Our rights online are our rights offline

Posted at 03/03/2014 10:36 PM | Updated as of 03/03/2014 11:29 PM

(Engineer Pierre Tito Galla, PECE, delivered the following opening statement of Democracy.Net.Ph before the Senate Science and Technology Committee hearing on the Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom.)

Cyberspace is an alien world for many. Many are afraid; many more only grasp its fringes. Cyberspace exists as a domain of the mind, of zeroes and ones, of abstract concepts. It is not surprising, therefore, that the view of the Internet is one of the widest disconnect between a government and its people. Neither has walked in each other's shoes.

Our origins have been told many times: Democracy.Net.PH was formed when the Cybercrime Prevention Act was being signed into law. We trooped not to EDSA or Mendiola, but on Twitter and on Facebook. We wrote and discussed over email, over social media, in the digital cloud, and over text messages and phone calls, what was wrong with Republic Act No. 10175. We brought together our expertise in technology, our advocacy of civil rights and Constitutional guarantees, and our common love for freedom.

We are ordinary citizens. We work for a living, like many of you, and like many of the people listening, and watching today. We have different political and philosophical leanings. Yet, we bonded in the shared belief that the awesome power of information and communications technology (ICT) is positive for the future of our country.

We appreciate being invited here today. We are humbled by the courage of Representative Kimi Cojuangco, who is our advocate in the House of Representatives, and by the enthusiasm of Senator Bam Aquino. We are deeply grateful to Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, for championing this cause, from the 15th Congress to this 16th Congress, when no one would give us the time of day; and to you, Mr. Chairman, Senator Recto, for this moment.

On behalf of Democracy.Net.PH, and of the netizens who helped craft the bill, thank you for the opportunity to discuss the Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom.

Democracy.Net.PH and the Crowdsourcing Initiative of the #MCPIF

We have been constantly and pleasantly surprised by the reaction of OFWs to the #MCPIF; that of our friends on cyberspace; and that of the international community at large, who have constantly voiced that they were inspired by, and are watching the progress of the #MCPIF. We have been awed and inspired by the high praise that international digital rights advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation has given to our work, calling the Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom “a success story”. At the 2013 Internet Governance Forum in Bali, we learned that other civil societies around the world want to copy and replicate the #MCPIF in their own countries. Because of the #MCPIF, the 2013 Web Index Annual Report has lauded Philippine lawmakers with the same praise they showered the parliamentarians of Brazil working towards a “Marco Civil da Internet”.

With the #MCPIF, we have something special, something to show the rest of the world how netizens and Congress can work together to preserve, promote, and uphold our rights and freedoms.

Indeed, the Philippines is being cited as a model for participative democracy, that through crowdsourcing – the collaboration and direct participation of citizens enabled by the Internet and ICT – laws can be crafted that reflect most accurately our people’s aspirations.

Promoting the “Freedom Doctrine”: The Holistic Approach of the #MCPIF for ICT Legislation

As we compared notes in the 2013 Internet Governance Forum in Bali, our belief that the #MCPIF is the right path has only deepened. In addressing the different and diverse issues of cyberspace and cybersecurity, what is needed is a holistic, rights-anchored law that will consistently uphold our rights online and offline.

Your honors, we understand where the government and Congress come from with respect to the cybercrime law. We understand its purpose: to curb prostitution, child pornography, and other nefarious crimes that have been perpetrated through and with the use of technology. We also understand where President Aquino is coming from: that there is perceived to be a need for responsibility and accountability with online speech.

We agree with the premise, the wants and desires.

We agree that there should be laws to curb cybercrimes. Malicious hacking is a crime. Those who take advantage of our women and children in cyberspace should be prosecuted and punished. A civilized 21st century Philippines cannot protect unjustified defamatory speech.

This, senators, honored guests, and friends, is where our common ground with the government ends.

Where the existing law is overly broad in what it seeks to curb, the definitions and elements of the crimes enumerated in the Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom are narrow, specific, and clear in what they seek to prohibit. The #MCPIF restricts only and specifically the conduct necessary to prevent the evils we want to prevent. This much is to be expected, this much is required, of a law – any law – that affects our most basic and fundamental freedoms.

To enact a law affecting our people’s use of technology but focus on the punishment of petty crime misses the point. A law on the Internet and ICT cannot exist in a vacuum; the protection and promotion of rights and freedoms requires a more holistic approach than that offered by the Cybercrime Prevention Act.

To borrow from John F. Kennedy: We are here to promote the freedom doctrine.

The Four Pillars of the #MCPIF: Rights, Governance, Development, and Security

The Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom is built on four pillars: rights, governance, development, and security.

Rights.

Governance.

Development.

Security.

The Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom: Rights

The Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom promotes civil and political rights, and upholds and promotes Constitutional guarantees in cyberspace, as they would and should be in our daily lives. The #MCPIF is anchored on this principle: that the Constitution is our foundation as citizens of the Republic and equally as Filipino netizens in cyberspace. Our rights online are our rights offline.

The Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom: Governance

The Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom provides for ICT governance that is anchored on Constitutional principles. The #MCPIF makes it clear that the state shall take the responsibility to ensure that the governance of the Philippine ICT framework is in keeping with the ideals and aspirations of the Filipino people. This is no more strongly advanced by the transparency and open governance advocacy of the administration which is well represented in the #MCPIF.

The Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom: Development

The Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom promotes the development of ICT in the Philippines. The World Bank says that investment in broadband boosts GDP: a 10-percentage point rise in broadband penetration provides an economic growth of 1.38-percentage points for low and middle income countries.6 The use of the Internet and ICT is an enabler for productivity, and is a job creator. In Brazil, broadband connectivity added 1.4% to the employment growth rate.

Senators, honored guests, and friends, our people deserve no less an opportunity.

The Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom: Security

The Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom protects the Filipino people both online and offline. Whether the threats come from an evil cybercriminal or cyberterrorist, a hostile non-state actor, or a rogue nation state, the #MCPIF provides the mandate and the means for our leaders to defend our citizens from the threats present in cyberspace. We want to empower not just the Department of Justice, but also the Department of National Defense. China, with whom we have a dispute, is a heavy player on the Internet, reportedly having deployed a cyberspace-centric military unit in hacking operations against other countries.8 Our ally, the United States sees cyberspace as a new domain of warfare.9 With the leveling of the playing field that cyberspace grants, we must also learn how to defend our country, and have the ability to defend ourselves in the cyberspace battlefield.

Conclusion

In his inaugural address, President Benigno S. Aquino III said these words: “This is what democracy means. It is the foundation of our unity. We campaigned for change. Because of this, the Filipino stands tall once more. We are all part of a nation that can begin to dream again”.10

Mr. Chairman, honored guests, and friends online and offline: like the rest of our people, we began to dream. We share in our people’s belief in democracy. We share in that common foundation of unity. The Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom rests on the foundation of democracy. The #MCPIF takes cognizance of our people’s rights, our country’s need to advance economically; our people’s desire for faster and reliable ICT services well worth the money we spend; our leaders’ thrust for transparency and open governance and, to our friends in the DOJ, our government’s need for tools and skills amidst great challenges to keep us safe. It is the hope of Democracy.Net.PH that we can all work together so that Congress can pass a law that upholds our rights online, and upheld offline. We ask the Senate to pass a law anchored on rights, governance, development and security. Let us, all of us, bridge this disconnect, this digital divide.

Senators, we humbly ask you to pass the Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom.

Thank you.