MANILA, Philippines — The House of Representatives has voted to pass on third and final reading a bill seeking to define and penalize cybercrime offenses committed in the country, including a controversial provision that criminalizes online defamation.
House Bill No. 5808, also known as the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, will give the government powers to go after erring cybercriminals as crimes committed through digital means continue to escalate.
Under the proposed measure, the following acts are punishable: illegal access of data; computer forgery; computer-related fraud; cybersex; cyber threats; and spamming, among others.
The House has also chosen to adopt the provision penalizing cyber defamation also known as libel committed over the Internet, an insertion which has been refuted by solons before.
According to Kabataan Partylist Rep. Raymond Palatino, the specific provision is prone to abuse and could be used to “censor online content or to harass critics of the government.”
Palatino argued that the bill seeks to widen the scope of libel as a criminal offense in the country, representing a step backward in the ongoing fight of various media and free expression groups to totally decriminalize libel.
“The bill, if passed into law … can be a weapon of abusive politicians and corrupt corporate bosses against netizens who wanted to expose the truth about their illegal activities,” he added.
Sigfrido Tinga, Roilo Golez, Susan Yap, Juan Edgardo Angara and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, among others authored the cybercrime measure, deemed a priority bill by the administration of President Benigno Aquino III.
The Senate counterpart of the bill, authored by Senator Edgardo Angara, has been passed in third reading last February.
Before being effective, both bills would still have to undergo a bicameral conference between the Senate and the House, the date for which has yet to be set by Congress.
Both bills seek the creation of a centralized body for cybercrime investigation, which would coordinate with other concerned government agencies in the resolution of cybercrime complaints lodged in the country.
The passage of the cybercrime measure comes at a time when flagrant criminal offenses have run rampant in the Philippine cyberspace, headlined by constant hacking attacks against government websites by various “hacktivist” groups.
The Philippine National Police had earlier admitted that the government is “virtually powerless” in going after cybercriminals due to the lack of legal framework penalizing cybercrime in the country.