By Mikhail Franz E. Flores, Reporter

SC upholds online libel law

Posted on February 19, 2014

THE SUPREME COURT (SC) yesterday tamed contentious provisions of the controversial cybercrime law, qualifying the rules pertaining to online libel and participation in an Internet crime.

“The Court partially granted the reliefs sought in the 15 consolidated petitions challenging the constitutionality of Republic Act (RA) 10175,” SC Spokesperson Theodore O. Te said in a press briefing.

Mr. Te said the SC struck down three provisions of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, and imposed conditions on the constitutionality of three other sections.

The provisions that were declared as unconstitutional include:

• Penalizing the posting of unsolicited commercial communications (Sec. 4c4);

• Authorizing the collection or recording of traffic data in real time (Sec. 12); and

• Allowing the Department of Justice (DoJ) to restrict or block access to suspected computer data (Sec. 19).

The high court upheld the constitutionality of the law’s online libel provisions penalizing the original author of an Internet post, but struck down as unconstitutional a portion which punishes “those who simply receive the post or react to it.”

A section punishing the act of aiding and abetting cybercrimes was sustained as constitutional with respect to: illegal access; illegal interception; data interference; system interference; misuse of devices; cybersquatting; computer-related fraud; identify theft; and cybersex.

However, the high court ruled as unconstitutional the aiding and abetting in offenses punished by child pornography, “unsolicited commercial communications,” and online libel.

Section 7, which authorizes the prosecution of an offender in both the cybercrime law and the Revised Penal Code, was struck down with respect to online libel, and child pornography.

The SC rejected the said provision for violating the right against double jeopardy, which protects an accused of being charged with the same offense twice.

A total of 15 petitions have been filed since September 2012 questioning at least 19 provisions of the cybercrime law. Petitioners include journalists, lawyers, activist groups, Internet advocates and lawmakers.

Other provisions that were questioned include a rule imposing a higher degree of penalties for cybercrime, which would be punished by a notch higher than those in the Revised Penal Code.

Petitioners also questioned the power of law enforcement authorities to preserve data, and to order the disclosure of traffic data upon securing a search warrant.

The implementation of the law has been shelved since Oct. 9, 2012, following a 120-day restraining order, which the high court made indefinite on Feb. 5, 2013.

Stakeholders had mixed reactions with the Supreme Court ruling.

In a statement, the DoJ welcomed the high court’s decision, saying it was necessary to balance the power of the state and the rights of citizens.

“A clear legal framework is necessary to protect citizens and balance state duties. We will continue to recommend best practices to improve the law,” the statement quoted Justice Secretary Leila M. de Lima as saying.

DoJ’s cybercrime head, Assistant Secretary Geronimo L. Sy, said: “The hard work begins. We were ready to engage stakeholders to issue the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) as required by law and the procedures that will aid law enforcers to investigate core cybercrime cases.”

Petitioner Party-list Rep. Neri J. Colmenares (Bayan Muna) said they are disappointed with the Supreme Court’s ruling. “You are no longer allowed to tweet or post your anger or disgust with government. This is the meaning of the SC ruling, but we will file for a motion for reconsideration,” he said.

“The government should not be the prosecutor of stained reputations,” Mr. Colmenares said, branding it a “draconian law.”

“No one should go to prison just for expressing oneself, specially on the Internet, where people express their frustration with government,” he added.

RA 10175 was enacted on Sept. 12, 2012 by President Benigno S. C. Aquino III, but opponents quickly said the law gave the government wide powers to curb Internet freedom due to the provisions that impose heavy prison terms for online libel.

The original law also gave the state power to shut down Web sites and monitor online activities, in a country where major protests have been organized through Facebook and Twitter.

Party-list Rep. Terry L. Ridon (Kabataan) vowed to challenge the law. While the high court entertains appeals, it rarely reverses decisions.

“The fight against e-Martial Law is far from over. We call on everyone to up the ante and once again show our collective dissent against this repressive law,” Mr. Ridon said. -- with AFP