Online rights

The Internet has enabled a lot of people from around the world to communicate with others and has provided a platform for those without a voice to speak up and reach out to an international audience without any physical restriction.

But just as much as it has brought out the best in people in terms of creativity and innovation, it has also brought out the worst, as it enabled them to talk freely under cover of anonymity.

I do not think I am the only one who has said some really strange things to people online, which I would never dream of saying to their faces in real life. A visit to any public discussion board on the Internet would show you how much people swear at others, make fun of them, and maybe even harass them.

Many people forget that there are human beings behind these nicknames with feelings that could get hurt. The concept of freedom of expression is pretty new to the traditionally conservative Omani society.

The sudden explosion of opportunities opened by the Web led some to assume that freedom of expression means that they have the right to say whatever they want, just because they can, without thinking about the consequences.

But the truth is that freedom of speech is not an unlimited right anywhere in the world, because no matter what personal rights a person has, they must not infringe on the rights of others. 

In Oman and many other countries, this right is restricted by some other legal principles such as defamation and breach of confidence. Defamation is generally defined as the act of spreading false information about a person, which could harm that person's reputation.

This law is much stricter in Oman than in some other places like the UK or the USA, as defamation is a criminal act and not merely a civil matter.

In addition to this, the law does not require that the statement be false for it to be offensive, but merely requires it to have the consequence of damaging that person's reputation.

Freedom of expression is further restricted by the law of the breach of confidence. If a person receives any information with a clear expectation that he will keep that information in confidence, that person would be under a legal duty not to disclose that information to anyone else. 

This is a general principle that applies to all sorts of information, whether it was a private issue between friends or a serious confidential document delivered in a professional capacity, for example, the medical records of a patient.

These two are examples of the most obvious restrictions to freedom of expression on the Internet or otherwise, but are not the only ones.

In Oman, the Telecommunication Law also provides for a number of other restrictions such as prohibiting the transmission of harmful and untruthful messages through any means of communication.

The perception of the Internet as an unregulated medium that allows people to say anything they want is far from true.

The legal system covers a wide number of instances where speech on the Internet could be punishable, and with the development of new methods for tracking the visitors to a website, it is not too difficult to enforce these laws on the Internet.

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