Lebanon: Cybercrime, IT, Culture and the Law

We catch up with Legal and IT expert, Dr. Mona, to learn more about online governance in Lebanon.

In Beirut the coffee is thicker than mud and the taxi drivers tear through streets of beautifully reconstructed buildings. This city has become a party destination with a big gay scene, yet homosexuality is illegal and beneath a fast paced atmosphere of fun, many of the old walls are still pock-marked by bullet holes.

There are tremendous tensions that run through the heart of Lebanese society. This is a country with an ancient culture, and high literacy rates. It has been an important commercial hub for the Middle East. Yet as it shares borders with Syria and Israel, and with a uniquely complex social and religious mix, it has been dogged by conflicts for decades.  Now, as the world moves online, are some of these issues played out in cyberspace?

“Lebanon was among the first Arab countries using the internet and its universities were pioneers in ICT’s use in education,” Dr. Mona Al-achkar Jabbour an expert in IT and the Law in Lebanon told IDG Connect. “Nevertheless, currently, it lags behind some of these countries, in internet capacity, exploitation, investing and governance.”

Dr. Mona is Professor of Law at "La filiere Francophone du Droit" Lebanese University and founding member of the Pan Arab Observatory for cyber security. She also sits on numerous other boards and committees and has been active on this subject for decades in the region.

In 2004, she realized how important it was to build “confidence and trust in cyberspace, in order to support ICT’s potential in economic and social developments.”

“In Lebanon, as in the rest of the world, there is a need, to gather efforts between academics and professionals from different disciplines and backgrounds, to face the new challenges that the digital revolution had raised.”

“ICT and law are closely intertwined,” she continued “which calls for a close collaboration between legal and IT professionals. Technology has changed the way we live, think and work. At the same time, it has given rise to many new legal issues that have hindered the smooth integration of IT in society, and the trust in cyberspace. These issues cannot be solved without understanding the very nature of cyberspace that challenged the very essence of our concepts of law making, law implementation and law mechanisms.”

Despite the active Lebanese presence on social networks, and the rapid growth of internet use - Lebanon ranks 80th on the netindex.com – Dr. Mona believes that internet governance is still very much at the beginning in the country. 

“While Lebanon has many legal texts about IPR [intellectual property rights] protection, it has no legislation on cybercrimes or ICTs, nor on the right to access information.” The upshot of all this is that nobody has a clear picture of what is really going on.

However, she said: “According to the many phone calls I get after a radio interview or a conference on cybercrime, I can say that, the  most frequent online legal issues we are witnessing in Lebanon are related to the misuse of freedom of expression, and illegal content, such as: defamation, hate speech, threats, intimidation, racial slurs, and racial hostility.”

These problems tie in very strongly with the unique tensions that exist within the country. Although there have been a number of other cases of the violation of intellectual property rights, wardriving, illegal use of personal data and email hacking, all of which are fairly standard across the globe.

Interestingly, she was “surprised” and “rather shocked” by the results of a survey she produced in 2007 which showed that only a tiny percentage of the Law students questioned realised that some of their actions, such as downloading protected works, disseminating false information, unwanted emails, or insulting people online, may be considered cybercrimes. Despite being old data, this does suggest a need for more education in the country, especially as you would have higher expectations from Law students than from the general population.

The other important point she wanted to raise was “the gap between politicians’ understanding of the need of a national cybersecurity strategy.  Some are very aware and deploying efforts to protect their own interests, while others ignore, or don't want to get involved in creating a strategy.” On top of this “all of them are not paying attention to the critical role of cooperation in achieving cybersecurity.”

Lebanon may face different cultural issues to elsewhere in the world. Yet overall when it comes to internet governance and the law, it may be a little behind, but many of the issues faced are ultimately the same as elsewhere.


Kathryn Cave is Editor at IDG Connect