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Philippines: ‘Anti-Cybercrime Law Threatens Media Freedom’

The Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 was signed by Philippine President Benigno Aquino III on September 12, 2012. The main proponent of the measure, Senator Edgardo Angara, hails the passage of the law:

With this law, we hope to encourage the use of cyberspace for information, recreation, learning and commerce. By protecting all users from abuse and misuse, we enable netizens to use cyberspace more productively.

Internet shop in the Philippines. Photo from Flickr page of Silicon Gulf

Internet shop in the Philippines. Photo from Flickr page of Silicon Gulf

This measure will deter people from committing crimes because the virtual world will no longer be a lawless realm. Its enactment sends out a strong message to the world that the Philippines is serious about keeping cyberspace safe.

But critics fear the law could lead to the curtailment of internet and media freedom in the country. They question in particular the last-minute inclusion of libel as one of the cybercrimes in the law.

Raissa Robles is concerned about the impactof inserting the libel provision in the law:

What makes the libel rider interesting is that it is SUCH a clumsy cut-and-paste job, without any attempt to take into account the nature of the Internet.

No congressional public hearing was ever held on libel in the Internet.

This section on libel has grave implications for freedom of speech on the Internet. People who post on Facebook, Twitter and write comments in news websites can be sued for libel in much more insidious ways than those in the traditional news media.

I am all for making people personally accountable for what they post online, but not this way.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines explains why the law is a threat to media freedom:

The enactment of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 was, to say the least, sneaky and betrays this administration’s commitment to transparency and freedom of expression – nil.

The inclusion of libel among the crimes that may be committed with the use of computers poses a threat not only against the media and other communicators but anyone in the general public who has access to a computer and the Internet.

The Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility asserts that the enactment of the law reveals the ‘restrictive mindset’ of the country’s leaders:

Prior to its passage, the Philippines had been distinguished among its Asian neighbors for the absence of regulatory legislation affecting the Internet. It can signal the opening of the floodgates of Internet regulation that will affect Filipino netizens, given the restrictive mindset of the country’s leaders. It is a distinct possibility to which journalists and bloggers, ordinary citizen and anyone committed to free expression through whatever medium, should be alert, and must be prepared to combat.

Meanwhile, AttyAtWork is worried about the other provisions of the law that could violate the privacy and civil liberties of internet users:

R.A. (Republic Act) 10175 allows, without any need of a warrant, a real-time collection of traffic data by law enforcement agencies. It also authorizes the Department of Justice (DOJ), by mere prima facie evidence, to block or restrict access to computer data.

There is no need to secure a warrant from the court to gain access to traffic data. That means law enforcement, by mere notice/order to the ISP, can require such ISP to divulge and preserve data relating to a communication’s origin, destination, route, time, date, size, duration, or type of underlying service.

Cocoy reflects on the lessons of the campaign to block the passage of ‘restrictive’ legislations such as the anti-cybercrime measure:

At the same time, the passage of the cybercrime law is an indictment of our tribes. We have failed us. We who understand technology have failed to bridge the digital divide. We are failing to educate how things are, and how things work. The tribes have failed to provide a constant campaign to be heard and to influence public opinion. We must now seriously reconsider how our collectivism can positively reshape society in the long term.

The police and business process outsourcing companies are happy over the enactment of the cybercrime prevention bill.

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