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Government rushed to amend Online Safety Act amidst pressure

6 February 2024 07:59 am - 27     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


Amidst concerns by the industry stakeholders about the possible impact on digital economy, the government has already worked out fresh amendments to be incorporated into the recently introduced Online Safety Act.

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena gave his ascent to the new law passed in Parliament. The government proceeded with the enactment of the new law despite criticism from various corners including the industry stakeholders who argued that the new law borders on the infringement of freedom of expression and will have an impact on digital economy in the future.

The Act provides for the establishment of a Commission which is empowered to issue directives to persons, internet service providers or internet intermediaries, who have published or communicated or whose service has been used to communicate any prohibited statement. It can notice any internet service provider or internet intermediary to disable access to an online location which contains a prohibited statement by the end users in Sri Lanka or to remove such prohibited statement from such online location.

In the backdrop of mounting criticism, an official of the Public Security Ministry said new amendments had been worked to be referred to the Cabinet for approval in another two weeks’ time.

The official said the government completed the consultation process with the industry stakeholders- Google, Yahoo, Meta, X, Amazon etc.

“We will proceed with the incorporation of the new amendments after Cabinet approval,” he said.

The government can no longer disregard the industry's viewports, it means. According to the UN, digital advances can support and accelerate the achievement of each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals – from ending extreme poverty to reducing maternal and infant mortality, promoting sustainable farming and decent work, and achieving universal literacy.

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the digital transformation and changed the way societies and businesses function forever. Digital platforms mainly with support from social media and tech companies, including Meta, Google, AWS, Microsoft etc helped businesses in Sri Lanka during the pandemic, enabling them to overcome lockdowns through remote work and online operations.

Therefore, Sri Lankan businesses, especially SMEs benefitted from digital platforms to carry out their sales and operations during this period. Currently, the digital economy in Sri Lanka is estimated to be around US $ 3.5 billion or 4.37 per cent of GDP, with exports at around US $ 1.25 billion. The Government plans to elevate this figure to 15 per cent of GDP by 2030 and thereby increase the digital economy contribution from US $ 3.5 Billion to US $ 15 billion.

However, the digital economy targets can only be achieved if there are mechanisms to make Sri Lanka an attractive destination for digital investments. Since we cannot provide tax breaks and other financial incentives, the only option is to make it attractive through policy initiatives which are compatible with global standards.

Over the years, Sri Lanka has adopted digital laws and policies, which are compatible with international standards. The Electronic Transactions Act was amended in 2017 to align with the UN Electronic Communications Convention (the gold standard for digital transactions & digital commerce), making Sri Lanka the first country in South Asia to achieve this standard.

In 2015 Sri Lanka was able to join the Budapest Cybercrime Convention because our Computer Crimes Act (2007) was formulated in line with International standards. The Payment and Settlement Systems Act (2005), which is the framework governing digital payments, is also based on a global standard, enabling Sri Lanka to become the second in Asia to adopt real-time online payments and settlements. All these laws were drafted adopting an open transparent process.

The Computer Crimes Bill (2005) was referred to a Special Standing Committee of Parliament after the debate (without putting it into second reading), which resulted in the Bill being comprehensively reviewed with stakeholders and experts.

Most recently the Personal Data Protection Act (2022), the first legislation of its kind to be adopted in South Asia, followed an open and transparent process. The Drafting process which started in January 2019 ensured that every version of the Bill was published online.

However, concern is raised that the Online Safety Act is not based on a global best practice and does not follow a transparent consultation process. Therefore, the Act requires further review by experts, not only from a legal perspective but from a Technology perspective.

According to the experts, the basic amendments proposed by Public Security Ministry and the Attorney General does not make it implementable and workable, because the SC determination does not address implementation aspects.

Some of the offences in the Act violate Articles 17 & 19 of ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights).

Even if those provisions are amended, it must be noted that the evidence required to successfully prosecute those offences are not in Sri Lanka.

Therefore, electronic evidence needs to be obtained from tech companies. This requires Sri Lanka to have a successful international cooperation regime with tech companies. Therefore, it has to be amended in cooperation with tech companies.

Making amendments to the Act in a rush without a consultative process will not create a conducive framework, where digital platforms and other tech companies will have the confidence to invest in Sri Lanka to enable us achieve the digital economy targets.

This bill also impacts the implementation aspects of the Data Protection Act No 9 of 2022 given the sweeping powers vested in the new Commission.

  Comments - 27

  • Chris Tuesday, 06 February 2024 08:57 AM

    We should praise the government for getting the job done! Having an Online Safety Act and a Data Protection Act and a Prevention of Terrorism Act are all good decisions. What needs now is to get what ever fine tuning included by way of amendments.

    Professionals Need to Draft the Bill Tuesday, 06 February 2024 09:05 AM

    Adjusting to their liking

    ANTON Tuesday, 06 February 2024 09:11 AM


    Waco Tuesday, 06 February 2024 09:12 AM

    Cabinet will approve any Bill Ranil wants. Ranil is trying his level best to tighten the grip by pass stricket Laws to make the public quiet. Then he will be able to behave like an dictator.

