Skip to main content
July 23, 2018

Think again, that WhatsApp message may send you to jail!

President Uhuru Kenyatta signed into law, the Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Bill, 2018, Wednesday May 16, 2018. /THE STAR
President Uhuru Kenyatta signed into law, the Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Bill, 2018, Wednesday May 16, 2018. /THE STAR

Has a false report of the death of a prominent person, a defamatory article about a politician or a photo of nude teenager ever landed in your WhatsApp inbox?

If so, do not — repeat do not — think of forwarding these to anyone or sharing them on your Facebook page, unless you have millions of shillings to pay fines or want to spend years in prison.

That's the punishment for anyone found guilty of myriad offences in the Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Act that President Uhuru Kenyatta signed into law yesterday.

Knowingly spreading false information electronically, which is common among social media users, will attract a fine of Sh5 million on conviction.

A plethora of social media activities have also been criminalised in the law that spells doom for Kenyans fond of sharing fake news, propagating hate speech and besmirching the reputations of others.

Under the new law, anyone who intentionally publishes false, misleading or fictitious data, or misinforms — with intent that it shall be considered or acted upon as authentic, with or without any financial gain — commits an offence.

The new law prescribes stiff penalties for cyber espionage, false publications, child pornography, computer forgery, cyberstalking and cyberbullying.

Read : Tough times ahead as Uhuru signs Cybercrimes law

Most offences related to online harassment and hate speech previously have been prosecuted through the Penal Code and the National Cohesion and Integration Commission Act.

The courts have previously ruled that defamation is not criminal and directed that cases relating to online hate speech be handled as civil matters.

Sharing pornography through various electronic means will attract on conviction a maximum fine of Sh300,000, 30 years in prison or both.

Those found guilty of spreading child pornography face a fine of Sh20 million, 25 years in prison or both.

Cyberterrorism will be punished by a maximum Sh5 million fine, 10 years in prison or both.

President Kenyatta ignored pleas from media practitioners and lobbies to sign the law passed by Parliament on April 26.

The law could potentially stifle press freedom and hamper the work of bloggers and citizen journalists in the age of digital news publishing.

It will be tougher to leak information online, which has been the refuge of those determined to beat censorship and legal liability associated with traditional mainstream media.

SUPPORT

The law has, however, won support of the corporate sector ,which last year lost Sh21.2 billion, according to a report released in April by information technology services firm Serianu.

“Signed into law, the Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Bill 2018 which provides for timely and effective detection, prohibition, prevention, response, investigation and prosecution of computer and cybercrime,” Uhuru said upon signing the Bill.

The Act establishes the National Computer and Cybercrimes Coordination Committee and facilitates international cooperation in dealing with computer and cybercrime matters.

A dispatch from State House said: “It deals with offences relating to computer systems including but not limited to unauthorised access, unauthorised interference, unauthorised interception, unauthorised disclosure of passwords, cyber espionage, false publications, child pornography, cyber-terrorism and wrongful distribution of obscene or intimate images."

The Editors Guild expressed apprehension.

“We have reservations on the Act’s intended criminalisation of the publication of false and fictitious information, which may be abused by state authorities to curtail media freedom,” guild chairman Churchill Otieno said.

The electioneering period in 2017 was saturated with fake news spread mostly through social media and messaging apps.

During the Parliament debate on the Bill, MPs raised concerns that they had received nude photos from an anonymous woman.

RELIEF

The new law will be welcomed by banks and other firms that have been losing billions of shillings annually to cyberfraud.

The Serianu annual cybercrime report was an increase from the loss reported by Deloitte of Sh17.7 billion for 2016 and Sh15 billion in 2015.

The Act spells doom for hackers. They will be fined Sh5 million, jailed for a term not exceeding three years or both upon conviction.

It goes further. They will be liable to a Sh10 million fine, 10 years in jail or both, if they commit any other crimes under the Bill, once they illegally access a computer.

Anyone found to have caused unauthorised interference with a computer system, program or data will be fined as much as Sh10 million, imprisoned for not more than five years, or both.

TWITTER RAGE

Public response was varied. On Twitter, some said corruption cases will go down the drain and freedom of expression will be stifled.

