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Iraq: Parliament Considers New Anti-cybercrimes Bill

(Jan. 14, 2021) On November 23, 2020, the Iraqi Council of Representatives (parliament) finished reading and discussing a new anti-cybercrimes bill. The bill identifies a number of acts as cybercrimes and establishes penalties for them. While discussing the provisions of the bill, members of the parliament called for striking a balance between the crimes cited in the bill and the proportionality of the penalties imposed for those crimes.

Context of the Bill

The anti-cybercrimes bill consists of 21 articles. Article 1, covering definitions and terms, defines the term “cybercrime” as any criminal act committed using a computer, a computer network, or other information technology systems. (Art. 1(1).)

The new law would apply to crimes committed within Iraq or abroad. (Art. 3.) The provisions of this law would guarantee freedom of expression for individuals, civil society institutions, and media institutions provided that they express their opinion in an objective and constructive manner within the limits established by the Constitution of Iraq. (Art. 4.)

The bill would create a number of crimes and impose criminal punishments for them. To illustrate, the bill would sanction any person who hacked into any electronic account to intercept mail messages with a term of imprisonment of one to three years and a fine of 1 million to 3 million Iraqi dinars (about US$685 to $2,050). (Art. 5(1).) The bill would also sanction any person who used a computer or an information technology system with the intention of obtaining data related to Iraqi national security or to delete information or alter data affecting Iraqi national security with a term of imprisonment of seven to 10 years and a fine of 5 million to 10 million dinars (about US$3,415 to $6,8355). (Art. 5(3).)

Individuals using a computer or an information system to obtain data with the intention of blackmailing another person would be punished with a term of imprisonment of three to five years and a fine of 5 million to 10 million dinars. (Art. 6.)

The bill aims to protect what is called “public order and morals.” It would punish any person who used a computer or an information system to create, manage, or assist in establishing a website to promote or encourage immorality and debauchery or programs, information, images, or videos that breach public decency and morals. (Art. 8(1).) Furthermore, the bill would sanction any person who used a computer or an information system to entice another person to work as a prostitute with a term of imprisonment of seven to 10 years and a fine of 5 million to ten million dinars.

The bill would protect the right to privacy by penalizing any individual who used a mobile phone or an information technology system to violate the privacy of another person by taking pictures or publishing audio or video recordings related to another person without that person’s consent. (Art. 8(3).)

Finally, the bill would establish a government body called the “National Center for Digital Evidence,” whose main function would be to issue reports on technicalities and types of evidence used to prove cybercrimes. (Art. 21(1), (3).)

Reaction to the Bill

The parliament is split in its support for the bill. Some members of the parliament have endorsed the bill, such as the First Deputy Speaker Hassan Al-Kaabi. Al-Kaabi argues that the bill would protect the Iraqi citizen’s security and the right to privacy.

Groups opposing the bill consider it a tool that may be used by the government to suppress freedom of expression. International human rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch, and domestic human rights organizations, such as the Iraqi Observatory for Press Freedoms, have indicated that the language of the bill might limit freedom of expression. Amnesty International claims that the bill uses ambiguous language in creating specific crimes. For instance, the bill would sanction any person who violated the “religious, family, and social values of Iraq” with a term of imprisonment of seven to 10 years and a fine of 10 to 15 million dinars (about US$6,835 to $10,250). However, the bill does not provide a definition or description of what it means by “religious, family, and social values.” (Art. 8(4).)