    Chris Tuesday, 06 February 2024 09:16 AM

    Our country needs some discipline, and a journey to move away from negativity. Our jokes, cartoons, songs have a tendency to humour the madness and in the process promotes negativity. Online Safety Act at least should be an attempt to bring some ethical behaviour into society. If international digital companies want to capture data insights by giving these platforms free access, at the same time, they must create mechanisms to act, trace, prevent, stop harmful frauds. Eg the Road Development Authority RDA should not be blamed for building roads where motorists drive recklessly. But if RDA fails to have road signs, street lights and CCTV cameras, speed detection cameras, safety fences etc then RDA must take some responsibility for those lapses. Likewise the international digital platforms, must now invest in regulatory and monitoring mechanisms to assist the countries whose citizens use their platforms to be disciplined.

    VRAJ Tuesday, 06 February 2024 10:01 AM


    Kick this scum out Tuesday, 06 February 2024 10:09 AM

    Sadly the country is led by a scared poof.

    Terrified president Tuesday, 06 February 2024 10:13 AM

    The shrinking president is happy to shrink the economy for his own benefit.

    Nodaking kalakani Tuesday, 06 February 2024 10:14 AM

    The faster we get rid of these greedy dinosaurs the faster we can start the recovery process.

    Ram Tuesday, 06 February 2024 10:18 AM

    We have a set of ignorant buffoons in Parliament who were instrumental in getting the Online Safety Acy passed brushing off all opposition local and foreign. Glad that these buffoons have realised the faults in the Act and now wants to amend it within 4-6 weeks of it becoming law. Only in Sri Lanka

    Mahila Tuesday, 06 February 2024 01:12 PM

    Last and final act done in Parliament by the well-known, "Puttalam Boorowa"!? Naturally, had to be "REWORKED AND AMENDED"!!?? Let's hope amended act passes Muster!!?? Rest in Peace!!??

    Jude Tuesday, 06 February 2024 10:19 AM

    Why change of heart!???

    Jude Tuesday, 06 February 2024 10:20 AM

    Only way to stop the oppressive regime is by stopping all funding to SL government!!

    Onlooker Tuesday, 06 February 2024 10:25 AM

    When personal objectives are in the forefront, not surprised at consequences.

    මහ බැංකු හොරා Tuesday, 06 February 2024 10:34 AM

    Sir reversed? May after CBK and Julie's criticism of the bill. Mahinda Yapa has been the worst speaker in our history and hope the voters will reject him at the next election. Whether we like or not it's very likely that the next government is going to be JVP and it's very dangerous to pass laws thinking that Ranil and pohottuwa will stay in power forever.

    Don Tuesday, 06 February 2024 11:03 AM

    These stupid and idiotic politicians and slave professionals never learn. So many ethical people told this many a time. Now they have to back track with tails between legs. When would this country get educated ethical people as politicians and public servants?

    This is reality Tuesday, 06 February 2024 11:53 AM

    Time tested three proverbial statements fittingly comes to mind. "Haste makes waste" "Look before you leap" "Fools rush in where wise men fear to tread".

    HR Violation Tuesday, 06 February 2024 12:06 PM

    This is nothing to do with the industry. This is blatant violation of human rights strongly objected by the United Nation Human Rights Council. So don't bluff to the people.

    Man Tuesday, 06 February 2024 12:25 PM

    With the dictatorship of Ranil, he ignored the Supreme Court determinations to comply that bill with the constitution. If and when enforced (disregarding that determination) relief can be sought, legally, for breaching the constitution which is supreme than that act as determinations are ignored, very badly.

    DOT Tuesday, 06 February 2024 12:27 PM

    Drafting is cost ; making is cost: ,Amendment is cost ! Whoes money is this?

    Sirvey General Tuesday, 06 February 2024 12:35 PM

    This is Sri Lanka.

    Nihal S Tuesday, 06 February 2024 01:07 PM

    Why this change of mind at this late? The industry

    Numb skull Tuesday, 06 February 2024 01:38 PM

    Why not line up all those who disagree with this corrupt incompetent government and shoot them? Were you teleported from the 18th century?

    dinesh Tuesday, 06 February 2024 02:14 PM

    something that is done in bad faith and is inherently rotten at its core cannot be fixed with amendments...

    AJ Tuesday, 06 February 2024 02:35 PM

    Government intention is very clear, if you criticize the government, we plaster your mouth, you have to pay fine plus spend time in prison, would this government really have sufficient time to activate the regulations and send critics to prison , certainly NO, time is short, but successor president will frock present government supporters to jail using your own rule

    Bandu Tuesday, 06 February 2024 02:55 PM

    Our country needs some discipline - certainly but who are the most undisciplined - the politicos. They even hog the road with police in front and rear. There will be no snide comments on media if the politicians do not do what they do. They invite these comments because of their own actions of frauds and other indiscretions and this bill is trying to stop criticism of themselves.

    NV Jen Tuesday, 06 February 2024 03:50 PM

    Justice minister, Speaker plus all SLPP MP's are mutts and rotten to the core. This is the worst set of ruling party MP's in the history of the parliament. All Rajapakse sycophants and no substance in the head.

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