Small thoughts around...Cybercrime legislations and gender

This edition of GenderIT.org examines the issue of cybercrime legislation through a gendered perspective and its implication on women, in collaboration with  the ICT Policy Monitor Latinamerica and the Caribbean team of the Association for Progressive Communications. The focus of this edition was catalysed by issues and questions raised by our readers on the increasing pervasiveness of cybercrime legislations in different regions, and their potential impact on women's communication rights.


As always, we began to investigate the issue with many questions: What is meant by “cybercrime”? In what kinds of spaces would cybercrimes be considered as being committed? How do they differentiate and affect ideas of the public and the private? How can this affect women as users and developers of the internet, e-mail, cell phones and other information and communication technologies (ICT)? Can cybercrime restrict the exercise of individual rights to privacy, freedom of expression and civil liberties? Can the rhetoric of fighting cybercrimes in effect be used to restrict the exercise of women’s communication rights? How can the issue of cybercrimes be analysed from a feminist perspective? Is this issue currently part of the women's movement's agenda? How the criminalisation of  online sexual expression and practices as well as the sex trade affect the sexual rights of women?


Often when we talk about cybercrimes, the first thing that comes to mind - and that is stamped on many laws - are crimes such as fraud, theft of credit card numbers and hacking. Cybercrimes are generally classified into three categories: crimes against persons (such as cyber harassment); crimes against property (such as credit card theft); and crimes against governments (by electronic means used to serve the "terrorism" ).

 

Women figure significantly in the first category as targets of cybercrimes against persons: 95% of aggressive behaviour, harassment, abusive language  and denigrating images in online spaces are aimed at women and come from partners or former male partners [1]. In addition, many ICT tools such as spyware, wireless technology, webcams etc. are used to perpetrate violence against women. Despite this  alarming reality, cybercrimes seem absent from the agenda of feminist movements, especially in Latin America.


At the same time, advocating for adequate legal recognition and protection for these acts of violence against women might mean inadvertently supporting the call for regulating online action and expression. The biggest criticism made against many of the laws on cybercrime is the  lack of consideration on their social impact.  Often pushed by the private sector to regulate intellectual property matters, or by the State to enforce control and surveillance on citizens, it is uncertain whether women's rights stand to be protected or traded in this debate. Particularly with the acute lack of broader women's rights engagement, or even awareness, in this issue, claiming the boundaries and definition of the issues at stake – moving it beyond arguments of “terrorism”, “national security” and “crimes against capitalism” - can be challenging. Will cybercrime laws simply be mobilised to restrict communication rights of individuals and communities?


Some bills in Latin América, as what is happening in Brazil, could criminalise those who are merely trying to access information on the internet and through other ICT platforms such as mobile telephony.  For this reason, it is not only and simply to claim laws. All social and political actors should assess the impact of each cybercrime legislation on the rights of people at large, and its impact on opportunities for empowering  some of the most marginalised sections on society. As noted by the key actors working in this area interviewed by GenderIT.org, is not sufficient to provide laws in this respect: there is a need to educate all groups about how to exercise and enforce their rights and create mechanisms for preventative measures that can be taken by users.


In this edition of GenderIT.org, our team of writers together with the APC Policy Programme in Latin America Minitor team present the many facets of this challenging policy area. Their different approaches and stances clearly demonstrate the difficulty of drawing a clear line between protection of women's rights from violation and empowering their status as users and definers of ICT and the information society.  The articles portray the current cybercrime landscape, arising issues and their gendered dimensions in different regions of the world – including India, Burkina Faso, USA, Chile, Brazil, Venezuela and Bolivia. We invite your reflections on this subject that remains contentious  and sometimes directly absent.


Footnotes: 

References: [1] Rodríguez Calderón, Mirta: “Las TIC: Nuevos escenarios de violencia contra la mujer”, SEMlac, Cuba, Octubre de 2007.

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