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EPIC --- Privacy and Human Rights Report 2006

Title Page Previous Next Contents | Country Reports >The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

Constitutional Privacy Framework

As with many languages, Arabic has no equivalent to the English word "privacy," although there exist more specific – and less ambiguous – words that pertain to any discussion of privacy rights.[3181] While the concept of privacy exists in the Arab world, its content and meaning differ from Western notions.[3182] Traditional Arab privacy does not connote "the 'personal,' the 'secret' or the 'individuated space,' rather it concerns two core spheres – women and the family."[3183] Thus, while privacy as a cultural value is entrenched in the Jordanian state, privacy as a legal right is as yet an evolving concept.

The Jordanian Constitution specifically recognizes a limited right to privacy, but these rights are regularly circumscribed by law or practice. Article 10 of the Constitution stipulates, "[d]welling houses shall be inviolable and shall not be entered except in the circumstances and in the manner prescribed by law."[3184] Jordanian law is founded on Islamic law or shari'ah and elements of the Napoleonic Code.[3185] Article 10 can be directly traced to both the Qur’an and the Sunnah – the body of precedent sayings, acts and tacit approvals of the Prophet Mohammed – which together form the basis of the shari'ah.[3186]

Article 18 of the Constitution stipulates, "[a]ll postal, telegraphic and telephonic communications shall be treated as secret and as such shall not be subject to censorship or suspension except in circumstances prescribed by law."[3187] In practice, however, authorities often do not respect these constitutional restrictions. There have been cases of security officers monitoring telephone conversations and Internet communications, read private correspondence, and engaging in surveillance of persons who are considered to pose a threat to the government or national security, but no incidences of this were reported in 2006.[3188]

Data Protection Framework

Jordan has no data protection or privacy law, and it remains difficult for Jordanians to exercise their information privacy rights.[3189] However, a few laws already provide some level of privacy protections. While still relatively low, Internet penetration and e-commerce are expanding. Coupled with this growth, concerns about privacy and data collection are also developing. Less than three years ago, the majority of potential e-commerce users felt that their rights of privacy were not protected under then-current laws. There are domestic and international pressures for the government to address these issues.[3190]

The Royal Scientific Society conducted a study on e-commerce and its effect on labor and found that Jordan was one of the leading countries in adjusting its laws to conform to technological evolution, which encouraged local companies to start electronic businesses.[3191] This could be attributed to the aforementioned pressure put on the government. According to another study, would-be e-commerce users feel that their privacy is not protected by the way the law is written.[3192]

In July 1999, Jordan drafted a plan to establish the requisites for a knowledge-based economy, including: modern cyber laws, new information technology (IT) infrastructure, an IT-oriented educational system, and the latest generation in telecommunications.[3193] A key goal of the public/private REACH Initiative[3194] has been to establish a supportive regulatory and legal environment for e-commerce; a dozen important legislative changes have been promulgated, with more on the way.[3195] The achievements of the IT sector through REACH have included 15 new laws dealing with labor, telecommunications, private shareholding and IP, education sector reform and private-public partnerships.[3196] Unlike Malaysia's Multimedia Super Corridor program, after which it is modeled, privacy or data protection legislation is noticeably absent from the REACH agenda.

The Electronic Transactions Act (ETA) prohibits authentication institutions from disclosing the secrets of any client[3197] and provides additional sanctions for any person who commits a crime by electronic means.[3198] Furthermore, the act gives the Telecommunication Regulatory Commission the "right to monitor the source of any radio waves to ascertain the licensing of that source, without this being considered as breach of the confidentiality of communications or violation of the provisions of the Laws in force."[3199]

Amendments to the Telecommunications Act provide that "telephone calls and private telecommunications shall be considered confidential matters that shall not be violated"[3200] and that any person who "withholds a message . . . copies or reveals a message or tampers with the data related to any subscriber, including unpublished telephone numbers and sent or received messages,"[3201] or who discloses the content of any private communication "which came to his knowledge by virtue of his post or who records the same without any legal basis, shall be punished" by imprisonment, a fine or both.[3202] Similarly, "any person who intercepts, obstructs, alters or strikes off the contents of a message carried through the telecommunications networks or encourages others to do so, shall be punished" by imprisonment, a fine or both.[3203]

