With the passage of the Cybercrime Prevention Act (RA 10175), the government has entered the online thicket in a substantial way. Petitions have been filed questioning the validity of the Act, giving the Supreme Court the opportunity to define our rights in digital space. This is an important case because the Internet has become an important platform for individual and social activities that generate meaning and profits, produce identities and opportunities, or structure views and conversations. In my opinion, even a generous reading will not save RA 10175; it is unconstitutional because it is overbroad.
Let us assume that the government can prohibit online all the activities it can prohibit offline—libel, identity theft, child porn, trespass, malicious mischief, estafa, among others. Further assume that the government can legitimately increase the penalties for online crimes on the theory that cybercrime poses greater dangers to society. Assume even further that the government can engage in “real-time collection of traffic data” in the same way that it can monitor traffic on public streets. Finally, assume that the Department of Justice’s authority to “issue an order to restrict or block access to computer data” that prima facie violates the law is akin to the authority of a police officer to make arrests for crimes committed in her presence. Will the law still be unconstitutional?
The answer is yes. This is because of the special nature of freedom of speech and of the press. What this means is that our Constitution requires that the government make a distinction between speech that offends private citizens and those that hurt public officers and public figures or talk about matters of public interest. The government has the right to protect private identity and reputation, whether online or offline; it also has the right to protect its citizens against fraud, trespass, and malicious commercial activity.
But the Constitution disables it from interfering with citizens’ attempt to praise, criticize, or even make fun of public figures and public officers, or discuss public issues. Decisional rules compel the government to clearly make this distinction under pain of nullity.
The Cybercrime Prevention Act is a classic case of a law that suffers from the vice of overbreadth. In constitutional parlance, the doctrine states that “a government’s purpose to control or prevent activities constitutionally subject to regulation may not be achieved by unnecessarily broad means that sweep into and thereby invade the area of protected freedoms.” Such constitutional policy is meant to impose upon the legislature a high standard of precision in the drafting of laws that affect free speech. Whereas ordinarily the poor draftsmanship of a law is not a ground to have it declared unconstitutional, in cases where free speech is affected the courts require both clarity in language and fidelity to speech-protective norms. The reason for this is that a badly written or overbroad statute can produce a chilling effect, a situation where people who are otherwise within their rights to speak choose to err on the side of caution and thus decide to keep their peace. This risk-averse attitude freezes the speech environment and prevents citizens from exercising their freedoms in order to check the government, make public officials accountable, or talk about controversial ideas.
As a preventive measure, constitutional litigation rules allow in these situations what is known as a facial challenge or an attack on the validity of the entire statute. Normally, citizens are allowed to question only the constitutional validity of laws that apply to and have been enforced against them. But given the importance of avoiding a chilling effect on free speech, an exception is made. The consequence is that the rules of standing (on whether or not a citizen has the right to file the case in the first place) are substantially relaxed, enabling courageous citizens whose rights are secure the opportunity to litigate the case in favor of the silent majority. Finally, if the court finds even a single portion of the statute violative of free speech rights, it is justified in striking down not only the offending proviso but the entire statute. The net effect is to give the legislature another shot at drafting the statute, bearing in mind the need to protect free speech values while regulating non-speech-related activity.
Applying these rules, the only defect that the various petitioners before the Supreme Court need to show is the absence of a distinction in the DOJ’s so-called takedown powers between speech and non-speech-related activity. Thus, even if the DOJ can block access to computer data used to commit cybersquatting, identity theft, defamation of private persons, or fraud, the absence of a distinction in the law that protects citizens from the takedown clause for cyberspeech against public officers and public figures nullifies the entire statute.
For those less interested in constitutional theory, I offer some basic rules: What the government cannot do offline with your rights, it likewise cannot do just because you went online. If you have the right to bully Sen. Vicente Sotto and his loyal staff of unrepentant plagiarists by rallying in front of the Senate and spending hard-earned money on leaflets and tarpaulins to criticize them, then you certainly also have the right to spend precious bandwidth to cyberbully them.
Florin T. Hilbay is an associate professor at the University of the Philippines College of Law, where he teaches constitutional law. He is also the director of the Institute of Government and Law Reform of the UP Law Center.
Atty Hilbay, extending this legal logic of yours, can we also say that that which you cannot get away with offline you cannot get away with online as well?
