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THE BAD ASPECTS OF "CYBERCRIME LAW"

The "Cybercrime Law" or R.A 10175 is a good law but some parts of it are legally and from common-sense – defective.

For who would be against a law that outlaws hackers, high tech cyber crimes and Net porno sites for pedophiles and their related freaks?

 

But somewhere in their passion against cyber crimes, some people in the over 200 congressmen and 23 senators overlooked something that now threatens the very democratic principle of the "right to free expression of views." It is a gross oversight because we are used to be such a free country in expressing ideas – in the news media, in our blogs, in our conversations in restaurants and barbershops.

We are a very talkative, opinionated people – a possible backlash of many years when our lips were zipped and our tongues involuntarily tied by years of Martial Law.

So free is our Internet use, that the Philippines was ranked by "Freedom House" as No. 6 "most free" Internet user in the world – in a survey that included 47 countries. RP was the only "free" Internet user in Asia – bested world-wide only by Estonia, USA, Germany, Australia and Hungary, in that order.

That means our Government did the least to curtail what goes in and out of our Internet adventures. And why now this – from a free and "freed" Philippines?

This apparent "new curtailment" of free speech riles us since we know the importance of the social network as the "People Power" source that toppled dictators in the Middle East and Africa recently. A 14-minute trailer in the Youtube of the anti-Mohammed film named "Innocence of Muslims" is the cause of the rabid anti-American demonstrations world-wide by the offended religious Muslims.

 When Lady Gaga tweets – 29 million people listen to her while 15 million goes to pop singer Justin Bieber and (over 1 million for our local actress Anne Curtis, bless her pouting lips). That's how powerful the medium is.

Our beef with the Cybercrime Law is that it puts a criminal liability on the opinion maker on the Net (libel), exposes him to a maximum of 12 years imprisonment without prejudice to being convicted on the basis of the other Revised Penal Code, and his guilt is determined by the elements of the Department of Justice.

The fact is civil libertarians have, for years, fought to decriminalize "libel" into just a civil liability – so why this? And when has an ordinary media man more protected (with just a maximum 4 years in jail) than an ordinary citizen expressing his opinion on the Net?

Subjecting the "violator" likewise to another penal rule is a clear case of what the lawyers call a "double jeopardy" or having to pay twice for the same crime. Moreover, constitutionalists deplore why the Executive Branch (like a DOJ and not the courts of law) is now interpreting the law? A violation of the principles of check and balance?

It is harking back to the dark age of fascism and Martial Law, argues Constitutional professor Fr. Joaquin Bernas. 

The Palace says it was Congress – the lawmaking body – who made the law; the Executive is just implementing it.  Besides, there is still the absence of an IRR (Implementing Rules and Regulations).

Fr. Bernas philosophizes: "rules and regulations cannot cure a defect in law."

And from the practical point of view, is this law enforceable?

Noticed that while the "libeled" target is identified – the culprit can hide behind such inanimate email addresses as Midsummernightsdream02 (believe us, this exists) or a cinderellaforever – offender, how will they be tracked?

The government cannot even track the law tech cyber criminal-hackers called "Anonymous Philippines" who hacked the websites of at least five government agencies including the Central Bank (in protest over the new law) – so how will they be able to capture Cinderella? By calling for help from a frog-turned-charming-prince? More.

 More, if a Local Boy tweets "Female local official (named) has an ugly face and an even uglier taste in clothes" and Local Girl re-tweets "I agree" – are now both liable for libel?

How can that be – when in libel – one must exhibit real malice and considering that a public official (by the nature of the office) becomes public property subject to criticisms? The two "offenders" can argue that they bore no malice – only driven by the noble goal to seeing to it that their elected officials dress in a manner they were elected to. Malice?

Besides unlike in media – where sometimes an "offended party" may not always see his views aired or seen, in the Net – everyone has the right and access to correct the "mis-impression" and may even win the battle of opinion in the Net. Isn't this true democracy in action?

The reasons above make us conclude that the new Cybercrime Law needs some revision from the Halls of Congress and that the Supreme Court must heed the TRO petition of seven complainants made up of lawyers, academicians, bloggers, journalists, legislators and businessmen – until the "law" is sculpted to perfection. 

We may differ violently against what one says but we will always defend his right to say it. That simple.

We agree, of course that even freedom of speech is not absolute – it has limits.

But until such limits are clearly defined in the law itself, Government should make haste slowly in implementing this controversial Cybercrime Law.

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