2012 (PCIJ BLOG) TWO LAWS REGULATING THE INTERNET and signed just less than a month apart constitute a double whammy against proponents of free expression, freedom of the press, and free speech.

This much was made clear by information technology experts during a virtual roundtable discussion Thursday night on the implications of the passage of the Cybercrime Law and the Data Privacy Act.

The Cybercrime Law, or Republic Act 10175, which penalizes the abuse of the internet in order to commit crimes, was signed by President Benigno S. Aquino III into law on September 12 this year. The Data Privacy Act, Republic Act 10173, another law reportedly pushed by members of the business outsourcing community in order to protect the privacy of their clients, was signed into law on August 15.

“We are one of the first nations to put up a rather draconian law,” said University of the Philippines College of Science professor Ben Vallejo. “In other countries, like in the US, they have already had similar attempts, but all the attempts were impaled on the first amendment of the US Constitution.”

“It seems our legal and political systems have not caught up with the expanded possibilities for free speech and the internet,” he added.

Atty. Jose Jesus Disini, a legal expert on information technology, said the Cybercrime Law gives government vast powers to shut down websites, search homes and offices, and confiscate computers and hard drives on the basis of prima facie evidence only. This is tantamount to giving an executive body vast powers of censorship, he said.

Media groups have also decried the Cybercrime Law for imposing the country’s archaic 80-year old libel laws on the internet, and increasing the penalties as well.

Media organizations have been trying to get Congress to have libel decriminalized for several years now. In October 2011, the United Nations Committee on Human Rights even reprimanded the Philippine government for its draconian libel law, and urged that the law be amended immediately.

Under Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code, the crime of libel is punishable with up to four years in prison. In addition, libel is the one law in the country where the accused is considered guilty until he proves himself innocent of any malicious intent to defame the complainant. The libel law has been used by many politicians in the last 8 decades to harass members of media.

But while the Cybercrime Law has received most of the attention from media and netizens, Disini said the Data Privacy Act has more far reaching implications on the internet.

“If you think the cybercrime law was bad, the data privacy law is even worse,” Disini said. “To begin with, it is difficult to understand what its saying, and I had to read it four to five times before I had a framework on how it works.”

But more importantly, Disini said, the Data Privacy Act is “more encompassing” in how it regulates the flow of information. While the law was meant to protect personal medical information being handled by business process outsourcing companies, the law was worded so vaguely that it could apply to almost anything online.

“I can tell you with a very high degree of confidence that people in Facebook violate the data protection law.” Disini said.

“For example, if I said on Facebook that Noemi has a cold, so I identified her, and I even retweeted it, I already processed sensitive personal information,” he said. “Since there was no expressed consent (from the subject), I violated the Data Protection and the Cybercrime Acts.”

“I think a lot of people need to do is assess how you process private information or personally identifiable information, and see how you comply with the law,” Disini said.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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