In 2004, Jordan along with Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco signed the Agadir Process, a European Union-led effort to integrate the Mediterranean region into global trade and to create stable business environments.[3204] These events indicate a shift in Jordan's stance on data protection as industry speculation in the country points to further legal consultation concerning procedures and regulation of conducting trade and commerce with the countries of the European Union.[3205] This has led to the belief that the European Union's data protection regime is potentially compatible with some Middle Eastern countries Islamic beliefs (which many of their laws resonate from) and values when compared to the United States system of self-regulation.[3206]

National ID

The government imposes some limits on freedom of religion and notes individuals' religious affiliation (except for Druze and Baha'is, and other unrecognized religions) on the national identity card and in the "family book" (a national registration record that is issued to the head of every family and that serves as proof of citizenship) of all citizens. Atheists must associate themselves with a recognized religion for official identification purposes.

In September 2001, the government rolled out a new national identification smart card. The new cards feature stronger security measures and will replace the current national identification card. According to the government, however, they also carry more personal information, notably voter registration information.[3207] Jordan has also implemented a smart health card system in the capital. Doctors, pharmacies, hospitals, laboratories and radiology centers in Amman have electronic access to patient insurance and medical information through a card-based system of electronic record storage. Personal information contained on these cards includes everything from blood type to benefits status.[3208]

In March 2007, Jordan launched its flight security system, eGate. This system utilizes an e-Card which stores a Jordanian citizen’s identity, travel history, fingerprint and electronic travel records. Currently the system is in place at one airport, but the government hopes to expand it nationally to include all airports as well as allow Jordanian nationals abroad and foreigners also use the system.[3209] The program is voluntary.

Open Government

Jordan currently does not have an access to information law. In his Speech from the Throne in November 2006, King Abdullah affirmed the importance and necessity of finalizing laws sent to the legislature, “especially those regulating political parties, municipalities, media and freedom of information.”[3210] In April 2007, the Lower House of Parliament endorsed a draft Access to Information law.[3211] If approved by the Senate, the bill will establish an information council consisting of a board of six directors and a president experienced in areas relating to information and legal matters. The draft bill was first introduced in 2005 and is the only one of its kind in the Arab region.[3212]

The bill requires officials to provide information within 30 days of a request. The bill provides exemptions for information relating to national security, public health and personal freedoms. Citizens have a right to procedural appeals at the Court of Cassation. Article 7 of the bill states, “Every Jordanian has the right to receive information he requests in accordance with the law, and if he/she has a legitimate interest in it.”

A report released by the Amman-based Arab Archives Institute (AAI) said journalists identified the lack of access to information as their biggest challenge in carrying out their work. According to an AAI survey, officials regularly decline to answer questions on important issues.[3213] However, some of the articles in the law have come under fire from Members of Parliament and press freedom groups, who describe them as far too restrictive. Article 13 of the bill states that officials must not disclose information about discrimination between males and females, race or religions, secrets or documents protected under another law, classified information, national security issues or criminal matters, among others. This provision received criticism for being prohibitive to gender research.[3214] In addition, the law does not contain any penalties on public officials who wrongly withhold information. The law also requires that the requester "has a legitimate interest or a legitimate reason" in obtaining the information.[3215]

International Obligations

In 2000, Jordan signed several international agreements that will likely assist in propagating international standards for privacy protection into domestic law, including its acceptance to the World Trade Organization, a trade partnership agreement with the European Union and a joint statement on electronic commerce with the United States. The first two agreements call for the liberalization of trade and stipulate the incorporation of measures to facilitate the development of, among other things, information privacy rights with respect to the processing of personal data, and assurances of minimal restrictions on the free flow of personal data between jurisdictions. The third agreement explicitly recognizes that both the public and the private sectors need to be involved in the protection of privacy for e-commerce to flourish, and sets the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Guidelines on the Protection of Privacy and Transborder Flows of Personal Data as an appropriate basis for policy development.[3216] None of these agreements have legal force, but they are potential indicators of future policy. On June 10, 2003, the EU's Association Agreement with Jordan went into effect during the Euro-Mediterranean "Barcelona Process."[3217]

