Fighting cybercrime in Lebanon

Fighting cybercrime in Lebanon
3 min read
21 January, 2015
Efforts to fight cybercrime are raising fears in Lebanon that media freedoms are being eroded. In an interview with al-Araby al-Jadeed, head of Lebanon's cybercrime bureau, Suzanne al-Hajj, denied this was the case or her office's concern.
Lebanon's Cybercrime and Intellectual Property Bureau manages issues of cybercrime [Getty]
Lebanon's Cybercrime and Intellectual Property Bureau [AR] was established in 2005 to manage cybercrime and developments in the field of telecommunications and the internet.

But there are questions about the nature of the bureau's work, its legality, its capacity and whether or not it is politicised.

Bloggers and activists call the bureau "the Lebanese repression office" that will summon online activists to the
     There has been an increase, in sexual blackmail and harassment cases on social networking sites.
bureau, for questioning and force them to sign pledges promising not to target certain people, especially politicians.

The bureau itself expressly denies it is involved in any effort to suppress free expression on social media. Speaking to al-Araby al-Jadeed Major Suzanne al-Hajj, head of the bureau, argued media freedoms in Lebanon were not declining.

"We do not monitor social networking sites and do not summon people just for expressing their opinion." She said the bureau preferred to focus on more important issues such as sexual blackmail.

Hajj said libel and defamation complaints filed against bloggers should not be sent to the bureau, and there was no law for dealing with them. She stressed: "The Bureau is keen to protect freedom of expression against defamation and libel for whatever reason."

A prennial problem in Lebanon is the absence of intellectual property laws in Lebanon. This absence, says analysts, is having a negative impact on intellectual activity, with writers, poets and inventors unable to protect their material or profit from it.

She added: "We deal seriously with the issue, and handle many cases." She discussed a pirated copy of the Lebanese film Ghadi that was shown at the Palestinian refugee camp Sabra and Shatilla in Beirut. "We stormed the camp and arrested those responsible," she said.

However, the bureau only responds to complaints, she added. Some companies ignore forgery because it can act as free publicity.

Hajj was keen to underline what she said had been an increase, in recent years, in sexual blackmail and harassment cases, especially on social networking sites and communications mediums such as Skype and WhatsApp.

Victims, often well-known figuressuch as entrepreneurs and those in positions of power, often stay silent to avoid scandal. Hajj said she would urge anyone to come forward in order for authorities to cambat the phenomenon.

However, as most blackmailers are from outside Lebanon it is difficult to take legal action against them. "All we can do is block and delete any material they publish," says Hajj. Many blackmailers operate out of countries with no internet regulations, such as Morocco and the Philippines.

Lebanon has not joined any international treaties relating to cybercrime. However, it has asked to join the 2001 Budapest Convention on Cybercrime, the first international treaty addressing internet and computer crime. Hajj would also like to see Lebanon joining more treaties relating to digital economy and e-commerce so investors feel the law protects them.

Recently terrorist organisations have also stepped up their attempts to recruit individuals over the internet and social networking sites to carry out terrorist attacks. The Islamic State group (IS, formerly Isis) has used this tactic to recruit members especially Europeans.

Hajj told Al-Araby al-Jadeed the phenomenon was growing, not only in Lebanon but the entire region. She said it was difficult to monitor terrorists on the internet, because of the precautions they take to hide their identities. However, Lebanon's security services are using advanced monitoring devices.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.