DOJ: E-libel not needed in anti-cybercrime law
MANILA, Philippines – No less than the chairman of the Department of Justice Office of Cybercrime believes there is no need to include an electronic libel provision in the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012
DOJ Assistant Secretary Geronimo Sy said the justice department has always taken the position that the electronic libel provision is unnecessary in the anti-cybercrime law simply because it is already covered in the Revised Penal Code.
That said, he also noted the inclusion of electronic libel does not make Republic Act 10175 unconstitutional.
“That was not in the DOJ version because libel is already punished in the general criminal code already. Whether it is punished in print or online, it is the same form of libel. You don’t have to have a special mention in the Cybercrime Prevention Act,” he said in an ANC Headstart interview.
“I don’t think it is needed in a core cybercrime prevention act like this. Since it is there, we just want to repeat that the law is not unconstitutional because Congress deems it fit to punish it,” he added.
The e-libel provision is one of the most contentious provisions of the new law. The SC is set to hear oral arguments today on 16 petitions to strike out several provisions of the Cybercrime Prevention Act, including e-libel.
Sy said the e-libel provision does not infringe on free speech, saying that valid criticism is protected by the Constitution.
He, however, noted that anonymity on the Internet allows individuals to freely insult or spread false information not just against public officials but ordinary people.
“You also understand what government officials, especially well meaning ones, have to go through when they are also the subject of libelous statements that have no attribution, are anonymous and are done with malice. So there’s also that immediate damage and injury to reputation that one can suffer. This is not now limited to government officials. It could be any public figure,” he said.
Sy said the new law could also mean a rethinking of the role of bloggers.
“I think we have to rethink now who is a journalist. As long as you are a blogger, you become a journalist. Everyone’s a journalist now when you take videotapes or when you write something,” he said.
The justice official, who is set to present the DOJ’s position before the SC today, defended the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012. He said the Philippines is actually one of the last countries to pass its own anti-cybercrime law.
He said the law is focused more on “core” cybercrimes such as hacking, system interference, data interference, phishing, identity theft, viruses, Trojans, password-stealing, credit card fraud and many others.
“Cybercrime is the crime of the present and future with technology and Internet penetration rate…I think it’s beyond dispute that we need a cybercrime prevention law. What is being discussed are the parameters and limitations of this law,” he said.
Sy defended a provision in the Act that penalizes abetting and aiding in a commission of a cybercrime. He said the provision would penalize persons who set up a system for a cyberporn or cybersex operation.
He said Section 19 of the law giving the DOJ "takedown" powers to block or restrict access to computer data could be used against websites that promote child pornography.
The justice official said the DOJ has no intention to go after Internet users who “like” a Facebook status that could be deemed libelous.
“In the world, there is no punishment for liking that unless the intent to participate in that particular scheme or action is something you do overtly,” he said.
“The ‘like’ mechanism is not something that’s covered by present laws. It’s not something that we look forward to enforcing given the impracticality. Imagine 1,000 or 1 million likes. It’s a physical impossibility and laws abhor a physical impossibility of enforcement,” he added.