[3181] For example, the term "khususi" meaning "personal."
[3182] See Ahmad Moussalli, The Islamic Quest for Democracy, Pluralism, and Human Rights, 129 (University Press of Florida 2001). "Thus the state, which is responsible for securing people's rights, must work within a just context. For instance, the right to privacy – the prohibition of espionage or intruding in the private life of people – cannot be secured without such a context. Islamic jurists' views on this point can be summarized by saying that the privacy of the people could not legitimately be invaded if there was no apparent misconduct or violation of the law. The sanctity of privacy was earlier postulated by the Prophet [Mohammed] himself and can also be found in the Qur'an; the Prophet prohibited entering any residence without the owner's permission. Hanbali, Hanafi, Shafi'i, and some Maliki [jurists have agreed that a person can defend his privacy and even hurt the offender without incurring punishment [footnotes omitted]." Hanbali, Hanafi, Shafi'i, and Maliki are four of the five religious authorities of the Sunni school, which is one of the most important sects of Islam.
[3183] Fadwa El Guindi, Veil, Modesty, Privacy and Resistance, 81-82 (Berg 1999).

[3184] Constitution of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, adopted January 1, 1952, available at <> (in Arabic) and <> (in English).
[3185] CIA World Factbook 2007, available at <>.
[3186] Umar Moghul, Approximating Certainty in Ratiocination: How to Ascertain the 'Illah (Effective Cause) in the Islamic Legal System 4 J. Islamic Law 125, 135 (1999). Unlike English common law, which is secular, Islamic law is based on divine sources: the Qur’an and the Sunnah. 'Illah is the reason for which a particular law is believed to have been established by God. The 'illah of asking permission before entering a private home is given in the text itself when the Prophet says that "permission is required because of viewing." Regardless of the potential awkwardness of adapting ancient text to the modern concept, it could be said that the 'illah therefore protects the privacy of the home.

[3187] Constitution of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, supra.
[3188] US State Department Human Rights Report 2006 - Jordan, available at <>.

[3189] Akhal Al Ahmad, The Virtual Law Firm: Privacy Issue World Wide Activities Middle East – Jordan, available at <>.
[3190] Obeidat Mohammad, "Consumer Protection and Electronic Commerce in Jordan – An Exploratory Study," The Public Voice in Emerging Market Economies Conference, 2001.

[3191] "Jordan: RSS Study Examines Effect of E-Commerce on Labor Practices," Financial Times Information, December 15, 2004.
[3192] Obeidat Mohammad, supra.

[3193] Owen Clegg, "Malaysia Is Example to Follow," Jordan Times, April 23, 2001.
[3194] REACH is an acronym standing for: Regulatory Framework; Enabling Environment and Infrastructure; Advancement of National IT Programs; Capital and Finance; Human Resource Development.
[3195] Ghassan Joha, "Reach 2.0: Initiative to Develop IT Sector,", July 16, 2000, available at <,5127,3769,00.html>.
[3196] Sarah Ryan, "Information Technology Sector Highlighted as an Example of Organizing Private Sector Clusters." Jordan Times. December 20, 2004, available at <>.

[3197] Electronic Transactions Law No. (85) of 2001, § 37 (December 31, 2001), available at <>.
[3198] Id. at § 38.
[3199] Telecommunications Law No. 13 and its Amendments of 1995, Article 62, available at <>.

[3200] Id. at§ 56
[3201] Id. at § 77.
[3202] Id. at § 71.
[3203] Id. at § 76.

[3204] "Commissioner Patten Attends Signature of Agadir Agreement," Europa World, February 27, 2004, available at <>.
[3205] Ryan Moshell, Comment:...and then There Was One: The Outlook for A Self-Regulatory United States amidst A Global Trend toward Comprehensive Data Protection, 37 Texas Tech Law Review 357 (2005).
[3206] Id.

[3207] Rana Husseini, "New National ID to Include Voter Information," Jordan Times, August 29, 2001.
[3208] News Release, "Cardlogix, NatHealth, IdealSoft, and Innovonics Provide Smart Card Medical Records to Country of Jordan," Cardlogix, April 9, 2000.

[3209] “eGate Project to be Launched at QAIA Next Month,” Jordan Times, Jan. 22, 2007.

[3210] “Parliament Watch.,” Jordan Information Center, February 4, 2007, <>.
[3211] “MPs Endorse Draft Access to Information Law,” Jordan Information Center, April 26, 2007, <>.
[3212] Id.

[3213] Id.
[3214] Id.
[3215] Parliament Watch, supra.

[3216] US-Jordanian Joint Statement on Electronic Commerce, available at <>.
[3217] Human Rights Watch World Report 2003: Middle East and North Africa Overview, 2003, available at <>.

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