Amid Widespread Protests, Cybercrime Law Takes Effect

by Ina Alleco R. Silverio

 

MANILA — In seeming indifference to the growing clamor against Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, the Supreme Court decided to defer deliberations on the various petitions against the new law and demanding its immediate junking.

October 2 was marked by various groups as “Blackout Tuesday” and “Day of Protest by Netizens and Citizens” to protest against the new law, which, they said, is a serious threat against civil liberties including the freedom of expression and the right to privacy. It was announced during the protest that the SC moved the discussions on the law because only a handful of justices showed up. The seven petitions, one of which was filed by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) and human rights groups, will be heard next Tuesday, October 9.

 

All the petitions against the new law decry how it attacks constitutionally-guaranteed rights, among them the freedom of speech, equal protection of the law, and the right to privacy. The petitions also argued that the new law green lights illegal searches and seizures while giving very vague definitions on what constitutes libel.

New powers for Aquino government

On October 1, Bayan filed its petition with the SC. The group’s secretary-general Renato Reyes said that if the cybercrime law is implemented, the Aquino administration will have new, underhanded powers, including the power to collect real-time traffic data based simply on “due cause,” impose search warrants based on “reasonable grounds” and not probable cause; block access to websites; and take down websites among others.

The petitioners in the Bayan petition include Reyes, national artist for literature and chairman of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP) Bienvenido Lumbera, Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) chairman Elmer Labog, Karapatan secretary-general Cristina Palabay, president of the Confederation for the Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (Courage) Ferdinand Gaite, Gabriela secretary general Lana Linaban, netizen and journalist Adolfo Ares P. Gutierrez, and human rights lawyer Julius Matibag.

Bayan is calling on the SC to issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the cybercrime law. In the meantime, among the respondents named are Pres. Aquino, Executive Secretary Pacquito Ochoa, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.

The petitioners said the SC should heed the petition as it makes “a strong assertion for the protection and defense of the most basic rights of the people.” It said that as a a special civil action for certiorari and prohibition, the petition calls on the SC to issue a TRO or a preliminary injunction on the cybercrime law. It said that Sections 4(a)(3), 4(b)(3), 4(c)(4), 5(a)(b), 6, 7, 12, 17, 19, and 20 of the new law should be nullified “for being void-for-vagueness or overbreadth.”

In an interview with Bulatlat.com, Reyes said the law attacks the constitutionally guaranteed right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.

“Imagine that your computer is your virtual house and everything in it your documents, belongings, personal property and details on your private activities. Using the cybercrime law, the Aquino government and its agencies like the DOJ and the police cyber intelligence units can do a stake-out on your house, break in and conduct searches based on supposed ‘reasonable grounds’ (Sec.12), monitor your traffic data based on ‘due cause’ (Sec.12) and then take away your house or prevent you from accessing your own home (Sec.19),” Reyes said.

A blogger and active Twitter user, Reyes also said some provisions of the law criminalizing online libel was “most worrisome” because it punishes libel with a heavier penalty.

“This is a political and legal regression in terms of protecting free speech on the internet,” he said. “Will we now have offenses such as inciting to sedition with the aid of a computer? Or rebellion committed via the internet? The potential for harassment suits against government critics is so huge under this law.”

Reyes also called the new law as a “Machiavellian statute” that has the same far-reaching and injurious repercussions of the former Marcos dictatorship’s martial law without Aquino having to actually formally proclaim martial law. He said the cybercrime law targets virtually all citizens.

“It can go after anyone from a poor peasant to an ordinary student, a simple housewife to an online blogger or journalist, anyone who is a social media user; even the average worker to a politician, judge or even the Honorable Justices of the SC can be targeted for as long as they are using mobile phones, computers, computer data storage devices, email, social media and anything that is related to the internet, cyberspace and information and communications technology,” he said.

Reyes also has specific issues against the monitoring of traffic data.

“Provisions on the monitoring and recording of traffic data without court warrant lays down the basis for Big Brother to monitor our online activities. Traffic data can mean anything that is not stored in a device or is in transit from device A to device B. What is to stop government from monitoring emails, online transactions, and other online activities? And on the mere basis of due cause? It is an assault on our right to privacy,” Reyes said.

Making memes to be considered crime

Avid Facebook users should also be wary, Reyes said, because making, posting and sharing memes can also be considered a crime under the cybercrime law. He explained that making memes inherently includes the ‘alteration’ and ‘damaging’ of an electronic document like photos of politicians on the internet, or electronic data message like the quotes or statements of politicians, thinkers, movie actors in the internet.

