In the past weeks, the nation has been abuzz with the passage of Republic Act No. 10175, or the Cybercrime Prevention Law of 2012, which poses serious threats to Internet freedom, the right to free expression, and other essential civil liberties.
Legal pundits, journalists, youth leaders, and netizens have all questioned the railroaded passage of the law, which has even overtaken the pace of other important pieces of legislation, including the Freedom of Information Bill and the Reproductive Health Bill, both of which are gathering dust in the chambers of Congress. The Aquino administration’s insistence that the country needs a law that essentially strips netizens of their freedom of expression, speech, and privacy raises fears that the government is manhandling the laws of the land to silence critics and dissenters.
Notwithstanding the legal gibberish, how exactly could this new law affect your day-to-day Internet activities?
1. Martial Law imposed online – RA 10175 was dubbed as an “e-Martial Law” legislation, as like several famous Marcos-era decrees, particularly President Ferdinand Marcos’ Letter of Instruction No. 1, which led to the sequestration of several media outfits during Martial Law, the passage of RA 10175 has a “chilling impact” to bloggers, online journalists, advocacy groups and normal netizens. Basically, the Cybercrime Law seeks to silence opposition – both in the real world and online.
2. RA 10175 targets your rights, not cybercrimes – While the Cybercrime Law lists several online offenses, the inclusion of online libel and other contentious provisions that impinge upon netizens’ free speech, privacy, and right to due process essentially targets the civil rights of Internet users.
The Cybercrime Law is even far worse than the “Stop Online Piracy Act” and the “Protect IP Act,” that were pushed in the US Congress earlier this year but failed to prosper, as RA 10175 limits not only content but also democratic space.
Under this law, politicians can easily file charges against ‘hostile and combative’ critics and witnesses by claiming that virtual protesters have threatened their life and property.
Instead of dealing with cyberwarfare, NBI agents and DOJ prosecutors may soon be swamped with cybercrime cases filed by showbiz actors, politicians, business tycoons, and other untouchables who want to punish their online critics.
3. DOJ as Internet overlord – Under the new law, the DOJ is granted “superpowers” on the Internet, especially under Section 19 that 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.”
Under such provision, the DOJ can take down websites that it suspects – upon initial observation – to be violating RA 10175. 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.
Online censorship under Section 19 is more encompassing than traditional censorship. 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.
4. Ban social networking sites – 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.
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.
5. Imprisoned for ‘Likes,’ ‘Retweets’ – Due to vague provisions in RA 10175, even Facebook “likes” and “retweets” can incriminate netizens. Section 5, for example, punishes “any person who willfully abets or aids in the commission” of cybercrimes. Reposting libel material, therefore, could land you in jail.
6. Say goodbye to torrents – Even torrents and file sharing may soon be outlawed, as sharing “pirated” materials is punishable under the Cybercrime Law. As such, even seeders might be incriminated once authorities crack down on illegal downloads.
7. Watch your posts, Big Brother is watching – Chapter IV Section 12, authorizes the DOJ and the NBI to collect traffic data from users even without a court warrant. RA 10175 defines data as data which include the electronic communication’s origin, destination, route, time, date, size, duration and even type of service.
The said provision excludes the collection of content or identities of electronic files, both of which require a court warrant before state authorities can lawfully collect said information. But there are now advanced methods that can reveal identities and other private information simply from traffic data. Collection of such information goes against several provisions of the 1987 Constitution, including Section 3(1) of the Bill of Rights in the Constitution states, “The privacy of communication and correspondence shall be inviolable except upon lawful order of the court, or when public safety or order requires otherwise as prescribed by law.”
8. All your e-mails, chat messages and online activity can be used against you – In RA 10175, the power to compel the disclosure of computer data through a court order has been granted to law enforcement authorities. Upon issuance of a court warrant, Internet service providers can even be compelled by the government to produce all available data for any particular subscriber. This means all your private correspondence and communications you send can be used against you in court.
9. You can be framed easily – Cybercrimes can be committed in such a way that a particular netizen can easily be framed or accused of committing the offense. A potential hacker, for example, can use your online data while launching attacks. As DOJ only needs partial information to issue takedown orders, your data, privacy, and your property can easily be seized and investigated by authorities, even if you’re innocent.
10. The government can even take and destroy your data plus your gadgets – If you’ve been accused of committing cybercrimes, Section 15 and 16 of RA 10175 empowers law enforcement agencies to seize your computer data – including the computer system (aka your gadgets) – for investigation. They can hold your data for up to 30 days, after which, law enforcement authorities can destroy your seized property.
11. Higher penalties for all crimes – The new law was seemingly drafted with the mindset that crimes committed online is graver than those committed in the real world, as a provision in the Cybercrime Prevention Law effectively raises the punishment for crimes committed with the aid of computer systems.
Section 6 of RA 10175 states, “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 degree higher than that provided for by the Revised Penal Code, as amended, and special laws, as the case may be.”
To illustrate, a person who commits crimes such as theft and kidnapping with the aid of ICT may get six to to 30 more years in jail than those committing the same crimes without the use of computers and ICT. Similarly, committing online libel will result to longer prison sentences. The penalty for printed libel under the Revised Penal Code is only six months to four years. However, applying the “one degree higher” clause in RA 10175 when the libel is committed online, the penalty is raised to six to 12 years.
12. Yes, calls and texts are also covered by the new law – “But I don’t go online that often,” you might say. But remember, cellular phones, especially smartphones, are also considered as computer systems. As such, all dangers listed above also apply to your text messages and phone calls.
Clearly, the motive behind the passage of the Cybercrime Law is to quell dissent and silence the brewing opposition against the populist regime. The president could have vetoed RA 10175 – and safeguard the democratic rights of Filipinos – but has instead chosen to enforce it and even defend the law’s contentious provisions. Aquino’s vehement opposition to the scrapping of the law manifests Aquino’s downright disregard for freedom of expression , and unmasks the regime’s plan to control one of the few remaining unbridled democratic space in the country.
Not only is the government taking Internet freedom away – the regime is demolishing our civil rights. Yet we will not just stand and watch. We are called to defend our right to free expression both in the virtual and the real world.
Junk the Cybercrime Prevention Law!
Join the mobilization tomorrow, October 9, 9AM at the Supreme Court