Government of the Republic of Srpska (RS) proposed a new Law on Public Order, which would include the Internet, i.e. social networks, in the definition of “public place”.
Government of the Republic of Srpska (RS) proposed a new Law on Public Order, which would include the Internet, i.e. social networks, in the definition of “public place”. Namely, in the explanatory part of the Proposal it is stated that the reason for expanding the definition of a public place is the fact that certain offenses are organized on social networks, and that the consequences of these offenses occur in public places. It is also very important to note that it was established that there are no relevant regulations of the European Union that the Proposal of the Law needs to be harmonized with, which is the reason why “not applicable” is written in the Statement of compliance, and the Proposal was nevertheless sent to the Parliament of RS.
According to reports from “Capital.ba” portal, if the Proposal is passed in the Parliament, high fines and even prison sentences would be prescribed for violating its provisions. Article 7 of the Proposal prescribes a fine ranging from 100 to 300 convertible marks (KM) for “quarreling, shouting, screaming and indecent behavior” (use of “caps lock” on the Internet?). A part of this Article are also “performance or reproduction of musical content or texts, wearing or showing symbols, images, drawing or texts of indecent, offensive or disturbing nature”, which can include many kinds of online user-generated content, if the Law would actually be applied on the Internet. Also, “gross offending or other reckless behaviour which causes the feeling of physical endangerment or disturbance of citizens” (Article 8) is punishable with a fine ranging from 200 to 800 KM or even 30 days of prison.
Social networks and other digital communication platforms such as blogs are becoming increasingly influential on public opinion and information, and therefore states are trying to put them under as much control as possible, even with “creative” regulatory solutions. A somewhat different example of limiting freedom of expression on the Internet are the arrests of citizens of Serbia for alleged “spreading of panic” after the floods last May. They were facing a prison sentence of six months to five years for causing panic and disturbance through means of public information or similar means (Criminal Code, Article 343, Paragraph 2) only for expressing their opinions on Facebook. However, the Law on Public Information and Media was enacted in August and it clearly excluded blogs, social networks and similar platforms from the definition of media, unless they are registered in accordance with the Law.
Internet freedoms and digital rights can be limited in different ways, from enacting repressive and overly broad regulations to technical measures such as content blocking or filtering. OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović warned that unspecified terms in the Proposal of the Law, such as “disturbance of public order”, could be used for sanctioning and limiting freedom of expression. Lack of freedom of expression opens space for “chilling effect” and self-censorship, which would discourage citizens from sending and receiving information on the Internet freely and without limitation because of fear from possible consequences.It is clear how the state establishes rules with the Law on Public Order for squares, streets, harbors, parks and other commons in general use, which are a kind of public commons, due to the fact that they are in the public legal regime and that the state has authorization to prescribe the behaviour of citizens in those places. Still, it seems that the Internet is not a common good in the legal public regime, and social networks are not goods for common use, but private property of members of the online community, including Internet companies. This regulatory approach therefore seems unjustified and unsustainable.