Legal Encounter Takes on Social Media and the Line Between Freedom of Expression and Privacy

The Birzeit University Institute of Law in Gaza organized on October 8, 2013 a legal encounter on the issue of “Social Media between Freedom of Expression and Right to Privacy.” The event brought together media representatives, lawyers, and civil society figures.
Lawyer Fat’hi Sabbah spoke at the event on theoretical and practical dimensions of social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. These platforms provide a modern social media channel and allow citizens to enjoy the freedom of expression. The Palestinian Basic Law provides a general constitutional norm that safeguards freedom of expression. However, the Palestinian legal framework to date lacks a law specifically regulating social media activity.
The Law on Printed Materials and Publication of 1995 was promulgated hastily to organize various media outlets. It did not take into account rapid developments in the media sector. The law prevents the publication of materials that conflict with the principles of freedom, national responsibility and human rights. This is a loose criterion that can allow an expansive list of prohibitions that in turn restrict freedom of expression.
Advocate Sabbah explained that several related laws were enforced in the Gaza Strip after Palestinian political division. Nevertheless, a law governing social media has not been issued. A draft Media Law developed in Gaza includes several controversial provisions that impede freedom of expression. Examples include articles 7 and 20 of the draft law.
In the discussion following the legal summary, participants made several comments and recommendations. To protect rather than restrict public freedoms, the relationship between freedom of expression and right of privacy in social media should be subject to legal regulation, it was suggested. Relevant legislation, most notably the 1995 Law on Printed Materials and Publication, should also be amended, participants said.
The legal encounter was organized with support from Konrad Adenauer Stiftung.