New Philippine cyber law could numb the Net
Philippine's President Aquino has approved a law that activists say curbs freedom of expression on the Net. The law raises surveillance powers and the threat of long jail terms.
The Internet may never be the same in the Philippines. Netizens are up in arms over the new cybercrime law, which comes into effect on October 3.
It is feared that the new Cybercrime Prevention Act will extend the country's criminal libel law into cyberspace and also increase the penalty for cyber libel.
The United Nations Human Rights Council has described the existing criminal libel law as "draconian" and "excessive."
Under the new law, Filipinos will face sentences of up to 12 years in prison and a fine of one million pesos ($24,000) for posting comments on social media, such as Facebook or Twitter, if those comments are deemed defamatory by local authorities.
Microbloggers could even find themselves in trouble for unwittingly retweeting or re-posting libelous material.
A nation under threat
The Philippines has a huge and thriving social media community.
About one third of the country's 100 million people use the Internet, with nearly 96 percent of them on Facebook.
The prominent human rights lawyer Harry Roque says the law is repressive
With the new law, authorities will have the power to collect data from personal social media accounts and listen into conversations on Internet voice services, such as Skype.
In addition to the Philippine National Police and the National Bureau of Investigation, a special law enforcement unit will help coordinate surveillance.
The activist group Human Rights Watch is alarmed over what it calls the "excessive and unchecked powers" that authorities will have to "shut down websites and monitor online information."
Total state control
The Philippines government says the new law is necessary to fight hacking, identity theft, spamming and intellectual property theft - law enforcement officials say they would otherwise lack the tools to fight Internet crime.
Some critics view the law - approved on Monday by Philippine President Benigno Aquino III - as the worst assault on free expression since Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law 40 years ago under his dictatorship. Ironically, Aquino's father was assassinated on Marcos' watch.
"This is a total affront on freedom of expression," says Harry Roque, a human rights lawyer and professor of law at the University of the Philippines.
Roque is particularly concerned about the inclusion of the Philippines' criminal libel law in the new cybercrime legislation.
It's bad enough, he says, to include a lible law that the UN Human Rights Council has ruled as contrary to Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on freedom of expression - but even worse to "triple the penalty."
The Philippines has one of the highest per capita rates of social media users
Others view the move as a dangerous step back in time.
Contrary to democracy
"I think all of this is coming out of a retrogressive cultural phase in the Philippines," says Melinda de Jesus, executive director of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) in Makati City. "Some people who have gotten into the legislature and policy committees are more comfortable with controlling systems."
Adds de Jesus: "Police tracking you online sounds a lot like Big Brother. What can be more contradictory to what we call a democracy?"
Numerous Internet and human rights groups participated in a "Black Tuesday" blackout protest on the Web to show their opposition to the new cyberspace legislation.
The Supreme Court is being flooded with petitions that claim the law is unconstitutional. Among them is one from Senator Teofisto Guingona, who voted against the bill.
The court plans to review the petitions next week.
Human rights lawyer Roque believes the court will overturn the law. Nevertheless, he is worried about the ramifications if it doesn't.
"We'll be sending a signal that we have joined the rest of the repressive regions in Southeast Asia in suppressing freedom of speech," warns Roque.
The Philippines Passes a Cybercrime Prevention Act that Makes SOPA Look Reasonable
The dark days of SOPA and PIPA are behind the US, at least temporarily as copyright tycoons reground and restrategize, attempting to come up with measures that don’t cause the entire internet to shut down in protest.
But one country has already moved ahead with similar legislation. The government of the Philippines has passed the Cybercrime Prevention Act, which on the surface, as usual, sounds perfectly well-intentioned. But when you read the actual contents of what’s been deemed “cybercrime,” SOPA’s proposed censorship sounds downright lax by comparison.
Yes, there’s the usual hacking, cracking, identity theft and spamming, which most of us can agree should be illegal. But there’s also cybersex, pornography, file-sharing (SOPA’s main target) and the most controversial provision, online libel.
Now, as someone who has been the target of many a vicious attack from commenters or forum posters, I can understand frustration with the nature of online anonymous criticism. But to actually try to make such a thing illegal? You wade into dangerous waters that anything resembling freedom of speech will likely drown in. And that’s overlooking the free speech implications trampled by banning pornography and file-sharing as well, two provisions getting less attention due to the severity of the libel section.
Via CBS, a senator who opposed the bill explains its potential ramifications:
“If you click ‘like,’ you can be sued, and if you share, you can also be sued,” said Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, one of the lawmakers who voted against the passage of the law.
“Even Mark Zuckerberg can be charged with cyber-libel,” the senator said.
The provision, according to Guingona, is so broad and vague that it’s not even clear who should be liable for a given statement online. And if you’re found guilty, get ready to spend up to 12 years in prison.
Guingona poses the question, who exactly is libel for the libel? Is it the person who made the statements? Anyone who reblogged or retweeted them? The website on which the comments were made? Anyone who commented in assent or even clicked ‘like’? The way the law is worded, the Filipino police could actually charge you with simply criticizing them or the government in a way they deem “malicious,” a word very much open to interpretation.
One of the two Senators who inserted the libel provision, Vincente Sotto III, stands by it.
“Yes, I did it. I inserted the provision on libel. Because I believe in it and I don’t think there’s any additional harm.”
Again, much like SOPA, these are lawmakers who don’t understand the true implications of the law on the technology they’re attempting to regulate. Or maybe they do, in this case. Sotto recently came under fire online for plagiarizing speeches from an American blogger and Robert F. Kennedy which he used to rail against a controversial reproductive health bill.
On social media sites like Reddit, young Filipinos are lamenting the seemingly backwards nature of their government’s recent policies, decrying that they were able to pass a law like this one heavily censoring the internet, but not the aforementioned legislation to teach sex education and give out birth control in schools.
Opponents of SOPA and PIPA should stand up to web tyranny everywhere, and when a supposedly free country institutes censorship practices like that of China and Iran, something is very wrong with that picture. Despite huge protests against the law, the government, as of yet, shows no sign of backing down.
Once again we see a mix of ignorance to technology and the desire to exert further control over a population. Neither is pretty, and neither has any place in a good government.
just by posting this, I could be arrested for Libel if I ever enter the Philippines... that's hella fracked up.
Edited by avelanch, 02 October 2012 - 11:17 AM.