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Sending these WhatsApp messages could land you jail time

Apps on smartphone
Picture: Pixabay

By Kaya 959 Lifestyle

If you are caught sending harmful messages on WhatsApp, you could land in prison. Last week, President Cyril Ramaphosa signed into law the Cybercrimes Act which makes sending these types of messages illegal.

Messages that incite damage to property or violence, threaten people with damage to property or violence and unlawfully containing an intimate image, could land you a fine or up to three years’ imprisonment.

According to a legal expert, the Act is aimed at aligning South Africa’s cybercrime laws with laws in other countries.

It also details definitions for theft of incorporeal property, forgery, extortion and cyber fraud.

As per the Act, service providers and financial institutions must report cybercrimes within 72 hours of becoming aware of them. If not, they may be fined up to R50 000.

The Act defines violence as bodily harm and damage to property as damage to any corporeal or incorporeal property.

READ: Bonang Matheba sues podcaster, Rea Gopane, for defamation

Sharing intimate images

It is also illegal to distribute a message that threatens a group of people with violence or damage to their property.

This includes message based on race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital statuys, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language, birth and nationality.

Regarding the disclosure of an intimate image, the Act states that these are illegal if they are sent without the person’s consent.

An intimate image is defined as an image that shows a person’s genital organs, anus or if the person is nude. This will also put an end to revenge porn.

The Act states that the message would be defined as an offence is the person in the image is a woman, intersex or transgender and their covered genitals or breasts are shown in a way that violates or offends their sexual integrity or dignity.

Even if the person is not easily identifiable in the image, the Act states that if the message identifies the person in the text, it is a criminal offense.

READ: Information Regulator threatens legal action over WhatsApp privacy changes

Increase in cyberattacks

According to law firm Michalsons, the Act comes at a crucial time with many people working from home.

“This brings additional security concerns. And we’re seeing an increase in the number of high profile cyberattacks in the public and private sectors. These numbers have increased at an alarming rate during the Covid-19 pandemic,” the firm said.

It said this law is needed to protect South Africans and their organisations from harm.

Michalsons said the law impacts everyone in South Africa.

“Depending on your roles – whether you are an electronic communications service provider or a financial institution – the Cybercrimes Act might place some obligations on you and your organisation,” the firm said.

It added that the Cybercrimes Act will affect the way we interact with data or use our electronic devices like a computer.

“The Act has a far-reaching impact and it is important you understand how to deal with this impact,” it said.

Last year, SA tightened its rules around the sending of hoax coronavirus messages on WhatsApp. These rules formed part of the updated Disaster Management Act around fake news regulations.

According to a social media law expert, people found guilty of sending hoax Covid-19 messages could face a fine, up to six months jail time or both.

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