Students Learn About Their Online Rights

In a mock courtroom at Birzeit University, a panel of three discussed with students what their rights were online, under Palestinian law. Two prosecutors and the chair of Birzeit University Department of Law spoke about ways to protect oneself from cyber crime and what their legal rights are if they ever were to be a victim.

Online awareness is a subject taught at an ever-younger age in the west. The Internet is a record, a tool and community. However, a connection to the web also opens people up to vulnerabilities and sacrifices to personal privacy, often without their knowing it. This is true all over the world. However, with such a new and yet ubiquitous technology, people’s rights in this sphere are still being defined.

The panel discussed how to protect oneself from civilian cyber attacks. The topics ranged from password creation to what to do if you were a victim of a cyber attack.

Dr. Mustafa Baqi is the chairman of the Department of Law at Birzeit University and was the panel’s moderator. Baqi’s main example is the hacked Palestinian female. He explained numerous occasions of women’s phones being hacked in order to steal incriminating photos or videos. Then, if the hacker finds graphic or lewd photos, they then blackmail the women, or girls, for either money or sexual relations.

The threat of being publicly exposed is a terrifying prospect for anyone, anywhere. However, in a sexually conservative culture such as in Palestine, the stakes for young women can feel insurmountable. Baqi said don’t feel afraid, we will defend you. Victims don’t always know their rights but they should not pay, they should not give them any relations, they should go to the police, he said.

This being Palestine, of course, the panel and the discussion that followed could not ignore the inequities of laws within an occupation. Baqi pointed out there are limits to the Palestinian Authority (PA). Due to the Oslo Accords, any citizen of Israel, Jew or Palestinian, are not able to be pursued or brought to justice by the PA. The PA can ask Israel for help, but there is little offered and very little cooperation from Israel. This is particularly frustrating in a borderless online world.

For a personal example, Baqi explained how the Law Department was hacked in May, 2017. The department went to the PA and tracked it to a source in Jerusalem. However, when the PA handed it over, asking for help from the Israeli authorities, the case stopped. To today, we are still waiting.

Palestine, where rights are never guaranteed, the dangers of careless internet use are actually acutely understood. All the youth know [they are being watched], Baqi said. The questions in the discussions being; If I like a post or share a post speaking against Israel or the PA, is that illegal? In theory, no, he said. To write an anti-government post, however, is still definitely illegal.

A man in Bethlehem was arrested for an anti-PA post last year.

Perhaps because government surveillance is a given, most of the youth in the room did not feel too concerned. Hamza Shweki is a first year law student and says he takes civilian threats seriously. He takes practical security measures and therefore doesn’t feel insecure online. I keep my pages private, he said, and I don’t talk to people I don’t know.

Source: Palestine Monitor