If you libel someone in a column that sees print in the Inquirer and are prosecuted for it, should you not also be prosecuted for libeling someone in a column that gets posted on the Inquirer's online edition?
Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III on Monday denied allegations he surreptitiously slipped in higher penalties for online libel in the controversial Cybercrime Prevention Act.
Calling himself “the cyberbullies’ whipping boy,” Sotto said he was not even among the original authors of previous drafts of the law when these were filed mostly in 2011.
Those who filed separate bills on the subject included Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Senators Antonio Trillanes IV, Edgardo Angara, Manuel “Lito” Lapid, Manuel Villar, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Ramon Revilla Jr., Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, according to Sotto.
The consolidated report of all the drafts was presented by Angara on May 11, 2011. Individual amendments were introduced mostly in January 2012.
Sotto said he received brickbats from critics for supposedly delivering plagiarized speeches on the reproductive health (RH) bill only in August and September this year.
By that time, both the Senate and the House of Representatives had reconciled the disagreeing provisions of their versions of the Cybercrime Prevention Act.
This means, according to Sotto, he could not have been inspired to introduce amendments that would in effect raise the penalties for online libel since Congress had already finished its business on the matter.
“Cyberbullies should not be too presumptuous. They have a feeling that the Senate would enact a law for them? Excuse me,” Sotto said in a privilege speech.
The senator stressed he gave the speech “to set the record straight, stop the blame-tossing and address the paranoia” of his critics.
Angara earlier announced his plan to file amendments to the cyberlaw after netizens raised a howl over the higher penalties for online libel and a provision giving the justice department “takedown” powers to discipline offensive websites.
Santiago said the Supreme Court could declare the existing law unconstitutional for its “over-broad and too vague” provisions.
Repeal of penalties
Also on Monday, Sen. Loren Legarda filed a bill seeking to repeal the law’s libel penalties. “I hope to eliminate the chilling effect that may impose undue boundaries on our people’s exercise of freedom of expression,” she explained.
Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro Casiño, in a statement e-mailed to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, warned the new law even penalized not only users of the Internet but also of cell phones.
He said the law covers any medium of ICT (information and communication technology) media, including voice and video, and defines computers and computer system as “any type of computer device, including devices with data processing capabilities like mobile phones, smartphones, computer networks and other devices connected to the Internet.”
“This practically means that communications and data on any type of phone or ICT device are covered by this very repressive law,” he said.
He said candidates—who might try to put down an opponent via text messages—could find themselves in trouble.
“This means if I text my friends that a certain candidate is a ‘cheap, second-rate, trying hard copycat,’ that person can haul me to court for violating the cybercrime law and have me locked up for 10 years,” Casiño said.
“The mere possibility that one can be charged for online libel is enough to silence ordinary people and stop them from expressing critical ideas,” he added.
Samuel Matunog, vice president of Davao ICT Inc., said the law could also kill the bullish ICT sector.
He said the law allowed the Department of Justice to shut down or block access to a computer data, if found to be violating the act. This could potentially bring millions of damage to the industry, he said.
“What if malicious pranksters will just lodge unfounded complaints? Before we know it, our computers are already blocked,” Matunog said. With reports from Allan Nawal and Germelina Lacorte, Inquirer Mindanao
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Monday said she had directed the National Bureau of Investigation to start profiling personalities allegedly behind the hacking and defacement of government websites in protest against the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.
De Lima said the NBI had pinpointed “several” personalities since the attacks last week and was verifying whether they belonged to a group.
“They are looking whether these were deliberate acts or were done just for fun,” she told reporters.
On Monday morning, a Turkish group calling itself “Aksuvari Gandalf” defaced the website of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC).
“The DOTC Management Information System (MIS) Office quickly published the original content of dotc.gov.ph using the most recent backup it had of the website,” said the department’s spokesperson, Nick Conti.
“The DOTC MIS and its hosting provider conduct regular backups of the website so we are prepared for cases of vandalism such as this,” Conti said.
No uploaded DOTC files were deleted or corrupted, he said. However, he said the attack was not connected with the campaign waged by “hacktivists.”
In a news briefing Monday, presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said no amount of online attacks could stop the drafting beginning today at the Department of Justice of the implementing rules and regulations of the cybercrime law.
