Netizens up in arms against RA 10175
Not only can Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Law potentially incriminate netizens through their Facebook statuses and tweets, the new law also empowers the Department of Justice (DOJ) to block access to social media networks and websites, including Facebook, Twitter, and the popular meme-based website 9gag, Kabataan Partylist warned Saturday.
In a public forum held at the UP College of Mass Communication on September 29, Kabataan Partylist Rep. Raymond Palatino explained that “such is the power that the Anti-Cybercrime Law gives to DOJ that even access to social networking sites may soon be lost.”
Atty. James Mark Terry Ridon, national president and general counsel of Kabataan Partylist, explained that DOJ can “theoretically invoke” Section 19 of RA 10175 to impose a total access ban on social networking sites in the future.
Section 19 states, “When a computer data is prima facie found to be in violation of the provisions of this Act, the DOJ shall issue an order to restrict or block access to such computer data.”
“This effectively gives DOJ total control of the Internet in the Philippines. As only prima facie evidence is needed, the new law has done away with due process,” Palatino said.
Online censorship under Section 19 is more encompassing than traditional censorship, Palatino added. “If for example, an online article is said to be libellous, DOJ may order the total shutdown of its host domain, effectively censoring not just the article in question, but also other articles in that site – a clear violation of the constitutional right to free speech.”
“There may come a time when DOJ and the courts will be swamped with reports of violations of the Anti-Cybercrime Law committed in sites like Facebook, Twitter, and 9gag. The violations are not limited to libellous material – people can report phishing, illegal access and other violations being committed in these sites, and it would become more practical for DOJ to simply block access not only to the content or data in question but to the very sites themselves,” Ridon explained.
“DOJ is thus effectively given the power to cut Philippine access to Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites. This is how restrictive the new law is,” Palatino said.
According to global social media and digital analytics company Socialbakers, there are over 29.6 million Facebook users in the Philippines, with the country ranking 8th in the company’s list of top Facebook user statistics in the world.
Meanwhile, social media monitor Semiocast reports that around 9.5 million Filipinos use Twitter, placing the country in rank 10 of Semiocast’s list of countries with the most number of Twitter users.
“It would be a great inconvenience for millions of Filipino netizens if such total blockade occurs. Once the DOJ realizes this new power and uses this provision to take down dissident websites – that would be the death of Internet freedom as we know it,” Palatino said.
Netizens up in arms
Various online petitions have already been set up against RA 10175. One online petition started by Kabataan Partylist, which calls for the outright junking of the new law, has reached over 8,000 signatories (see kabataanpartylist.com for details).
“We, the youth, students, journalists, activists, bloggers, and netizens of the Philippines express our outright condemnation to the passage of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, which poses serious threats to Internet freedom, the right to privacy and other essential civil liberties including the freedom of speech, expression, and the press,” the petition read.
“The right to speak one’s mind, to share opinions and initiate discussion and debate is essential. I agree that there is a necessity to combat cybercrime and Internet-related offenses – but I cannot agree with a law that is proposing online censorship and violates civil liberties,” said netizen Noelle Pico, one of the signatories in the online petition.
“We’re in a democratic country with the privilege for freedom of speech and freedom for the use of Internet. I don’t want the government to take it away from me,” netizen Marielle Rosal added.
Though a couple of petitions have already been filed in the Supreme Court calling for a temporary restraining order (TRO) on the implementation of RA 10175, Kabataan Partylist will also file a petition for prohibition in the high court on Monday, with youth groups, students, and academics as main petitioners.
“Our petition will mainly revolve on the issues of the inclusion of online libel, enforcement of the law, and due process. We will show in particular how this new law could potentially abridge the youth’s freedom of expression,” Ridon said.
An initial list of signatories on the said petition includes Palatino, ACT Teachers Partylist Rep. Antonio Tinio, UP Student Regent Cleve Arguelles, Philippine Collegian Editor-in-Chief Katherine Elona, and UP College of Mass Communication Dean Roland Tolentino.
Internet Freedom Bill
Meanwhile, Palatino is also set to file on Monday an “Internet Freedom Bill” in Congress, which will effectively repeal contentious provisions in RA 10175 and enumerate the rights of netizens.
“If we analyze the Cybercrime Law, it is apparent that it restricts rather than protect netizens. Apart from repealing RA 10175 through the Internet Freedom Bill, we intend to lay down the inalienable rights of Filipino Internet users,” Palatino said.
Last July, the United Nations Human Rights Council unanimously approved a resolution which added Internet access and online freedom of expression to the list of basic human rights.
“With the Internet Freedom Bill, we seek to assert this right, and ensure that the Internet is free from censorship and totalitarian suppression,” Palatino said.###