OUTRAGE OVER THE NEW PHILIPPINE CYBERCRIME LAW

MANILA, OCTOBER 1, 2012 (PAKISTAN DAILY NEWS) Amid the public backlash, some of the senators who voted for the cybercime law have started to disassociate themselves from it, even claiming they did not read the provision on libel

A new cybercrime law in the Philippines that could see people sentenced to 12 years in jail for posting defamatory comments on Facebook or Twitter is generating outrage among citizens and rights groups.

The stated aim of the cybercrime law is to fight online pornography, hacking, identity theft and spamming in the conservative Catholic nation amid police complaints they lack the legal tools to stamp out Internet crime.

However it also includes a blanket provision that puts the country’s criminal libel law into force in cyberspace, except that the penalties for Internet defamation are much tougher compared with old media. It also allows authorities to collect data from personal user accounts on social media and listen in on voice/video applications, such as Skype, without a warrant.

Teenagers unwarily retweeting or re-posting libellous material on social media could bear the full force of the law, according to Noemi Dado, a prominent Manila blogger who edits a citizen media site called Blog Watch.

“Not everyone is an expert on what constitutes libel. Imagine a mother like me, or teenagers and kids who love to rant. It really hits our freedoms,” Dado said.

Compounding the concerns, those teenagers or anyone else who posts a libellous comment faces a maximum prison term of 12 years and a fine of one million pesos ($24,000). Meanwhile, newspaper editors and other trained professionals in traditional media face prison terms of just four years and fines of 6,000 pesos.

While harsh criminal libel legislation remains in force in other parts of Asia, Dado said the Philippine law sent the wrong signal in a country that overthrew the military-backed Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship just 26 years ago. Dado, a lawyer’s wife known in the local online community as the “momblogger”, is among a group of bloggers and other critics of the libel element of the cybercrime law campaigning for it to be repealed.

Brad Adams, Asia director for New York-based Human Rights Watch, said the law was having a chilling effect in the Philippines, which has one of the world’s highest per capita rates of Facebook and Twitter users.

“Anybody using popular social networks or who publishes online is now at risk of a long prison term should a reader - including government officials - bring a libel charge,” Adams said. About a third of the Philippines’ nearly 100 million people use the Internet, with 96 percent them on Facebook, according to industry figures.

Five petitions claiming the law is unconstitutional have been filed with the Supreme Court. Senator Teofisto Guingona, the lone opponent when the bill was voted on in the Senate, has filed one of the petitions to the Supreme Court.

“Without a clear definition of the crime of libel and the persons liable, virtually any person can now be charged with a crime - even if you just re-tweet or comment on an online update or blog post,” Guingona told the court. “The questioned provisions... throw us back to the Dark Ages.”

The five petitions all say the law infringes on freedom of expression, due process, equal protection and privacy of communication. University of the Philippines law professor Harry Roque, who filed one of the petitions, said the Philippines was one of a shrinking number of countries where defamation remained a crime punishable by prison.

Part of the penal code that was drawn up 82 years ago, it goes against the trend in many advanced democracies such as the United States and Britain where defamation is now punished with fines rather than imprisonment, Roque said.

Amid the public backlash, some of the senators who voted for the cybercime law have started to disassociate themselves from it, even claiming they did not read the provision on libel.

However presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda has defended the cybercrime law. “The Cybercrime Act sought to attach responsibilities in cyberspace.... freedom of expression is always recognised but freedom of expression is not absolute,” he told reporters on Thursday.

Nevertheless, Lacierda said the law could still be refined. He called for critics to submit their concerns to a government panel that will issue by the end of the year specific definitions of the law, such as who may be prosecuted. afp

FROM THE MANILA BULLETIN

Chiz Seeks To Amend Cybercrime Act By FREDDIE G. LAZARO September 30, 2012, 7:03pm

MANILA, Philippines — A lawmaker will file an amendatory bill to amend the provision on libel as a crime in the newly passed Republic Act 10175, the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.

Sen. Francis Escudero (photo), chairman of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights, said the particular provision in RA 10175 should be repealed as it runs contrary to his position as a principal author of a bill decriminalizing libel.

“Section 4 of Paragraph 4 of the cybercrime prevention law broadens the coverage of libel which now includes those with the use of “computer system or other similar means that may be devised in the future,” he cited.

Escudero said it was a personal oversight on his part that the above clause was inserted in the Committee Report when the Senate voted for its passage.

It was recalled that in 2010, Escudero filed Senate Bill Number 2162 decriminalizing libel to accord greater protection to freedom of speech and expression either those done in writing or other similar means by taking away the threat or fear of incarceration, restraint of liberty and fine.

“This move is just being consistent with my original bill to decriminalize libel. At the very least, if at all, libel should just be made a civil liability. If a person is proven to have besmirched someone, let the guilty party pay for damages. But it should be remembered that in libel, proof of the truth is defense,” he said.

He reiterated what was stated in SB No. 2162, “that a strong media could give great service to the Filipino people in providing an effective mechanism of complete and fearless transparency over the excesses of government in the exercise of its powers and prerogatives.”

Meanwhile, the Kabataan Partylist warned Saturday that aside from the Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Law that can potentially incriminate netizens or habitual computer users through their Facebook statuses and tweets, the Department of Justice (DOJ) is also empowered to block access to social media networks and websites, including Facebook, Twitter, and the popular meme-based website 9gag.

In a press interview, Kabataan Partylist Rep. Raymond Palatino explained that “such is the power that the Anti-Cybercrime Law gives to DOJ that even access to social networking sites may soon be lost.”

Lawyer James Mark Terry Ridon, national president and general counsel of Kabataan Partylist, explained that DOJ can “theoretically invoke” Section 19 of RA 10175 to impose a total access ban on social networking sites in the future.

Section 19 states, “When a computer data is prima facie found to be in violation of the provisions of this Act, the DOJ shall issue an order to restrict or block access to such computer data.”

“This effectively gives the DOJ total control of the Internet in the Philippines. As only prima facie evidence is needed, the new law has done away with due process,” Palatino said.

Online censorship under Section 19 is more encompassing than traditional censorship, Palatino added. “If for example, an online article is said to be libellous, DOJ may order the total shutdown of its host domain, effectively censoring not just the article in question, but also other articles in that site – a clear violation of the constitutional right to free speech.”

“There may come a time when DOJ and the courts will be swamped with reports of violations of the Anti-Cybercrime Law committed in sites like Facebook, Twitter, and 9gag.

The violations are not limited to libellous material – people can report phishing, illegal access and other violations being committed in these sites, and it would become more practical for DOJ to simply block access not only to the content or data in question but to the very sites themselves,” Ridon explained.

“The DOJ is thus effectively given the power to cut Philippine access to Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites. This is how restrictive the new law is,” Palatino said.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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