“I understand it’s open to the public. Certainly there will be invitations to the media and to the IT community because the focus here is cybercrime protection: How does one address the cybercrime provisions and how does one implement those provisions?” With reports from Christine O. Avendaño, Paolo G. Montecillo and Michael Lim Ubac
Last edited by Sam Miguel; 10-09-2012 at 09:57 AM.
Aquino may be ousted for cybercrime law, says lawmaker
By Jerome Aning, Cathy Yamsuan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
2:42 am | Monday, October 8th, 2012
Kabataan party-list Rep. Raymond Palatino, one of the complainants against newly enacted Republic Act No. 10075 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, on Sunday said President Benigno Aquino could be impeached for enforcing the controversial law.
Palatino said the President’s insistence on the retention of the libel provisions in the law would result in the abridgement of the freedom of speech, which would made the Chief Executive liable for impeachment on the grounds of culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of the public trust.
“If Aquino is insisting that we accept the new law, not only is he violating the Constitution, he is also betraying the public’s trust, both of which are impeachable offenses,” Palatino said.
The Supreme Court is expected to tackle over 10 petitions against the cybercrime law during an en banc session tomorrow. Yet another petition will reportedly be filed Monday by Bayan Muna led by Rep. Neri Colmenares.
“We warn you P-Noy (Aquino), masquerading as a ‘clean’ President doesn’t make you unimpeachable. If you continue to betray the public’s trust, the masses are ready to call not only for your impeachment but for your ouster,” Palatino said.
Palatino did not say if he would initiate the impeachment complaint against the President.
Both the House and the Senate, which would act as the impeachment prosecutor and court, respectively, are dominated by Aquino allies.
The President on Friday said he did not agree that the provision on online libel should be removed and that he had to enforce the law—otherwise he could be “impeached for dereliction of duty.”
Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, chairperson of the Senate committee on constitutional amendments and revision of laws, predicted the Supreme Court would declare it unconstitutional, citing the “overbroad and too vague” language used in the law’s provisions.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile urged the public to let the Supreme Court deal with the Cybercrime Prevention Act.
“Let’s leave it in the hands (“ipaubaya na natin”) of the Supreme Court. That’s how the system works. Besides, we (lawmakers) cannot say we are always right. We are not gods. If something goes wrong in the executive or legislature, there is the Constitution and the Supreme Court to make a decision,” Enrile said in Filipino.
But Enrile insisted that the Senate observed proper procedures when it debated on and eventually approved its version of the cybercrime bill.
However, he lamented that he was not able to fully monitor the debates that happened in December.
Enrile admitted he was not an expert on the Internet or information technology. Also, he said he was too busy preparing for his role as presiding officer of the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona when the debates took place.
Earlier reports said that during the December interpellations, the debates centered on the definition and penalties for sex-related offenses like cybersex. The online libel provision was not discussed extensively at the time.
15 nurses fired for 'liking' criticism vs hospital
By Aie Balagtas See
(The Philippine Star)
Updated October 09, 2012 12:00 AM
MANILA, Philippines - Fifteen nurses recently terminated from the Taguig-Pateros City District Hospital for “liking” a Facebook post criticizing hospital management are now accusing the city government of refusing to release their certificates of employment.
One of the nurses said their group has repeatedly asked the city government and even sought intervention of various government agencies like the Civil Service Commission and the labor department, but their request has yet to be granted.
“We are no longer contesting our termination, even if they have removed us without any due process at all. All we are asking for is for them to give us our certificate of employment so we could start looking for other jobs,” one of the nurses said in an interview.
The certificate of employment is one of the major requirements Filipino nurses who wish to work abroad must submit. It serves as proof that these nurses have undergone training in the country.
The source-nurse, who requested anonymity, explained that 15 of them have been fired for liking a Facebook status criticizing the purchase of a CT-scan machine last July 13.
Jocelyn Imbao, a consultant at the hospital’s aesthetic and gynecology department, commented on Facebook about the hospital’s priorities in terms of purchasing supplies.
“CT scan???????????? Huh? Sana for free. Kase baka wala maka afford. Besides, ilan ba gagamit na patient? In demand ba? E ang oxygen, meron ba continuous supply? Bili light meron? Simpleng droplight, me bumbilya ba?” read the post. (CT scan? Hopefully for free. Because no one might be able to afford it. Besides, how many patients will use it? Is it in demand? What about oxygen, is there continuous supply? Simple droplight, are there bulbs?)
