Speak no evil, speak no evil

Corporate Watch
Amelia H. C. Ylagan

Posted on October 08, 2012

DON’T WE already have libel laws -- one of the strictest in the world, they say? In January 2011, the UN Human Rights Committee found the Philippines’ criminalization of libel to be “incompatible” with the freedom of expression clause in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, according to Amnesty International, an activist non-governmental organization focused on human rights.

Yet under the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 (Republic Act No. 101750) signed Sept. 12, 2012 and made effective Oct. 3, 2012, Section 6 raises the penalties on libel provided for by the Revised Penal Code one degree higher for this and all crimes committed through and with the use of the Internet.

Section 7 says that apart from prosecution under the cybercrime law, a person charged with the same offense under the Revised Penal Code and special laws will be punished on the two charges. Speak no evil, speak no evil.

“Yes, I did it. I inserted the provision on libel. Because I believe in it and I don’t think there’s any additional harm,” said Senator Vicente Sotto III, who, they say, must be smarting from viral online battery for reportedly plagiarizing his passionate anti-Reproductive Health Bill filibuster from an American blogger and Robert F. Kennedy. So it’s now double jeopardy for Internet libel in the Philippines, thanks to the cybercrime law.

There are four sets of reactors to the cybercrime law: the first group are platforms, Web sites, search engines and Internet providers who link with each other and with the end users for information, communication, advertising and sales, connecting advertisers, buyers and sellers of goods, services, including technology; the second group would be the “content providers”, the artists, writers, including their publishers/producers, vendors and business umbrellas, who would be jealous for their intellectual property and business profits; the third group would be the end users -- the 28 million Internet users in the Philippines (2011), approximately 30% of the population (according to the World Bank), placing the country among the top 20 nations for Internet use.

And the fourth group would be the hapless “victims” (like Sen. Sotto?) of, for example, “cyber bullying” (Internet communications that seek to intimidate, control, manipulate, put down, falsely discredit, or humiliate another); those who lose privacy and face physical and moral harm from hacking, “cyber stalking” and identity theft, posting of unauthorized info and embarrassing pictures/videos; and lately, those victims of “ransomware,” a “kidnapping” of business or personal data from one’s computer, to be restored by the anonymous kidnapper for a fee. Of course, in this group of victims of cyberspace are those who are calumnized, vilified, slandered and libeled in infinite multiplications. Such defamation lives eternally in the Ethernet and saturates the whole world.

The lawyers whose jobs will be to defend the “victims” of cyberspace are among the most vocal against the cybercrime law, probably because they see their jobs to have become too complicated and conflicted by this -- observers say this tangled and twisted “enhanced” version shames the controversial SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act), which were burned to ashes by protestors in America, as with attempted versions of it in Europe. As of this writing, 11 filings with the Supreme Court have petitioned to declare the cybercrime law unconstitutional.

Human rights activists and journalists are livid. Why were the legislators not careful with freedom of speech and expression, and with human rights? The Business Mirror quoted Justice Secretary Leila de Lima as “acknowledg (ing) that she had opposed certain provisions of the [cybercrime] law, like on libel and her authority to order search and seizures, when these were still being deliberated upon by the legislators.” De Lima reportedly promised that “she would perform her duties as imposed upon her by the new law, even as she gave assurances she would be wary that it will not result in any violation of constitutional rights.”

It is truly a dilemma, on how to find the delicate balance among the various groups affected by this new cybercrime law. The free and easy access opened to all by the worldwide Web, and the boundless availability of information, data and material have given wanton license to take all that there is for the taking from the unseen god somewhere. One wonders how the intellectual property issues can be managed at this point, when posting by the anonymous who give what is not theirs can be as generous, as sabotage by egocentric, bi-polar hacksters can be as vicious. One trembles at the thought that some vile person can bully in the cyber net, malign and libel, and go scot-free until reputations are beaten to a pulp. One shivers at the open rousing to terrorism and subversion on social networks, as has been proven in some recent Middle Eastern and Asian troubles. The swaying of mass opinion and perception by the saturation on these same social networks can be as demonic for the hypnotic marketing of products and the creation of underground monopolies.

Thus, while the constitutional rights of those who want to keep the freedom of speech and expression (mostly the users, with comparably less competitive stake in cyberspace but their convenience) seems to be the burning issue against the cybercrime law, the tyranny of the majority cannot cause the trampling of the equally human rights of even only a few. The intellectual property rights of writers, artists, academics and other content producers should be protected more tightly by tighter laws. Between the libeled and the libelers, anyone’s decent choice for whom is to be protected, should be the libeled.

The problem with the cybercrime law seems to be that everything that could have been thought of as a possible “crime” had been hastily lumped into the bill, and the bill hastily passed and signed at the diverted time of the Senate impeachment trial of ousted former chief justice Renato Corona. Now that there is a chance to amend it (if the Supreme Court responds to the petitions soon enough), then maybe the contentious parts (Section 4 (c), 6, 7, 12 and 19 directly impairing and violating the fundamental rights of Filipinos, according to one petition) can be reviewed and revised.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in Geneva is the United Nations body harmonizing international cyber security and cybercrime legislation. In May 2007, a Global Cybersecurity Agenda (GCA) was launched in Geneva, with “the main strategic goal of creating a global framework for dialogue and international cooperation in the global information society, including a model cybercrime legislation that is globally applicable and interoperable with existing national and regional legislative measures.” An APEC-ASEAN meeting in Manila in 2007 pledged to work on the template cybercrime legislation, confirmed with the presentation of cybercrime resolutions in Brunei Darussalam in May 2008.

Has our cybercrime law been presented for peer judging with UN/APEC/ASEAN and other concerned global agencies, and vetted against the model cybercrime legislation envisioned by our more prudent, less hasty neighbors?