An internet meme is a concept that spreads via the internet. According to Wikipedia, meme may take the form of a hyperlink, video, picture, website, hashtag, or just a word or phrase, such as intentionally misspelling the word “more” as “moar” or “the” as “teh”. The meme may spread from person to person via social networks, blogs, direct email, news sources, or other web-based services.

“Even paraphrasing or reworking the messages in electronic data messages like photos and quotes – acts that are ordinarily covered by the area of protected speech -– can now constitute punishable acts under the cybercrime law. Memes criticizing or poking fun on the likes of the so-called ‘plagiarist senator’ Tito Sotto and President Aquino himself can now be considered crimes,” he said.

Short of a gun to the head

Bayan, in its petition, assailed a seemingly catch-all provision in Section 6 of the law, which states that “All crimes defined and penalized by the Revised Penal Code, as amended, and special laws, if committed by, through and with the use of information and communications technologies shall be covered by the relevant provisions of this Act: Provided, That the penalty to be imposed shall be one (1) degree higher than that provided for by the Revised Penal Code, as amended, and special laws, as the case may be”.

“RA 10175, through its assailed component provisions, is short of a gun to the head, a greater threat to the freedom of speech clause, right against unreasonable searches and seizures, and right to privacy can scarcely be imagined” in this age of information and communications technology”, the petition read.

The group decried that the law gives a heavier penalty for crimes committed via the internet. It said that usual cases of harassment such as libel, rebellion and sedition can now be carried online if the idea is to simply harass someone.

It also assailed the cyberlaw for its silence on what constitutes “without or in excess of authority” on data, documents and data messages in cyberspace.

“Is ‘authority’ based on ‘ownership’ of a computer data, electronic document or electronic data message, e.g. a person’s ownership over online photos or articles, or by a delegated authority from said ownership, or is authority based on ‘mere interest,’ meaning a person’s interest over an online photo or article? The law is pretty vague on these matters, but the punishments are on the other hand very specific and heavy” Reyes said.

“With admissions coming from lawmakers that the law is flawed, we are confident that the people’s opposition will succeed. We urge the Supreme Court to give due course to all the petitions filed and will be filed against the draconian cybercrime law,” Reyes said.

E-martial law

In the House of Representatives, moves against the cybercrime law are also being made.

On October 1, Kabataan Partylist Rep. Raymond Palatino filed House Bill 6613 seeking to repeal several contentious provisions in the new law. Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño stands as the bill’s co-author.

Palatino said the insertion of provisions regarding online libel and vague sections on data collection and sanctions make it essentially an online censorship law. HB 6613 seeks to repeal Sections 4(c)4, 5, 6, 7 and the whole Chapter 4 of RA 10175.

According to Palatino, Section 4(c)4, 5, and 6 of RA 10175 relate to online libel, and are unconstitutional due its vagueness. Chapter IV, in the meantime, is also unconstitutional for violating constitutional due process.

“The new law is thus a threat to the constitutional freedoms of the press and expression. The relative freedom of publication utilized by online critics of government policies shall now be curtailed,” Palatino said.

“Once the session resumes on October 8, our primary agenda will be to pass this repeal bill. We cannot let e-Martial Law be enacted,” Palatino said.

The youth lawmaker and blogger is also set to file the Internet Bill of Rights later this week. “It’s high time that legislation on the internet turns from being prohibitive to becoming protective,” Palatino said , explaining that the said bill will enumerate the rights of Filipino netizens.

“We’re still consulting with several stakeholders to ensure that the bill will not turn out like the Cybercrime Law. hopefully, we’ll be able to file it before this week ends.”

Palatino also criticized the SC’s inaction on the petitions against the cybercrime law.

“To that we say, absence makes the Internet grow darker,” Palatino said, referring to the ongoing online campaign to blackout websites and change profile pictures in networking sites to black images in protest of the dreaded law. “We are now experiencing the first repercussions of the Aquino court. The Cybercrime Law is set to be implemented tomorrow, and the high court is doing nothing to stop it,” he said.

The youth lawmaker has joined several other groups in filing petitions for TRO against RA 10175. He is among the petitioners in the motion filed by Kabataan Partylist also on October 2. Other petitioners include ACT Teachers Partylist Rep. Antonio Tinio, Anakbayan National Chair Vencer Crisostomo, Philippine Collegian Editor-in-Chief Katherine Elona, and Dean Roland Tolentino of the UP College of Mass Communication. They are seeking the issuance of the writs of prohibition and mandamus against the executive secretary and the secretary of the Department of Justice, and for the exercise of judicial review to assail the constitutionality of the cybercrime law. (Bulatlat.com)

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