Qatar’s new cybercrime law has inched closer to reality after receiving cabinet approval earlier this month.
According to the state news agency QNA, the draft legislation is aimed at safeguarding the country’s technological infrastructure and beefing up cyber security within Qatar’s key industries. It comes at a time when hackers are increasingly targeting Qatar as its international profile grows.
A draft version approved last May sparked criticism from the Doha Centre for Media Freedom and the US-based Committee to Project Journalists for including provisions that would punish anyone who publishes information that infringes on Qatar’s “social principles or values.”
DCMF’s then-director, Jan Keulen, told Doha News at the time that cybercrime “is a separate issue from freedom of expression on the internet. This freedom should be guaranteed.”
However, it’s unclear if those controversial provisions are included in the latest version of the bill. QNA’s recap of last week’s cabinet meeting makes no mention of those sections, raising the possibility that they’ve been removed.
The draft law requires “vital sectors” to create a framework to manage information inside their companies, as well as allocating a budget to pay for the new initiatives.
What constitutes a “vital” industry is at the discretion of the government, but early reports said it would likely include power grids, oil and gas production, financial transactions, healthcare and government operations.
The Ministry of Information and Communications Technology (ICTQatar) would consult representatives from each sector before imposing new rules and safeguards.
The law would also require any risks threatening the country’s “vital infrastructure” to be immediately reported, according to QNA.
In a related move, the government is moving to consolidate its cyber protection efforts through the creation of a Cyber Security Committee, the Peninsula reports.
Hackers have targeted Qatar in multiple attacks over the last two years, including one incident that shut down the corporate computer systems and website of RasGas, one of the world’s largest liquefied natural gas suppliers.
The SEA has said it targeted this country in retaliation for this country’s support of rebels inside Syria.
Experts have previously suggested that hackers may also focus on Qatar because the Gulf nation is an important player in the international energy market as well as an “information amplifier” with platforms such as Al Jazeera, which has also been attacked.
After Cabinet approval, the legislation would still require the Emir’s signature before being passed into law.