PH CYBERCRIME PREVENTION ACT: INTERNET LIBEL IN CYBERCRIME LAW CONSTITUTIONAL-SC

The Supreme Court has ruled that the online libel provision in the controversial Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 is constitutional, although it struck down others, including one that empowers the Department of Justice (DOJ) to restrict or block access to data violating the law. However, the high court, in a landmark ruling issued on Tuesday "partially granting" the 15 consolidated petitions against the law, clarified that only original authors of libelous material are covered by the cybercrime law, and not those who merely received or reacted to it. “The high court... declared Section 4(c)(4), which penalized online libel, is not unconstitutional with respect to the original author of the post but unconstitutional only where it penalizes those who simply receive the post or react to it," said SC spokesman Theodore Te, who announced the ruling in a press briefing. In a later text message to reporters, Te clarified that online contents posted prior to the issuance of the SC ruling, including the period of the temporary restraining order (TRO), are not yet covered by the law. READ MORE BELOW

ALSO: Goodbye Internet Freedom : Libel Clause In Philippine Cybercrime Prevention Act Deemed Constitutional

In September 2012, the Philippines put into effect the Republic Act 10175, or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012. Before this law, authorities were powerless against cybercriminals. It deals with child pornography, hacking, cybersex, cyber squatting and other illegal online activities. But many consider the new law to be inherently flawed and rallied against it, especially with its inclusion of a libel clause that prevents people from making negative comments about government policies or officials, lest you want to be jailed for 12 years. Because of the uproar, RA 10175 was suspended and a 120-day Temporary Restraining Order was put in place. In January 2013, those who lobbied against the law and those who support it, presented their oral arguments in front of Supreme Court judges. And now, after months waiting for the outcome, the Supreme Court has finally given its decision regarding the constitutionality of some of the provisions. The Supreme Court ruled that the libel clause is constitutional which means anyone who engages in defamatory posts can be sent to jail. But there is somewhat of a silver lining in the SC’s ruling, as it stated that only the original author can be accused and sent behind bars. Those who like, share or comment on the post will not be held liable. Still, isn’t this a bit too much? The internet is supposed to be free, and deeming the libel clause constitutional is just absurd. Is the government, its agencies and officials, that sensitive that they cannot take criticism? Where will people voice their concerns and angst against the government?


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Internet libel in cybercrime law constitutional – SC


AQUINO FILE PHOTO

MANILA, FEBRUARY 24, 2014 (GMANEWSTV) By MARK MERUEÑAS - The Supreme Court has ruled that the online libel provision in the controversial Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 is constitutional, although it struck down others, including one that empowers the Department of Justice (DOJ) to restrict or block access to data violating the law.

However, the high court, in a landmark ruling issued on Tuesday "partially granting" the 15 consolidated petitions against the law, clarified that only original authors of libelous material are covered by the cybercrime law, and not those who merely received or reacted to it.

“The high court... declared Section 4(c)(4), which penalized online libel, is not unconstitutional with respect to the original author of the post but unconstitutional only where it penalizes those who simply receive the post or react to it," said SC spokesman Theodore Te, who announced the ruling in a press briefing.

In a later text message to reporters, Te clarified that online contents posted prior to the issuance of the SC ruling, including the period of the temporary restraining order (TRO), are not yet covered by the law.

“There was a TRO so it didn't take effect at that time. There can be no retroactive application of penalties because of the prohibition against 'ex post facto' laws," he said.

President Benigno Aquino III signed the law in 2012 to stamp out cybercrimes such as fraud, identity theft, spamming and child pornography.

In October 2012, the high court put on hold the implementation of the law after it received 15 petitions questioning the constitutionality of some of its provisions, with various groups condemning it for purportedly threatening freedom of speech, increasing the penalties for libel, and making it easier for authorities to spy on citizens using electronic media.

The petitioners wanted the SC to strike down provisions contained in Sections 4, 5, 6, 7, and 19. Sections 4 and 5 tackle the various offenses covered under the law, including online libel, which the petitioners said violates the right to free speech.

Sections 6 and 7, meanwhile, impose a higher degree of punishment for people found guilty of libel while also allowing them to be charged separately under the Revised Penal Code for the same offense. The petitioners said this violated the constitutional prohibition against double jeopardy.

The petitioners also questioned Section 19, which authorizes the DOJ to restrict or block access to data that would be found prima facie in violation of the cybercrime law.

In its ruling, the high court upheld the legality of Section 5, which penalizes anyone who aids or abets the commission of cybercrimes and anyone who attempts the commission of cybercrimes, if the crimes involved are:

Struck down

Penalties set for crimes like online libel and commercial communications, as well as child pornography the high court deemed unconstitutional.

Also declared unconstitutional are:

The high court said Section 7 violated the prohibition on double jeopardy.

Associate Justice Roberto Abad penned the decision, while Associate Justices Presbetiro Velasco and Estela Perlas-Bernabe took no part in the voting.

Kabataan party-list Rep. Terry Ridon, meanwhile, said the whole cybercrime law should have been declared unconstitutional, as opposed to only a few provisions.

“We wanted to start from scratch so we can deliberate on a new cybercrime law without the unconstitutional provisions," he said in a chance interview.

Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares, who was among those who challenged the law, said they may appeal the latest ruling.

"No one should go to prison just for expressing oneself, specially on the Internet, where people express their frustration with government," he said.

Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza, meanwhile, declined to comment in detail on the ruling, but said it was "good" that most of the contested provisions were upheld.

"I will have to read it [but] if that is so [that most provisions were upheld] then that is good," Jardeleza told reporters while waiting for the start of oral arguments on the constitutionality of the Disbursement Acceleration Program.