“Naisip nyo ba ang kuryente na ma consume ng CT scan? Did you know that before you operate the CT scan, you have to start it for a long time? And once on, you can’t turn it off and on and off when not in use?” Imbao, who joined the hospital in 2004, said, worrying about the machine’s electricity consumption.
At least 11 people liked the post, based on the document obtained by The STAR.
On Aug. 13, the nurses received their termination letter. In one sentence, the nurses were informed that they have just lost their jobs effective Aug. 16.
“They did not state any grounds. So we talked to the medical director and we’re told that we were terminated because of Facebook,” the nurse said, who said she recorded the conversation.
Imbao, on the other hand, never received a termination letter but only learned about her dismissal in a bulletin board posting on Aug. 31.
She said she is not contesting the termination because she had lots of connections in other hospitals.
“What I’m fighting for is the rights of the nurses who ‘liked’ my post and lost their jobs in the process,” Imbao said.
Politics caused termination?
In a three-page explanation, the city government claimed that the nurses were disobedient and had sowed intrigues against the administration of Mayor Lani Cayetano.
“Sadly, they have done these things even while they were on duty and supposedly working on official government time,” the letter said.
The document, signed by City Legal officer-in-charge Marianito Miranda, added that the nurses were “consumed” with their “malevolent intent” to discredit Cayetano that they disregarded the administration’s accomplishments.
The nurses, however, said the city government “is only making up stories in order to justify our termination without due process.”
“If the hospital was not really satisfied with my performance why did they put very satisfactory in my evaluation letter? And why didn’t they tell us through the termination letter? Why only now?” one fired nurse said.
Meanwhile, Taguig city administrator Joel Montales, in an official statement, clarified that “Imbao and the nurses were not terminated because they liked (a) Facebook (post).”
“Instead of focusing on their work and cooperating and supporting the TPDH management’s various efforts at improving the hospital’s frontline services, these terminated personnel have manifested blatant disobedience and disregard of authority and protocols, engaged in sowing intrigues and encouraged discontent among the hospital’s staff and personnel.”
MANILA, Philippines — “I want to emphasize that not all of the provisions here are complained about,” said Senator Edgardo J. Angara, in defense of the newly ratified Republic Act No. 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, which he principally authored.
Angara categorized that among the 23 provisions under the act, “only three are being questioned.”
The new law, according to Angara, is a very strong public policy for the good of the majority, since it is developing a new venue of communication which did not exist some 30 years ago.
“The Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector is the one creating almost 600,000 jobs and earning our country almost $9 billion right now, and in three years’ time, it will create 1.3 million jobs… With [the Anti-]Cybercrime Law, there is protection for the integrity and confidentiality of information,” Angara said, underscoring that in effect, the law expands the rights of Internet users.
In an official statement, Business Processing Association of the Philippines (BPAP) President Benedict Hernandez hailed the passage of this new law, saying that “these recent developments significantly enhance our operating environment and contribute to the overall potential of the Philippine IT-BPO industry going forward.”
“The Cybercrime Prevention Act will help sustain and enhance investor confidence and strengthen our position as one of the world’s top locations for high-value IT-BPO services,” said Hernandez.
He added that the industry expects to post a 20-percent growth or more than $13 billion in revenue overall for the year.
Angara also recalled the Filipino-generated “ILOVEYOU” virus that spread in May 2000, noting that no one was prosecuted even if it caused $9 billion in damages.
“The law is not going to impair the right of Internet user… Now that [the Philippines] has 36 or 37 million Internet users, their right in using the Internet is more secured. Even their conversations with their partners, the money that they remit, or their bank accounts are better protected,” said Angara.
However, De La Salle University Law School Dean Jose Manuel Diokno said that despite its positive objectives—to regulate Internet use and get rid of unwanted online activities—and other strengths, the wide-ranging Anti-Cybercrime Law covered several extraneous areas, which only magnified its ambiguity and other weaknesses.
“Any kind of speech, whether it is done on the Internet or in ordinary communication, cannot be subjected to prior restraint from the government, unless a court allows it,” Diokno stated in a phone interview last Friday, citing the Constitution and Supreme Court decisions. “The problem with [the Anti-]Cybercrime Law is that it seems to take away the power of the court and give it to [the Department of Justice]. The DOJ, of course, is not a court; it belongs to the Executive Department, so there’s constitutional issue already.”
