Following pressure from Governor Boyd McCleary, the House of Assembly has revised a bill that had been condemned by media outlets and press freedom watchdogs here and abroad.


The new bill, which was expedited through the HOA on Tuesday, contains a 24-word “public interest” exemption that critics said assuages their concern that the law would subject journalists to lengthy jail terms and large fines for doing their job.

When the HOA originally passed the Computer Misuse and Cybercrime Act on March 13, legislators argued that it is needed to protect the territory’s financial services industry from damaging “data leaks.”

But press freedom groups and media outlets, including this newspaper, took issue with Section 13 of the bill, which punishes publication of data unlawfully obtained from a “protected computer” with a maximum $500,000 fine and 15-year prison term.

The HOA passed the bill anyway, but the governor never signed it into law. About two weeks ago, it re-appeared on the HOA’s agenda.

In the revised version of the bill passed Tuesday, Section 13 is still present, but it now states that publication is legal in cases where “the person publishing the information can establish that the publication is in the public interest of the Virgin Islands.”

The bill does not state who is responsible for defining what is in the public interest, although a judge typically would make that determination if criminal charges were brought using the law.

See the July 31, 2014 edition for full coverage.