Let me say I personally would like to help people who have fallen victim of lack of knowledge of their rights online and lack of courage to engage in legal battles. We have taken a lot of things for granted but this must now come to an end. This is why I decided to write this post. Its high time we awoke the sleeping dogs and start barking. This is about Fighting Cybercrime at the Local Level.
Computer criminals can be anywhere in the world, but the victims are here, so Malawi law has to protect us while the enforcement arm has to investigate and respond. Unfortunately, most agencies don't have the tools or know-how to do and for a long time it has been an issue of the absence of an E-transactions Act.
There are three main reasons a victim is likely not to report a cybercrime:
1: the amount of money involved is too small to worry about;
2: they don't believe anything can be done about it, and/or mostly,
3: they don't know where they can report such crimes and in most cases, they are not aware that what has happened to them is a criminal case punishable by law.
We have most of us seen in the movies and on TV shows that people who commit computer crimes are often depicted as masterminds. They are geniuses with amazing programming skills who take down multinational corporations for millions and even billions of dollars. But the truth is that crimes committed over computers are often perpetrated by people with nominal digital skills and the targets are more likely to be your average Malawian than some nameless, faceless corporations. That only means that victims of cybercrimes can and do report them to local law enforcement. Thanks now even more to the availability of The E-Transactions Act. This Malawi Gazette Supplement, dated 4th November, 2016 containing Acts (No.6C) ACT No. 33 of 2016 is and must be your handy companion in these days of increasing cybercrimes.
It is unfortunate that the Malawi law enforcement agencies are not fully equipped to respond or investigate but so much is the citizenery.
For instance, no one in this age and era must lose a smartphone and have another person freely use it. NO! People must know they have a right to obtain a search warrant and track their device using the network operators.
I had my phone stolen on 21st September, 2017 in Mangochi and on 21st January this year, I got it back. But how many people have lost their phones and just gave up without calling in the law enforcement arms? I also got another one stolen in Lilongwe last December and my search warrant is in effect right now. (How search warrants can be obtained and put into effect will be discussed in another post).
We must be active citizens to enforce laws and this process starts with knowing what the laws say.
Cybercrimes are often perpetrated anonymously and the perp could be literally anywhere in the world, so what can local citizens in collaboration with the law enforcement agencies do about them? What are these common cybercrimes that we ignore?
So we have all opened our phone gallery and boom! Some pornographic materials just flooded your whatsapp images or videos folder. You do not have an idea who sent these and surely you did not ask for these to be sent to you in the first place. So is this normal and okay?
Do you just delete them and keep quiet?
How about that moment when you open your Whatsapp group and baam, there you see screenshots of a private conversation some of your friends had in their privacy and now they are in the public domain in their "confidentiality". De we see anything wrong with that?
Wait a minute.
According to the ACT, Section 84.__(1) A person shall not gain unauthorized access to, or
intercept, or interfere with, data. This a lone is a big crime that people are committing everyday. But do we get them to face the law?
So, what are some of the most common offences outlined in this ACT?
(3) Any person who intentionally accesses or intercepts any data without authority or permission to do so, or who exceeds the authorized access, commits an offence and shall, upon conviction, be liable to a fine of K2,000,000 and to imprisonment for five years.
I wonder how many people go scort free after committing this offence.
(4) Any person who intentionally and without authority to do so, interferes with data in a way which causes such data to be modified, destroyed or otherwise rendered ineffective, commits an offence and shall, upon conviction, be liable to a fine of K2,000,000 and to imprisonment for five years.
So what does this mean? If I post my pictures on my Facebook page and someone downloads it, modifies it and causes the picture to send a contradictory message to what it was purportedly for, then as long as I trace that person, he/she is liable to answer the above offences.
How many times have we photoshoped someone’s photos just to make fun of them? I bet we do not even think we are committing any crime punishable by law. I haveseen over 10 such modification of someone's data today a lone.
One thing that is common these days between partners and (well you will find this weird but) religious leaders' cadets is to clone the instant messaging app Whatsapp by using your phone to access your messages on web. This means that the other party access your private message and is able to reply or delete messages for you. This is a trick some prophets use to access your information and claim they are seeing visions about your life while they are able to access your conversations. This is a serious offence according to the act. When you realize someone is unlawfully accessing your data, know that you have the right to sue them.
According to Section (8) Any person who__
(a) communicates, discloses or transmits any data, information, program, access code or command to any person not entitled or authorized to access the data, information, program, code or command;
(b) knowingly introduces or spreads a software code that damages a computer, computer system or network;
(c) accesses or destroys any files, information, computer system or device without authorization; or for the purposes of concealing information necessary for an investigation into the commission, or otherwise, of an offence; or
(d) damages, deletes, alters suppresses any communication or data without authorization, commits an offence and shall, upon conviction, be liable to a fine of K2,000,000, and to imprisonment for five years.
And I just like the next one. Its not always about initiating the practice, as even receiving can land you in deep waters.
(9) Any person who knowingly receives data which he is not authorized to receive commits an offence and shall, upon conviction, be liable to a fine of K2,000,000 and to imprisonment for five years.
The fact that everyone is doing it does not make it lawful. If you have been a victim of any of these you can take action today and seek justice. While I was writing this post earlier today, in one of the whatsapp groups someone posted a disturbing screenshot of a conversation between 2 men who were discussing having sex with a single young lady. How this conversation found itself into social platforms from their privecy is a surprise to me and I would advice the lady involved to take action.
For more on that this ACT says on E-Transactions, download a copy below.
Dennis Imaan is a Global Citizen born and currently staying in Malawi. He loves to share his experiences and lessons with others. Travel, Tourism, Innovations, Media and Youth development are close to his heart.