In an exclusive interview with Manila Bulletin in Pasay City last Friday, Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center (CICC) Chair Geronimo Sy clarified that as part of the Executive Department, “[the DOJ’s] main task is really to investigate and prosecute bad elements.”
“If you shout libelous remarks at me here in the physical world, if you do that online, it doesn’t mean you’re exempted anymore,” Sy explained.
Blogger Noemi Lardizabal-Dado, though, sided with Diokno’s views, saying that “‘cybercrime’ should be defined clearly and the penalties should be [formulated] based on the crimes involved.” The law, she thought, is “so vague.”
In defense of R.A. 10175, Sy, who was designated as head of the CICC just last week, said that the DOJ is currently drafting the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) to clarify some of the provisions in the law.
“Hopefully, the window of the gap between the effectivity of the law and the issuance of the IRR will not be very long, but if there are certain acts that have already been committed during this [gap], that is clearly [a violation to] the Cybercrime Prevention Act; it does not require clarification from the [IRR], since there are already crimes as it is.”
Diokno agreed: “Authorities can begin enforcing the law on provisions that can be directly enforced even without the [IRR], but they should follow a certain process.”
Setting up the new Cybercrime office is an example of the said provision, according to Sy.
Meanwhile, Diokno noted the collection of traffic data without warrant or court order as another flaw of the Anti-Cybercrime Law.
“The danger is not really in the ‘Liking’ [of a post], but more of the surveillance aspect, because these things are really intended to be private conversations,” said Diokno.
Sy only likened the traffic data to various closed circuit televisions (CCTVs) that have been placed in highways, which will only acquire non-content data, such as the conversation’s time, destination, number code, and frequency.
“In case of traffic data, it’s just an online version [of the CCTV] but nobody will intervene if it’s content or personal things. The state will not proscribe that. We’ll not intervene on that without a warrant,” assured Sy.
Chapter IV, Section 19 of the law, which is about “Restricting or Blocking Access to Computer Data,” concerns another blogger, Jane Uymatiao, as it is a power also given to the Justice Department.
“The take down clause should be well defined because you can take down [computer data] for other purposes. But if you’ll just take down a blog, it is dangerous,” worried Uymatiao.
In response, Angara said that he is now taking steps to correct the situation by filing “a measure to amend the said provision to include the requirement of a Court Order before the [DOJ] clamps down any website, unless there is clear and present danger that you cannot wait a minute longer.”
The legal field uses the “clear and present danger” as a standard to consider when freedom of speech can be curbed. To illustrate, the said standard takes away from anyone the right to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater when there is actually no fire, as the act threatens public safety.
Uymatiao also pointed out that in view of today’s technology, young Internet users are now exposed to the possibility of committing libel even in their arguments. She noted the Juvenile Delinquency Act of 2006, which puts liability even to a 15-year-old.
But Sy set aside these unfounded fears and maintained that the law is still essential to the Philippines, where cybercrimes, abuses and complaints that have not yet been acted upon in the past are now commonplace. He particularly addressed bloggers who are critical of the new law.
“I think we should really have a broader approach and a bigger discussion on what really the law is all about and not just focus on [certain] provisions… These bloggers are prudent people; they don’t want to be libeled so [the law is] also for their protection, especially that our cyberspace here in the Philippines is unregulated.”
“We have to know what that particular fear is and from that, we have to address it if it’s legitimate,” Sy added. “But just to say, [if we do] not point out what exactly is being feared, it may not be helpful to the society at all.”
As for the libel clause, Sy admitted that the higher penalty will be followed because the new Anti-Cybercrime Law already amended the Revised Penal Code. He pointed out the harmful nature of the Internet, that once the libelous statements are posted, “it is available instantly to everyone without barriers [and] cost.”
However, the assistant justice secretary quickly raised the idea that there has to be a complainant first or somebody who is libeled, since his new office won’t be monitoring all the statements, tweets or shout-outs in social networking sites, unlike what others believe.
“Of course a lot of people will say anything and everything, but does it make sense?” Sy said. “There has to be a complainant first. For it to be a libelous statement, somebody has to be libeled.”
For the section that prohibits the aiding of the commission of the cybercrime like online libel, Angara said that conspiracy can only be proven if there is connivance between the author of the libelous statements and those who share it.
