Friday, October 5, 2012

AIJC's Dr. Braid on the controversial Cybercrime Law

In line with the big protests against the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, the Asian Institute of  Journalism and Communication is reposting Dr. Florangel Rosario Braid's column, first published by the Manila Bulletin. 

To read the original entry, click here

Students oppose the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012. (Photo by Janess Ann J. Ellao /

Florangel Rosario Braid

A threat to freedom of expression

At first glance, the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 or RA No.10175 seems innocuous. Who would not support a law that would regulate cyberspace for the purpose of eliminating hacking, child pornography, and scams?  Several friends including myself who had been victimized by hackers engaged in identity theft would welcome a law that would clean up the Internet. But what we had not foreseen was the stealth, the sneakiness in the process – that it was passed without due consultation and that it allowed at least a certain legislator to insert sinister provisions which would undermine the Constitution. Criminalizing online libel certainly negates the provisions on freedom of expression and of the press.

Section 4 of Article 4 of the bill which was reportedly inserted by Senator Sotto is considered a threat to all civil rights advocates as it includes “the unlawful or prohibited acts of libel as defined in Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended through a computer system or any other similar means which may be devised in the future”. As lawyer Mel Sta. Maria of News 5 explains, libel is a content-related offense which can be committed by anybody using the computer. A blogger or commentator in Facebook or Twitter who now enjoys considerable freedom may now be constrained from expressing his or her thoughts in the social media.

Article 355 of the current Revised Penal Code prohibits libel in various channels of communication – writing, lithography, engraving, radio, phonograph, painting, theatrical and cinematographic exhibitions. It is based on the libel law which is now 80 years old, one described by the UN Human Rights Council as “excessive.” In fact, sometime last year, right after the UNHRC decriminalized libel, ordered a local journalist immediately released, and sent a delegation to the country to meet with the President and other officials, we thought that our government had agreed to move towards the direction taken by the UN agency. But, we were mistaken. A perusal of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights would show that it is incompatible with the Cybercrime law provision on libel.

This new law, including the recent passage of the Data Privacy Law last August saddens local civil rights advocates especially since these two bills were passed into law ahead of the Freedom of Information Act which had been bypassed by the past 13th and 14th Congress – a period of over 12 years.

The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility fears that this law may arm an unscrupulous regime with tools to suppress freedom of expression. CMFR also believes that the Aquino administrative is now more “restrictive”: rather than expansive when it comes to enshrining principles of accountability, transparency, and press freedom, the hallmarks of P-Noy’s “daan na matuwid”. NUJP (National Union of Journalists in the Philippines) says it even broadens the scope the “antiquated” libel law.

But what appears most bothersome, according to Kabataan Party List president, James Ridon is the provision found in Section 6 - where all offenses defined under the Revised Penal Code and special laws committed through information communication technology (ICT) shall be imposed with a penalty one degree higher than that provided for in the Code of ethics There is no definition of ICT, and thus, it can be inferred that it includes all platforms – blogs, networking sites, and websites.

Critics say the law could justify the shutdown of websites critical to the government even without a court warrant. An international advocacy group for the defense of digital freedom – the Electronic Frontier Foundation, had joined our local advocates in expressing concern on the law’s effect on freedom of expression.

The agencies mandated to implement the law – the Departments of Science and Technology, Justice, and Interior and Local Government must delay action towards its implementation as the voices of the people must be heard. We still have to await action on Senator TG Guingona’s plan to have either to have the law amended or to question it before the Supreme Court.

Now is the time for the community of citizen journalists and netizens to come together and protest the unconstitutionality of the Cybercrime Prevention Law of 2012. 

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