The Office of the Solicitor General represents the government in cases.

Jardeleza said he could not comment yet because he was not able to "follow the gist of the ruling when it was announced because it was too quick."

"That was a summary but more important than the summary is what it really says. So you have to be patient," Jardeleza said.

In a statement, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima welcomed the SC ruling, saying it was "timely," given that cybercrimes were "continuing and even escalating" during the time the TRO was in effect since last year.

"A clear legal framework is necessary to protect citizens and balance state duties. We will continue to recommend best practices to improve the law," De Lima.

Work on some of the details of legal framework can now move forward, according to DOJ Assistant Secretary Geronimo Sy.

"The hard work begins. We are ready to engage stakeholders to issue the IRR (implementing rules and regulations) as required by law and the procedures that will aid law enforcers to investigate core cybercrime case," Sy said.

Reactions: from 'major victory' to 'arena of fear'

Lawyer Harry Roque, one of those who petitioned against the law, hailed the decision striking down the powers to take down websites and monitor Internet traffic.

"This is indeed a major victory for privacy and the right of the people to be secure in their communications," he said in a statement.

But he said the fight to nullify the provisions on criminal libel would continue.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) blasted the decision, calling it "[a] half-inch forward but a century backward."

"By extending the reach of the antediluvian libel law into cyberspace, the Supreme Court has suddenly made a once infinite venue for expression into an arena of fear, a hunting ground for the petty and vindictive, the criminal and autocratic," it said.

If the SC remains "blind" to this, the NUJP statement added, "there can only be one response lest we be forced to surrender all our other rights—resistance."

Taking a more neutral tone, Malacañang said it will wait for the SC's full decision "to be able to understand its implications on public policy". "We hope that this decision will strengthen government’s position in fighting cybercrime and upholding the people’s welfare," Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma, Jr. said in a statement.

Social media users expressed anger at the upholding of the libel provisions.

"Under Cybercrime Law, tweets, likes, shares, comments = crimes. Everyone under surveillance," said activist leader Vencer Crisostomo in a tweet. — with Patricia Denise Chiu and Agence France-Presse/KBK/KG/BM, GMA News

SiliconANGLE » Goodbye Internet Freedom : Libel Clause In Philippine Cybercrime Prevention Act Deemed Constitutional  MELLISA TOLENTINO | FEBRUARY 18TH READ MORE


inShare 2 freedom of speech protest bullhorn

In September 2012, the Philippines put into effect the Republic Act 10175, or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.

Before this law, authorities were powerless against cybercriminals. It deals with child pornography, hacking, cybersex, cyber squatting and other illegal online activities. But many consider the new law to be inherently flawed and rallied against it, especially with its inclusion of a libel clause that prevents people from making negative comments about government policies or officials, lest you want to be jailed for 12 years.

Because of the uproar, RA 10175 was suspended and a 120-day Temporary Restraining Order was put in place.

In January 2013, those who lobbied against the law and those who support it, presented their oral arguments in front of Supreme Court judges.

And now, after months waiting for the outcome, the Supreme Court has finally given its decision regarding the constitutionality of some of the provisions.

The Supreme Court ruled that the libel clause is constitutional which means anyone who engages in defamatory posts can be sent to jail. But there is somewhat of a silver lining in the SC’s ruling, as it stated that only the original author can be accused and sent behind bars. Those who like, share or comment on the post will not be held liable.

Still, isn’t this a bit too much?

The internet is supposed to be free, and deeming the libel clause constitutional is just absurd.

Is the government, its agencies and officials, that sensitive that they cannot take criticism? Where will people voice their concerns and angst against the government?

People in the Philippines are not happy with the SC’s decision.

Decriminalizing libel .

Bayan Muna partylist representative Neri Colmenares stated in an interview that, “Libel in many countries is no longer criminal. Here, it’s criminal and worse, it’s now considered a crime on the Internet.

The Cybercrime Law can really stifle the use of technology and threaten the right to free press & freedom of expression.”

Funny thing is, many government officials now have Facebook and Twitter accounts, or even have their own webpages, claiming they are a way to hear directly from the people so they know what they can do to help them. With the libel clause approved, how will people now voice their opinions?

What I see happening in the future is a surge in dummy Facebook, Twitter and email accounts, a move that would hinder government officials from finding out the real identity of those who want to voice out their harsh opinions about the government.

Aside from the ruling on the libel clause, the SC also upheld the penalties for those who aid and abet cyber offenses such as illegal access and illegal interception, data and system interference, misuse of devices, cyber squatting, computer-related fraud and identity theft, and cybersex.

As for the aiding and abetting child pornography, sending and creating unsolicited commercial communications or spam are not punishable measures under this law as there are already penalties in place somewhere else. Putting these measures into the cyber law violates the constitution.

A legal battle Not all government officials agree with the Cybercrime Prevention Act, as they view it as something that oppresses freedom on the Internet. Terry Ridon, a congressman representing the youth sector in parliament, was not happy with the ruling and vowed to challenge the SC’s decision.

“The fight against e-Martial Law is far from over. We call on everyone to up the ante and once again show our collective dissent against this repressive law,” Ridon said.

“While the high court reportedly aimed to strike a balance between the protection of civil liberties and government control, we still believe that the law is potent enough to impede our freedom of expression,” he added.

photo credit: Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla via photopin cc

About Mellisa Tolentino Mellisa is a staff writer for SiliconAngle, covering social and mobile news. She is fascinated by technology and loves imparting what she learns through her journey as a writer. Got a news story or tip? Send it to mellisa@siliconangle.com


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