By Alsha Khan
The President of Peru, Ollanta Humala, enacted the Computer Crimes Act last week, which criminalizes the unauthorized creation and use of electronic databases, among other things, with up to five years in prison. Several lawyers and journalism organizations have criticized the law, saying it will endanger Peruvians' right to freedom of expression and information.
One of the challenged articles of the law, the sixth, focuses on data trafficking. According to critics, the article could be used against any person who generates or assists in the creation of a database that includes information that others question. The law states it will punish with three to five years in prison anyone who has improperly created or misused a database in order to sell, trade, promote, favor or provide information on any personal, family, property, employment or financial issues pertaining to a private individual or legal entity, whether it creates harm or not.
The Press and Society Institute (IPYS) of Peru called the penalties "indiscriminate" and regretted that the Peruvian Congress and executive branch did not revise them before the law was enacted.
For Peruvian Prime Minister Juan Jimenez, the law does not violate freedom of expression and information; it protects citizens from criminal organizations that threaten individuals' right to privacy. "It is time for the country to put an end to the problem of wiretapping, to the violation of private communications," Jimenez said in a press conference.
The law also penalizes the release of classified or secret information that compromises national defense security with five to 10 years in prison.
Kela Leon, director of the Peruvian Press Council, told the newspaper El Comercio that the law "should have said that the release of (classified) information is not punishable when it is in the public interest. That void could hurt press freedom.”
IPYS said the vagueness of the law generates a mistaken understanding of the meaning of classified information related to national security and called for an urgent rectification of the law.
The organization added that the law will instill an unwarranted fear of new information technologies, working against the widespread use of state databases. This would contravene the principles and commitments of the Open Government Partnership declaration, which the Peruvian government has underwritten since 2011.
According to El Comercio, Erick Iriarte, an attorney specialized in Internet issues, said that the ambiguities in the wording of the law make it dangerous, and in certain aspects, there aren't clear guidelines regarding when and how the law should be applied.
Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.