Today, a TRO or temporary restraining order was issued against the enactment of the entire Cybercrime Law. Although it is only good for 120 days, it is better than nothing in this fight for online democracy.
Even though the country heavily needs a law that will preserve order in the online universe, a lot of criticisms were thrown against this highly controversial law. Not because the public is against such a law but because the very manner by which it was crafted failed to fully give justice to the intended beneficiaries.
The Need for A Cybercrime Law
So why do we need a Cybercrime Law?
Simply because the Internet has a become a world of its own where it is now possible for people to transact business, become educated, gain new friends, entertain others and be entertained, connect with social networks, find love and many other things that we usually do in a real non-virtual universe. As such, since the Internet now functions as an alternate universe for many, it has also become another avenue for crime such as cybersex, cyber bullying, identity theft, piracy, hacking and many others.
Although these crimes are done virtually and not directly against a person, their impact are still the same, if not all the more grave. A cyber bullied individual suffers greater damage than someone physically bullied since his bullying might transcend not just the physical confines of where he is currently located but the great expanse of the world-wide web. Take for example the case of Chris Lao, a relatively obscure individual who became famous overnight for a mishap he was involved with which others made fun of. It was an injustice to the guy for which he suffered grave emotional and reputation damages.
Again there are cases of maltreated women like those whose private sex tapes inadvertently make their way to the Internet for public consumption. Take for example the case of Katrina Halili and the many other women who were once lovers of Hayden Kho.
There are also those whose identities become compromised by unscrupulous individuals such as the cases of posers – people who steal someone else’s identity and behave in a totally compromising way online.
The list of internet crimes goes on and on. And admittedly, here in the country, there are almost zero law which governs online use. Of course there are laws which would punish the perpetrators described above but these laws pertain more to the real world and have very little understanding or scope on the virtual world.
The Philippine Cybercrime Law
So here comes the Cybercrime Law- a law attempting to give justice to the victims of online crimes. In itself, the law is good. The law seemed to cover all aspects. There was a provision for cyber bullies, cyber sex offenders, identity thieves, hackers and everyone else who might find a way to commit a crime online. The law was inclusive.
Yet there seems to be a problem.
Various online articles discussed how, to the trained eye, the law is poorly written. To us who were not educated to understand legal jargon, the law can be very persuasive. But leave it to the experts to dissect it further and expose the many loopholes in the law. If the loopholes exist, what guarantee then do we have that the law would stand trial and be able to prosecute those who are guilty?
The Public Reacts to the Law
When the law was passed, it met various protests. Many claimed it was a move to silence democracy in our country. Coincidentally, the law was passed at around the same time the entire nation was remembering the declaration of Martial Law. Many thus associated the act as a declaration of cyber martial law. The day the law was made to take effect, social media erupted in protest as thousands changed their profile pictures in various sites to a plain black photo while others shared photos condemning the said law.
A lot started to fear for their lives while others challenged the government to put them behind bars claiming that there are not enough prison cells in the country to house them. Although most made their threats in jest, there was an underlying seriousness in everyone’s tone.
To date, fifteen (15) petitions against the law were filed in the Supreme Court resulting to a TRO unanimously issued today.
What Went Wrong?
So what happened? If the law was needed, if the law covered everything, then why did many protested against it?
Because it covered more than it was suppose to without clearly defining its actual scope.
An argument I read was that the law was too inclusive. In an attempt to punish all online offenders, the lawmakers decided to make an all-inclusive law lumping cyber sex offenders, cyber bullies, hackers, online thieves, etc. with each other without actually realizing that the various criminal offenders needed different degrees of punishment and their crimes different scopes and limitations. By lumping all of them into one, fair and equal justice failed to be served to both the offenders and the victims. In fact, in other countries, there exists a law for each type of cyber crime.
Another criticism I’ve encountered was that the Cybercrime Law seeks to define morality by the way the provision against cybersex was written. It seems even private sex tapes consumed with mutual agreement were culpable to the law.
