RSF: Cybercrime law threatens freedom of information

Posted at 10/10/12 2:20 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Republic Act No. 10175, or Cybercrime Prevention Act 2012, should be repealed outright by Philippine lawmakers,  international non-governmental organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said Tuesday.

The France-based group, which advocates freedom of the press and freedom of information, said amendments being proposed regarding the controversial law are not enough.

"Combatting cybercrime is legitimate but this law, which added online defamation to its list of "cybercrimes” at the last moment, poses too much of a threat to freedom of information," RSF said in a statement.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday imposed a 120-day temporary restraining order on the cybercrime law in response to 15 different petitions filed by various groups and individuals.

High court oral arguments on the law will start January 15, 2013.

RSF said Philippine authorities "did not consult sufficiently with civil society during the drafting process, which lacked transparency."

"Reporters Without Borders is worried by the lack of a precise definition of online defamation, which exposes all Internet users to the possibility of prosecution," The group said.

It raised various concerns on the law including:

Could an ordinary "like" on Facebook or an online comment about allegedly defamatory content lead to prosecution? Or could retweeting this kind of content lead to prosecution?

Would bloggers be held liable for the defamatory comment that visitors post on their blogs?

Could Internet Service Providers or other technical intermediaries be held liable for offending content posted by an unidentified person, as recently happened in Brazil? Would they be forced to adopt intrusive surveillance measures in order to identify Internet users liable for prosecution?

"In the Philippines, libel is a crime punishable by up to four years in prison and a fine of P200 to P6,000 under article 355 of the 1930 Revised Penal Code. That’s bad enough, but under Chapter III Section 8 of Republic Act No. 10175, online defamation is punishable by up to 12 years in prison and a fine of P1 million," RSF said.

"Concern about possible abuse of the new law is justified given the frequency with politicians and other public figures have sued journalists and news media in recent years to get them to censor themselves," it added.

RSF said Asia;s first murder of a journalist in 2012 took place in the Philippines, "which continues to beone of the world’s most dangerous countries for the media."

The Philippines ranked 140th out of 179 countries in the 2011-2012 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

Questioned provisions

The cybercrime law provisions being questioned by petitioners against the measure authored by Senator Edgardo Angara and signed into law by President Benigno Aquino are:

  • Sec. 4(c)(4), which criminalizes libel on cyberspace;
  • Sec. 5(a) and (b), which lists "aiding or abetting in the Commission of Cybercrime" and "willful attempt to commit offenses" as additional offenses under the law;
  • Sec. 6, which raises by one degree higher the penalties provided for by the Revised Penal Code for all crimes committed through and with the use of information and communications;
  • Sec. 7, which provides that apart from prosecution under the law, any person charged for the alleged offense covered will not be spared from violations of the Revised Penal Code and other special laws;
  • Sec. 8, which refers to penalties imposed under the law;
  • Sec. 11, which lists duties of law enforcement authorities, including the submission of "timely and regular reports including pre-operation, post-operation and investigation results and such other documents as may be required to the Dept. of Justice (DOJ);"
  • Sec. 12, which authorizes law enforcement authorities to collect or record, by technical or electronic means, traffic data in real-time;
  • Sec. 13, which authorizes the preservation of traffic data and subscriber information of service providers for a minimum of 6 months
  • Sec. 15, which authorizes law enforcement authorities to search, seize and examine computer data;
  • Sec. 17, which provides for the destruction of computer data subject of preservation and examination;
  • Sec. 19, which authorizes the Dept. of Justice (DOJ) to block access to computer data when such data "is prima facie found to be in violation of the provisions of this Act;"
  • Sec. 20, which states that those who fail to comply with provisions of the law's Chapter IV (Enforcement and Implementation), specifically orders from law enforcement agencies, shall face imprisonment of prision correctional (6 months and 1 day to 6 years) in its maximum period or a fine of P100,000 or both, for each noncompliance;
  • Sec. 21, which states the jurisdiction of Regional Trial Courts (RTC) and designated cybercrime courts over violations of any of the provisions of the law; and
  • Sec. 22 pertaining to international cooperation from all relevant international instruments, international arrangements, and domestic laws in the implementation of RA 10175.

The petitioners, meanwhile include: Louis Biraogo, ALAM party-list, Disini, et al., Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, Adonis, et al., Rep. Palatino, et al., Bayan, et al., Sta. Maria, et al., NUJP, et al., Castillo, et al., Cruz, et al., the Philippine Bar Association (PBA), Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, NPC, and Pifa, et al.