MANILA, Philippines — The enactment of the Cybercrime Prevention Act last week may have been a step forward in the country’s fight against cybercriminals, but Pinoy netizens and experts have raised concerns against certain grey areas in the new law.
In particular, certain “vague” provisions in the law, signed by President Aquino last week, could lead to the invasion of netizens’ rights to privacy as well as the takedown of websites without a court warrant, experts told InterAksyon.com.
“In the name of fighting child porn and other cybercrimes, the law may be used to limit freedom of expression, which allowed the Philippines to be a vibrant spot in the web,” remarked Anthony Ian Cruz, a social media advocate and lead convenor of consumer group TXTPower.
In Section 4 of the new law, among the cybercrime offenses punishable include libel. Section 6, meanwhile, punishes crimes defined under the Revised Penal Code, amended to include those committed through the use of information and communication technologies.
These clauses could be used by the likes of Senator Vicente Sotto III and President Benigno Aquino III, Cruz said, who “do not welcome feedback and criticism.” He likewise called on Filipino netizens to be “wary and vigilant.”
Meanwhile, Kabataan Rep. Raymond Palatino, who is a known oppositor of the law when it was still being deliberated in Congress, reiterated the dangers that the new law might pose to Internet freedom in the Philippines.
Citing Sotto’s recent statements in a privilege speech, Palatino stressed how the new law may be used to penalize those who criticize and protest against the government online.
“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,” Palatino said.
“Censorship will lead to repression once an activist or reform advocate has been labeled a cybercriminal,” he added.
The youth solon likewise raised concern regarding a provision allowing the government to access private online accounts and monitor activities of individuals suspected of committing cybercrimes.
“Despite the court order requirement in the law, I still fear that the privacy of individuals will be violated,” he pointed out. “Will authorities specify the particular file folder to be collected or will they simply download all computer data?”
But aside from provisions that could affect privacy and freedom of expression, certain groups have pointed out how Section 19 of the law, also known as a “takedown provision” for websites, could lead to warrantless shutdowns of online properties.
Section 19 of the new law states that “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.”
Citing the Internet Society Philippines (ISOC-PH) position paper on the Cybercrime bill submitted to Congress, ISOC-PH member Winthrop Yu said the particular section is an “overly broad Internet censorship” provision.
Even if the section “does not explicitly mention the Internet, websites, blogs and related matters,” the group sad it can be applied to censor various types of websites.
“Such blocking may then perhaps be considered ‘prior restraint’ and may run counter to Article III Section 4 of the Constitution, as well as a number of international resolutions to which the Republic is signatory,” the group added.
In an earlier report, the group stressed that the presence of such a clause makes the Cybercrime Prevention act “far worse” than the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which was met with strong online protests early this year.
A security expert, in an earlier interview, pointed out that “prima facie” evidence, as stated in the provision, could easily be faked when applied for computer systems. This means ordinary citizens could be framed for committing cybercrime as evidence could easily be fabricated against an individual.
Meanwhile, Atty. Romel Bagares of the Center for International Law echoed ISOC-PH’s points, stressing how the provision could lead to warrantless site takedowns as ordered by the Department of Justice (DOJ), something which is already outside its jurisdiction.
“They should at least require an ex parte court hearing on the issuance of such an order, and it is the court that should issue the order, not the DOJ,” Bagares told InterAksyon.com.
Police welcomes new law
The Philippine National Police, meanwhile, has welcomed the creation of the Cybercrime law, stressing how it can help curb the “increasing tide of crimes using the Internet.”
According to Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) Chief, Police Director Samuel D Pagdilao Jr., the newly enacted law arms the police with a more resilient legal framework in going against foreign and domestic syndicates engaged in cybercrime.
Pagdilao said in the past years, the CIDG has begun equipping its personnel in preparation for the passage of the law, including acquisition of digital forensic equipment as well as the continuous cybercrime training of its personnel.
Earlier, the national police had lamented the lack of a cybercrime law in the Philippines, which has allowed cybercriminals to set up shop here so much so that the country is now deemed a “cybermafia haven.”