power in relation to evidence and criminalization.

Libyan legislators have also expanded the law’s scope of enforcement to include crimes committed outside the country “if their impact and consequences extend to Libya.” This forces a form of self-censorship on citizens outside Libya, especially if they are considering returning to their homeland.

The timing of promulgation, with the presidential elections just around the corner, has left many people wondering about the purpose behind such a move. After the law was passed, the media advisor of the House Speaker announced that “the Cybercrime Law is concerned with cybercrimes that affect the State, among other aspects, but it does not contradict freedom of expression. The Law tackles crimes or the wrongful use of electronic technology in relation to the State, the person, or any other entity, including counterfeiting and spreading rumors.”

Libyans fear that with the approach of the elections, this Law will be used to restrict freedom of expression and stifle new political voices, especially amidst the many doubts around its promulgation and adoption. It is important to note that in the past two years, the Libyan House of Representatives has only passed what it deemed as highly necessary legislation, which makes their current efforts to impose this law even more suspicious. In a blog post, Libyan digital tights activist Amjad Badr raised the the concerns of Libyans regarding this Law and their weariness about its timing, stating that the Law is being weaponized to criminalize rights, such as the encryption of conversations, and to repress free speech under the pretext of protecting intellectual property and combating terrorism.

We call on countries and governments in the region to work towards protecting the privacy of citizens and their data, rather than criminalizing online speech and legislating repressive censorship.

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SMEX is a registered Lebanese NGO that works to advance self-regulating information societies in the Middle East and North Africa.