A bill which has started the process of debate in parliament on Wednesday involves making cyberstalking and cyberbullying specific offences in the Criminal Code.
The bill, which is piloted by Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis, provides that it shall be a crime for anyone, with the intention of causing fear or harm, to;
Stalk another person through the use of a computer or electronic communications device; to cause unauthorised computer function in a computer owned or used by another person and; to trace another person’s use of the internet or other electronic communication.
Those found guilty of such offences would be liable to a prison term between one and five years and/or a fine not exceeding €30,000. The punishment will be increased by one degree when the crime is committed against an underage person or a vulnerable person.
This is also applicable if the offence is committed by two or more persons working together. Introducing the bill, Minister Zammit Lewis said that despite people having the right to express themselves on the internet, criminal sanctions were needed against cyberstalking and cyberbullying because of the negative impact they had on people, leading even to self-harm or suicide.
He went on to present the provisions of the bill, explaining that the crimes can be caused through threats, intimidation, abuse or offensive words directed at the victim through the use of a computer or other electronic communication device.
When it comes to cyberstalking, the accused will be able to argue in court that they did so without malicious intent in the normal course of a lawful business or for the purpose of engaging in discussion or communication with respect to public affairs. The latter provision would protect journalists from such charges.
On cyberbullying, the crime would apply when the accused ought to have known that his actions would cause fear or harm to another person. This follows a 2017 plea by then President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca who said that the fight against such crimes should not only include strengthening existing legislation but enacting a specific law.
Photo Source: Edward Zammit Lewis