“If you don’t know the author but you liked and shared what he said, it cannot be considered as abetting, since the two should have first talked and agreed prior to sharing the information,” the outgoing senator explained.
Sy’s new Office for Cybercrime also aimed for international cooperation since the Cybercrime Prevention Act “will be a useless law if we do not coordinate it with other countries, especially when the servers that contain these information or data are not within the country.”
He also stressed that the person who commits cybercrime outside the country can also be liable, since “the one who you libeled against here [could still] file [a case] against you because it is available in the Philippines. But since you’re outside of the country, you cannot be arrested [unless] there’s a warrant against you.”
As of press time, 12 petitions to stop the new law’s implementation have already been filed by different individuals in the Supreme Court. Some legislators have also filed bills in Congress to amend some of the provisions that are being questioned by the concerned parties.
“For me, some have to be repealed and some have to be amended,” suggested Dado, who forms part of a group of bloggers that is currently drafting a Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom to protect the rights of the netizens. She also brought out the news that the United Nations has already adopted Internet Freedom as a basic human right.
“My opinion is that we need an Anti-Cybercrime Law. The problem is when they included provisions that now affect netizens,” said Uymatiao, who recommends the decriminalization of libel.
But Sy stated that decriminalization has a separate component.
“It could be decriminalization—you don’t have any more imprisonment, you’ll just impose a fine, or you’ll just impose a civil liability,” said Sy. “My personal opinion is that we will impose only a criminal fine, so it’s not decriminalization, but there’s an imposition of a fine, which is also a penalty.”
Meanwhile, Angara said that there is still time for this law to be amended in Congress.
“This has been threshed out at the committee level, plenary and bicameral conference [so] this should be able to get out. I am sure that we can do it within the life of this Congress and within this session,” declared Angara.
Calming Public Uproar: Anti-Cybercrime Law Simplified
By LEO ORTEGA LAPARAN II and BRYAN G. VILLASANA
MB Research, October 8, 2012, 6:38pm
Noemi Lardizabal-Dado, her Twitter profile page says, “advocates constructive engagement in issues on family and society.” She does this mostly through writing, not in a print medium, but on a web log (blog) for all the world to read—and she has been doing so for more than a decade now.
Jane Uymatiao, a yoga enthusiast, is an active new media person as well, channeling her thoughts via blog writing.
But now that the Philippines has its own Anti-Cybercrime Law in effect, both netizens (Internet citizens) have become even more cautious about what they write.
And they are not really keen about it.
The enactment of the new law meant to go after “online criminals” only took to the next level their common fear: being charged with libel.
“I have always been careful when I write,” said Dado, more popularly known as “Momblogger,” her Twitter username, in the blogosphere, in a phone interview with Manila Bulletin. “For me, I have not changed my style of writing.”
But her being a blogger makes her more vulnerable now to libel, which is among the punishable acts specifically defined in the new law.
“Because I am a blogger, I [tend to be] opinionated and I am not sure if what I write is libelous or not,” she said.
Libel is just one of those provisions that are being questioned in Republic Act (R.A.) 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, which took effect Wednesday, 21 days after President Benigno S. Aquino III signed it last Sept. 12 and 15 days after national publication on Sept. 18.
The newly-enacted law aims “to effectively prevent and combat such offenses” committed in the cyberspace and to protect the computer and the information or data stored in it.
Along with its implementation is the creation of the Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center (CICC) that will probe and enforce the nation’s cybersecurity plan. Headed by Justice Assistant Secretary Geronimo Sy, the new office will make sure that no offenses will be committed by anyone who is online.
Aside from cases of online deception, identity theft, cybersex, child pornography and unauthorized spamming, other offenses include illegal access and interception of the computer and data saved in the system. An example of this is when a person uses someone else’s computer without authority, goes online using the computer owner’s account and starts manipulating it. In this new act, one can also be liable due to data interference or unauthorized intentional or reckless alteration, damaging or deleting of computer data or electronic document.
Other punishable acts defined in this law are the unauthorized importation or distribution of computer password or access codes, and cyber-squatting or the use of other’s name in bad faith over the Internet to profit, mislead or destroy other’s reputation. The offender can also be penalized if he attempts or assists in the commission of the punishable acts cited in this law.