"It's a threat to the war on corruption. Most scandals are unearthed by bloggers and social media users, where mainstream media is compromised. The Big Four Action Plan is threatened," social media user Fred Wanjala said.

Another, Katuba, said Uhuru should tell Kenyans how to separate real news from what is fake.

"Kenyans thought a youthful President would have a vision. How wrong they were. Instead of opening the highway of technology, he is taking them back to the stone age," KOT Hacker said.

One Fidel mourned the end of the freedom of speech, while Eric Onchonga said the law is only meant to protect politicians and cartels.

Others said the law should be swiftly challenged in court.

"How will whistle-blowers survive and who exactly gets to determine what is fake news or not?" one asked.

Another wrote: "Could [the law] lead to a bitter end to blogging? Bloggers depend on fake news to survive in their business."

On May 11, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists urged Uhuru not to sign the Bill into law, as it would undermine press freedom.

"Journalists and bloggers (are) likely to be among the first victims if it is signed into law," CPJ Africa coordinator Angela Quintal said.

Fake news websites and blogs deliberately publish hoaxes, propaganda and misinformation, which are also shared on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

STUDY

According to a GeoPoll study The Reality of Fake News in Kenya, 90 per cent saw or heard false news about the 2017 General Election before it was conducted, while 87 per cent reported deliberately false news.

CEO Steve Gutterman said growing mobile connectivity and usage means phones are increasingly being used to consume news and information, hence, a bigger population is vulnerable to fake news.

In the run-up to the polls, fake news regarding the selection of NASA's flagbearer was published. Fake news proliferated on social media about both Uhuru’s Jubilee Party and Raila Odinga’s NASA, circulated by mainly anonymous faces, some through paid adverts on Google.

Stories that featured fake opinion polls and others that directly attacked the characters of both Uhuru and Raila were widely circulated online and in print, with some being attributed to CNN, Fox News and the BBC.

In one fake CNN video, Uhuru’s popularity rating was shown to be well ahead of Raila. A fake BBC production on Africa featured an opinion poll showing Uhuru beating Raila.

In addition, fake newspapers bearing the plagiarised mastheads of widely circulating dailies, including The Daily Nation and The Star, were sold to unsuspecting readers with shouting headlines.

The killing of prominent people through fake news has also been on the rise.

Victims include retired Presidents Daniel Moi and Mwai Kibaki, comedian Daniel Ndambuki, Fagilia hitmaker Lucas Mkenda, Dennis Mugo known as OJ from the school drama Tahidi High, Citizen TV host Willy Tuva and Oliver Otieno, commonly known as YY.

Others are boxer Conjestina Achieng, Papa Shirandula actor Naliaka, Owago Onyiro, veteran journalist Lenard Mambo Mbotela and Johnson Mwakazi.

CAMPAIGN

In March, the US Embassy in Nairobi launched a campaign to counter false news during the surge of concocted stories and other unethical activities of consulting firms such as Cambridge Analytica.

Former US Ambassador Robert Godec urged Kenyans to use verification tools to fight the spread of fake news. That was also the consensus among top digital media editors who gathered to share tips on how to spot fake news.

The law is also expected o help curb hate speech on social media.

Many Kenyan politicians have been arrested and held by police for days over hateful remarks mostly made at rallies and during election seasons.

Must read: Google pledges $300 million to support journalism, fight fake news

Although the NCIC investigates, many cases have not been completed.

Other cases concern insults between prominent persons.

Last week, Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko and lawyer Ahmednasir Abdullahi took off the gloves on Twitter after the lawyer claimed that the "county is dead and should be disbanded."

"The County Government of Nairobi is functionally dead. It is a national disaster. It will only get worse," Ahmednasir said on May 10.

But Sonko said: You conman ... after obtaining millions from your German client with all your Cornell University degrees vs my Kamiti, Shimo Prisons & KEMU degrees, I still beat you at the High Court and Court of Appeal in the Temple Point case [sic]," the Governor said.

Click here for the latest political news

STAR COMMUNITY POLICY AND PARTICIPATION GUIDLINES

Poll of the day