Internet free speech protected in the Middle East

There are a number of valuable lessons we Americans can take from this discussion. The most important is that we need to watch our lawmakers very carefully.

If you haven't been following Jordanian politics particularly closely (and why would you?), you might have missed an important debate.

Jordan (the Middle Eastern country, not the insanely endowed British model or the best basketball player of all time), has been working towards enacting an Information Systems Crimes Law (which is also known as their Cyber Crimes Law). In doing so, they've been trying to define for their nation exactly what constitutes a cybercrime and/or an act of cyberterrorism.

What makes this discussion interesting from our American perspective is where the attempt to protect their nation's interests ran afoul of the Hashemite Arab Kingdom of Jordan's version of freedom of speech.

In an original draft of the law, the law essential punished any Jordanian who sent any message via the Internet that contained "defamation, contempt or slander".

Jordanian journalists and bloggers exploded, claiming that there were no good definitions of the terms, that this new law was meant to stifle speech and expression, and overall expressed as much contempt as they could before being squelched permanently.

The outcry lasted ten days, after which the Jordanian government amended the law, focusing it more tightly on the issues of government security and expressly supporting Internet free speech.

Lessons to learn

There are a number of valuable lessons we Americans can take from this discussion. The most important is that we need to watch our lawmakers very carefully.

Cyberterrorism and cybercrime will continue to get worse and, as a nation, we're going to need to evolve our laws to keep up. But as with all America's laws, we need to walk that fine line between protection and freedom, and we need to make sure we don't pass ultra-restrictive laws in the name of cyberterrorism protection.

But there's another interesting lesson here as well. Many Americans tend to paint all Middle Eastern countries with the same broad (and often not particularly kind) brush.

Many Americans tend not to think of these nations as particularly forward-thinking or as providing their citizens with American-style freedoms. While I'm sure I wouldn't agree with all of Jordan's laws, it's good for Americans to see the Middle Eastern nation grappling with issues of free speech and coming down on the side of right.

Feel free to comment -- as long as you don't express any contempt! Seriously, be cool. This is an important topic and worthy of smart discussion.

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