The prohibited acts of libel, if committed online, can also hold one person liable in this new law. Since the effect of online libel is instant and covers greater audience, stiffer penalties are to be implemented.
“I know that libel has always been there in the Penal Code, so I am very careful when I write,” said Dado, who is also a citizen media site editor.
Article 353 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC) defines libel as a “public and malicious imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status, or circumstance tending to cause the dishonor, discredit, or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead.”
The Anti-Cybercrime Law might have been long overdue, but majority of Filipinos did not give it a rousing welcome.
“The problem is that if I will engage in a contrary view, will I now be affected by the libel law?” asked Dado.
R.A. 10175’s main author and sponsor Senator Edgardo J. Angara was quick to defend the said provision during the Kapihan sa Senado held at the Senate Lounge in Pasay City on Thursday, addressing mounting qualms and clarifying the new law.
“I accepted [the libel clause] because libel is already punishable under the Penal Code… One must be accountable for one’s conduct, that is the compact among us in the society, where I can exercise my right [while] I also protect the rights of others.”
Senate Majority Floor Leader Vicente “Tito” Sotto III admitted proposing the provisions on libel, according to Angara.
Still, for Angara, the law reinforces the expansion and development of the usage of the Internet and of other information and communications technologies (ICT) in the Philippines.
“[ICT] is one particular area of our economic and social life that has acquired a huge space in the society,” said Angara, who is also Chairperson of the Committee on Science and Technology. “I don’t want the criticism to overwhelm the overall purpose of this law. I still believe we are much better off with the Cybercrime Prevention law in operation rather than having to navigate what is essentially a wide, wide universe without rules.”
However, for bloggers like Dado and Uymatiao, the Anti-Cybercrime Law affects the way they think now, more than ever, because of the libel clause—further curtailing them of their right to express.
“The moment that we think, ‘Should I put this?’ or ‘I should not say this,’ that exactly is already an infringement of [one’s] expression,” Uymatiao said. “We accept the [fact] that whenever you write, there’s always a responsibility that goes along with it. It doesn’t mean that freedom of expression is open, that you can say what you want even if you are going to curse other people. We know that there are boundaries in terms of ethics, but it should never infringe on your ability to give opinion, to be able to criticize, to be able to point out a wrongdoing.”
De La Salle University Law School Dean Jose Manuel Diokno, in a separate phone interview over the weekend, confirmed Uymatiao’s anxiety.
“Our newly-enacted Cybercrime Law violates the right to freedom of speech and free expression. Whereas before, our marketplace of ideas is limited to conversations, television and radio, today, it is also in the Internet. When you allow that kind of heavy regulation from the state, it will cause an adverse impact on our speech,” said Diokno.
On whether Anti-Cybercrime Law will affect private conversations, especially in social networks, like Facebook and Twitter, Angara said that sites which contain commentaries like what print columnists do are free from liability, as long as the authors don’t commit libelous or slanderous acts to a person.
“The idea is that freedom of speech does not affect libelous or slanderous statements or remarks,” Angara said. “Libel is not protected by the freedom of speech.”
For one to be charged libel in the context of the Anti-Cybercrime Law, Diokno said, the same requisites in a regular (print) libel case need to be established.
“The statement or imputation must be defamatory, one that really damages the reputation of the victim; it should be published; it should be malicious; and it should cause actual damage to an identified victim,” Diokno explained.
Diokno is “disturbed,” though, about the inclusion of libel in the Anti-Cybercrime Law.
“First, we already have an existing law on libel, the one in the [RPC], which covers Internet libel. In other words, we don’t need to create a new law to penalize Internet libel,” he said. “Second, our Supreme Court recently issued a circular to courts that as much as possible, imprisonment for libel should not be imposed because the worldwide trend is to decriminalize libel.”
At present, the Philippines is among one of the few countries that tags libel as a crime.
“In many countries today, penalty for libel is only damages, no more imprisonment,” Diokno said. “With our new Anti-Cybercrime Law, the penalty is increased, instead of following the worldwide trend.”
Angara’s view on the matter agreed with Diokno’s.
“The solution is to amend the RPC and decriminalize libel. But that doesn’t mean there’s no responsibility in reporting on the part of journalists. They would still be liable not in the form of jail, but through civil damages.”
Angara also appealed to the public not to panic because “there is no threat to anyone’s freedom right now.”