But perhaps the biggest criticism of them all was the online libel provision inserted in the bill at the last-minute. This was what drew the most flak across social media networks leading to both virtual and real protests by activists (or in the case of the online world, hacktivists).
Online Libel: Curtailing Freedom of Speech
Being the social media capital of the world, it was expected that social media users would protest largely once they learned that the previously “innocent” criticisms they pose online about someone could land them in jail. By the time the Cybercrime Act was signed into law, news spread that when the law was implemented anyone who maligned someone online or daresay mention a negative remark may be sued for libel. Protests intensified when it was learned that online libel will receive almost twice the punishment and fine for printed libel.
Protests further intensified when it was broadcasted that even posts from way back years ago can still be construed as evidence because of the nature of the Internet that once it was published online, it is forever there and “active”. Internet users were further alarmed when they learned that the DOJ has the capacity to simply take down any site they considered to be going against the law.
There was an uproar. People, left and right, protested to what many view as the curtailing of freedom of speech. For those not familiar with legal terms, legal experts explained that not only posting but also liking, sharing, re-tweeting or commenting on a libelous posts may land someone in jail.
Many criticized the backward move of the Philippines for criminally punishing libel which was being decriminalized in other countries. Many viewed it as a mechanism favoring only the rich who were better equipped in filing cases against critics who are inept to defend themselves legally. Many saw it as an infringement of their basic right to express their own opinions and thoughts. Many ruled it out as unconstitutional – in direct violation of the Bill of Rights Article III Section 4 stating that:
No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.
Admitting to the Need for Amendments
Proponents defended the law saying that most of the online reactions were unfounded for. They say that the law would only punish those who should be punished and is in fact a protection for those who are innocent. They claimed that with the cybercrime law in effect, online users have a better online protection against online crimes.
But, all of them who are supporters of the law admitted that there is a need to amend the law. Basically, they all agreed to the protesters and to those who filed petitions to the Supreme Court that the provisions in the law are vague especially where libel is concerned.
In a way, they admitted, indirectly, that the unfounded rumors have a high possibility of becoming true.
The President’s Opinion
But amid the clamor to amend the law, the one who signed it remained adamant. He did admit that the law needs to be amended and that he was pressured to sign it into law [lest he face impeachment] but he remained steadfast that libel should still be punished.
I began to wonder, with the terms coined to describe his work attitude, is the libel provision of the cybercrime law a means to curtail this?
The Internet should be viewed as another world – a fully functioning one like the real world. As such, it would need a whole slate of laws to govern its proper use while protecting those who are innocent and punishing severely those who are guilty. To issue just one all-inclusive law to such a big expanse is like drafting one all-inclusive law to punish all criminal acts present in society today. It is simply ineffective.
In the case of libel, I don’t believe it was the intention of the legislators to put behind bars anyone who merely speaks ill of someone online – be it true or not. Their intent was to make online users responsible for what they post online because whatever is posted can be constructed as true by those who are not well-informed. Hence, they wanted people to Think Before They Click.
However, not defining clearly what is the scope of the provision was what made it prone to shady interpretations that those with sinister motives could twist to their own advantage. This would put the innocent people they hoped to protect in jeopardy of the very law they created.
As the TRO is now in effect and as talks of how the law should be amended is now ongoing, I hope our legislators would not become lazy in their jobs. I hope they would take time to really study the needs of society and draft laws that are applicable to the current problems we face. I hope they would consider all angles and make the laws as clearly defined as possible so that it can truly serve the common people whom they vowed to serve and who elected them to office believing in their capacity to serve.
- Sotto learns belatedly: We have law on online libel (technology.inquirer.net)
- Cybercrime law unconstitutional, says Santiago (technology.inquirer.net)
- Palace concedes anti-cybercrime law can stand amendments (technology.inquirer.net)
- An Open Letter to the President and to Filipinos Everywhere on the Cybercrime Bill and Internet Freedom (propinoy.net)