Filipinos take to the streets to protest new cybercrime law

  • New law compared with the excesses of the Marcos regime
  • Local chapter of hacker group Anonymous unleashes attacks against govt websites

Filipinos take to the streets to protest new cybercrime lawACTIVITSTS, netizens, journalists, bloggers, organizations and individual citizens, and even the militant group Karapatan (pic), took to the streets on Oct 2 to protest in front of the Philippine Supreme Court, calling on the nation’s highest court to declare the recently-enacted Cybercrime Law unconstitutional.
Saying the new law, which goes into effect today (Oct 3), “poses serious threats to the right to privacy, freedom of speech and expression, among other civil and political rights,” the physical protests came after a spate of hacking attacks on government websites.
Members of Karapatan flashed tablets with electronic posters tagging the Cybercrime Law as a form of “e-martial law,” likening the law to the forms of suppression on civil and political rights by the military dictatorship imposed by former President Ferdinand Marcos.
Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary-general and one of those who filed a petition in the Supreme Court (SC) questioning the legality of the new law, said that aside from the provisions on online libel, the measure gives free rein on authorities to monitor traffic data of Internet users and to block or restrict sites which they deem “libelous.”
“This has far-reaching implications on the work of human rights defenders, as this further impedes on our right to articulate the facts on the human rights situation that we gather on the ground and our analyses on the situation.
“This constitutes several violations of international human rights conventions and declarations, including the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Declaration on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders of which the Philippines, as a signatory, has the obligation to implement,” Palabay said.
More importantly, Palabay said the law infringes on the rights of the general public to access the facts and the information on several human rights issues and to express and act on their opinions.
“Online users go offline today to march on the streets against this Marcosian law. On the 40th year of the declaration of Martial Law, President Noynoy Aquino should be reminded that the Filipino people have not forgotten the suppression of rights under the dictatorship and, what ‘Never Again’ means, and that is, we will relentlessly fight for the rights and freedoms taken away from us,” Palabay said.
The recently passed Cybercrime Law (RA 101750) has whipped up a storm, with a stream of petitions being filed at the SC, questioning its constitutionality.

Section 4 [c] penalizes libel “committed through a computer system or any other similar means which may be devised in the future.”
Section 12, meanwhile, deems illegal “to collect or record by technical or electronic means traffic data in real-time associated with specified communications transmitted by means of a computer system.”
Section 20 lists the penalties for non-compliance with the law.
Flawed principles
Senator Teofisto ‘TG’ Guingona III reiterated on Sept 25 that the recently signed RA 10175, also known as the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, suppresses the Constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of speech and expression online.
Guingona said the law, which he opposed when it reached the Senate floor, makes a fatal step backwards leading to the “vault of archaic policies that cannot be made to apply to the modern man operating in a modern world.”
“Let me clarify this to avoid confusion, the country needs a Cybercrime Prevention Act. [H]owever, this law that was passed recently contains problematic provisions. Without these confusing and vague provisions, this law is necessary. That’s why it is unfortunate that the overly vague and oppressive provision on libel was inserted into the law at the last minute,” he said.
The lawmaker explained that there are three significant reasons why he is opposing the recently passed law. First, he said, is that the new law sets no clear definition on the crime of libel and the persons liable, virtually any person can now be charged with a crime. Included in the potential list of accused are:

• Persons, adult or child, who tweet criticisms against politicians, actors and actresses, and other persons.
• Persons who post Facebook status updates and those who comment on these posts.
• Persons who share Facebook posts and those who re-tweet messages on Twitter.
• Bloggers, Facebook accounts owners, and other online account owners who open their sites for comments from other people.
Further, Sen. Guingona cited that the law demonizes technology and sends the message that the computer user is more evil than those who write on traditional media.
“While libel committed through traditional print media is punishable by up to four years and two months of imprisonment, online libel is punishable by a shocking 12-year imprisonment period,” he said.
Guingona added that with the new law, a person can now be prosecuted for libel under the Revised Penal Code and libel under the Cybercrime Prevention Act. This is contrary to the 1987 Constitution which protects its people against double jeopardy.
“The state has no right to gag its citizens and convict them for expressing their thoughts. The Philippines is a democratic country. The Filipinos should never be left to cower in the sidelines — their thoughts and voices should not be shackled by fear and intimidation. The people should not be afraid of its own government,” Guingona said.
He added that while the rest of the law is crafted to protect the citizens, the only remedy that he sees so far is to strike the void provisions.
Hackers make a stand

A local chapter of the hackers group Anonymous also unleashed a wave of attacks against Philippine government websites last week and earlier this week to express their disapproval at the signing of the Cybercrime Law, which takes effect today, 15 days after its publication in the Official Gazette.
Among those websites which got defaced in the first wave of attacks were the online sites of Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System, and Pilipinas Anti-Piracy Team.
In a message left at one of the hacked websites, the hackers posted this message:
The Philippine Government has just passed a bill that effectively ends the Freedom of Expression in the Philippines.

The Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 is the most notorious act ever witnessed in the cyber-history of the Philippines, and the language of the bill is cunningly designed to make you think it only applies to individuals who are deep in cyber-technology and doesn’t apply to everyone, but some part of the bill basically says it can imprison anyone who commits libel either by written messages, comments, blogs, or posts in sites such as Facebook, Twitter, or any other comment-spaces of other social media in the Internet.

New technologies give us new opportunities to connect with a lot of people not only in this country but all over the world. They can also provide us with a medium through which our political, public and even private views can have an immediate and direct impact on individuals, communities and even countries. It is just so disappointing that our government, in adopting our 80-year-old antiquated libel laws to the Cybercrime Law, again seems to have retarded our march with the rest of the world with respect to giving full force to the people’s freedom of expression.
We ask for a revision of the said bill for the betterment of the Filipino denizens.
The Information and Communications Technology Office (ICTO) of the Department of Science and Technology said that defacing government websites is not the proper way to protest the new Cybercrime Law as this will only inconvenience the transacting public.
“We understand the concerns of the public and our netizens on the several controversial provisions of RA 10175. However, there are proper avenues for expressing their indignation rather than committing cybercrime to protest a bill that aims to prevent cybercrime,” ICTO executive director Louis Casambre said in a statement.
Casambre said the hacking incident underscored the existing vulnerabilities in some government websites that need to be addressed in a national cybersecurity plan.

“In the meantime, we would like to request our government systems administrators to review their own policies and utilize industry best practices when it comes to cybersecurity,” Casambre said.

The ICTO chief said there is also a need for a balanced legal regime which addresses both the potentials and perils of the Internet, and the rights of stakeholders.
Casambre cited, for instance, the passage of Data Privacy Act to protect citizen’s personal data. The law was approved just prior to the Cybercrime Prevention Act.

He said the Cybercrime Law is primarily a tool to address the country’s cybersecurity challenges. The measure, he said, was passed after a difficult and long process, spanning several Congresses.

“We now need to ensure that the IRR will help balance perceived shortcomings while having an implementation framework that is both legally grounded and technically sound,” he said.

Responding to the petitions filed at the Supreme Court questioning the law’s constitutionality, Casambre said the government “respects the rights of netizens and other stakeholders to seek clarifications with the courts on some of the bill’s controversial provisions.”
Related Stories:

The tale of two laws: Section 114A and the PDPA
Malaysia slips in global Internet freedom ranking
Evidence Act: Aug 14 declared ‘Internet Blackout Day’
Philippines okays Data Privacy Act

Keyword(s) :
Author Name :
Download Digerati50 2020-2021 PDF

Digerati50 2020-2021

Get and download a digital copy of Digerati50 2020-2021