Monday, October 1, 2012

Uproar over Philippine RA 10175 (Cybercrime Prevention Act)

Online journalists, bloggers, other internet users, written and broadcast media people and ordinary Filipinos are up in arms against RA 10175 known as Cybercrime Prevention Act which was signed into law by President Benigno Aquino III on September 12, 2012 and is to take effect on October 3, 2012.

The Cybercrime Prevention Act empowers the government in the implementation of laws against people using cyberspace to commit offenses such as child pornography, cyber sex, human trafficking, identify theft, hacking, spamming, and other crimes.

But RA 10175 was received with concerns and apprehensions by some people because of some controversial provisions. A crime punishable under the Philippine Revised Penal Code if committed with the use of information and communication technologies shall have a penalty one degree higher than that provided by that code. For example, libel committed in the internet is fined one million pesos or US $24,000 and a maximum of twelve years imprisonment. On the other hand a libel committed through the traditional media is punishable by six years imprisonment and a fine of only six thousand pesos. A person is also liable for other crimes under the Revised Penal Code in addition to the one he commits in violations of RA 10175. Under section 19 of the act the Secretary of Justice if he or she finds prima facie evidence on violation of RA 10175 can issue order to block access to computer data or take down websites of suspected offenders.

Several persons filed petition to the Supreme Court to declare some provisions of RA 10175 as unconstitutional and need to be scrapped or amended. Some of the petitioners included Senator Teofisto Guingona lll who did not sign for the passage of the law and Professor Harry Roque of the University of the Philippines College of Law.  The New York based “Human Rights Watch” also urged the Philippine government to repeal or replace the Cybercrime Prevention Act.

Senator Teofisto Guingona III and other petitioners said that some provisions of RA 10175 are discriminatory and may result in the infringement of the fundamental rights of individuals under the constitution such as freedom expressions, privacy of communications, due process and the laws on double jeopardy. The petitioners also argued that some of the provisions such as the crime of libel are vague and may result to misinterpretations.  The petitioners stated that mere posting on tweeter or making comments on blogs and posts in social media such as Face book may send an internet user to 12 years in jail. Guingona asked the Supreme Court to issue a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) on the implementation of the controversial provisions until the issues have been decided.

Related to the signing of RA 10175 some of the government and private-owned websites such as  Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, Metro Manila Sewerage System, American Chamber of Commerce Philippines Incorporated and others were hacked. A group called “Anonymous Philippines” claimed responsibility for the act.

Senator Edgardo Angara author of RA 10175 defended the law saying that the internet has become a wild frontier where no due process is afforded to victim of legitimate internet-related crimes.  MalacaƱang on its part defended its signing saying that the bill passed several long deliberations in both houses of congress before it was submitted to the office of the president.

Except for the controversial provisions especially on libel, RA 10175 is designed to conform to the standard of international cyberspace laws. Majority floor leader Senator Vicente Sotto III admitted inserting some of the controversial provisions.  It is ironic that the passage of RA 10175 comes at a time when the international trend is to decriminalize libel.  Some people regarded some of its provisions as a step backward in upholding freedom of expression.                                                                                                                                                        

Surprised by the negative public reaction to the law, some senators especially Sen. Francis Escudero, who authors a pending bill decriminalizing libel, made statement that he committed an oversight when he indorsed the approval of the controversial law in the senate. Escudero along with Senator Alan Peter Cayetano adopt a joint resolution that will postpone the implementation of the controversial law otherwise it becomes effective and enforceable.                                                                                                                                                        

Internet users who post blogs, articles, videos, comments or other form of communication should exercise responsibility in doing it especially if their posts are defamatory or critical to other people or if they are against public decency or morals. Offensive posts might cause trouble to their authors later. Freedom of expression is not absolute, but it is one of our most precious freedoms. “I may not agree with what you say, but I will fight to the death your right to say it,” Voltaire, the French enlightenment writer said.

Related topics:
Facebook, a Platform to Exercise the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression
Commenting on Online News and Articles
The Internet Is Mightier Than the Sword