It became crystal clear at the ‘cybersecurity conference for members of parliament’ on Monday that the level of knowledge and discussions of cybersecurity issues are still quite low in Namibia. Worryingly so, in fact.

The ‘conference’ was organised by NUST’s computing and informatics faculty and the National Assembly’s ICT and innovation standing committee to ostensibly discuss the features of the electronic transactions and cybercrime (ETC) bill.

However, the discussions were quickly dominated by emotive topics such as child pornography, cyber bullying and harassment, and certain stakeholders were pushing for the speedy enactment of the bill in order to address their silo-interests and concerns.

The discussions did not address broader human rights concerns, such as violations of privacy and personal data, and the weakening of online security through dubious regulating of crytographic technologies, which the ETC bill would enable, as well as various other pressing issues on which the bill is substantially lacking.

These are just some of the major flaws of this bill, which is underdeveloped and already outdated in most of its features.

To be clear, cybersecurity is not about child protections or policing bullying and harassment online. These issues are just one of the discussion and policy areas on the multi-layered cybersecurity landscape.

That said, the questions around child protection in the ETC bill are very simple really. Firstly, why not coherently deal with online child protection through substantive amendments to the Child Care and Protection Act of 2015, instead of scattering bits and pieces across various laws?

The experience from other parts of the world seems to point to this being the way to go, as the challenge in some jurisdictions has been a clash of laws, with the applicability and primacy of various provisions in various laws first having to be established before a case could actually be heard.

At the same time, we probably need to re-look whether we really want to criminalise cyberbullying and harassment involving children. While this is an emotive topic, once again, experiences from other parts of the world seem to point to this not necessarily being the best way to go either.

For what we might end up doing is criminalising children for being children and sometimes doing what children do, which could mean a large adolescent population with criminal records.

Psychological and neurological testing has illustrated that the child’s mind is not geared to grasping consequences, so the best way to deal with online bullying and harassment could be awareness raising among parents and teachers, and only in very heinous and extreme cases should police and courts get involved.

It is because of these and other reasons that we consider the electronic transactions and cybercrime bill a poorly provisioned, poorly structured and poorly drafted bill, which is nowhere near ready for tabling in parliament.

The failings of the bill speak to a wholly flawed process of consultation and a lack of rigorous research of the multifaceted issues to be considered.

Namibia needs to realise that, as a growing body of literature suggests, the best way to deal with such complex issues as cybersecurity is through a democratic approach, meaning multi-stakeholderism.

This is because it is increasingly clear that state sector actors do not, in most cases, possess the knowledge, skills or expertise to effectively deal with the range of complexities that need consideration in these discussions, so legislating can clearly not be left up to them alone.

Old-style law-making and regulating are not going to work in the internet-era or information age because technological advancements and related impacts will always outpace such efforts.

We hope that this will dawn on state sector stakeholders at some stage (soon).

* Frederico Links is chairperson of the Access to Information (ACTION) Namibia Coalition.