The Philippines' New 'Cybercrime' Law Aims To 'Protect' Citizens By Going After Filesharing, Online Libel
from the an-insulting-law-that's-tough-on-libel----go-figure dept
About a year ago, the Philippines pushed through a completely unneeded anti-counterfeiting bill at the behest of the WIPO (itself working at the behest of the US government). Despite the evidence that counterfeiting isn't a big problem, the bill was pushed through and defended with a bit of doublespeak by the Philippines IP office, who claimed that the bill had nothing to do with various corporate interests applying pressure… except for the ones that have “lost a lot of profits due to piracy.” To quote Glyn Moody: “Indeed.” [Wryly raised eyebrow emoticon]
The Filipino government has now moved past that, enacting a so-called Cybercrime Prevention Act that goes well beyond dealing with hackers and fraudsters. As Mike pointed out earlier, the new law contained some very broad wording that outlawed “cybersex,” subjecting violators to some very harsh punishments (up to six years in jail and fines up to $25,000). That, in and of itself, would be worrying. But the law goes even further, recasting former civil offenses as criminal acts. As Patrick Villavicencio at InterAksyon points out, the legislation bears a lot of resemblance to the failed SOPA/PIPA bills, aiming at taking down filesharing rather than protecting citizens from online attacks.
“What SOPA and PIPA aimed to do, the Cybercrime Law has done,” Acero said, referring to the objective of the two bills to curb the rampant sharing and downloading of movie and music content online, as lobbied by firms in Hollywood.
Under Section 6 of the law, all crimes “defined and penalized by the Revised Penal Code, as amended, and special laws” can be punishable under the Act if they are committed with, using, and through a computer system.
Among the country’s special laws, the Intellectual Property Code penalizes, among others, illegal distribution and consumption of copyrighted content.
University of the Philippines College of Law Professor Atty. JJ Disini, meanwhile, said that because of Section 6, the law essentially made all crimes a form of cybercrime when committed through a computer or Internet system.
Rather than infringement being a civil issue or a minor crime at best, the additional wording drags this activity under the heading “cybercrime,” allowing law enforcement to collect real-time traffic data on filesharers. It also contains a “takedown clause” which gives the Department of Justice “sweeping powers to issue a block or restrict order against websites.” This puts the power in the hands of content producers, allowing them to have a site blocked or taken down simply by filing a request with the DOJ. One needs only look at the average legacy industry “rogue site” list to see how this provision could result in the muting of several legitimate sites.
Beyond this aspect lay some very disturbing new limits on speech. GMA News has a wrap-up of ten of the most chilling new limitations on expression, most of which stem from some very generous additions to libel laws.
Your tweet about the barangay captain who loves San Miguel more than his job? That could be classified as libel, which is defined in the Revised Penal Code as “the public and malicious imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status, or circumstance tending to cause the dishonor, discredit, or contempt of a natural or juridical person…” Take note of the part where it says “real or imaginary.” You're damned if you're lying and you're damned if you're telling the truth.
That's just a small part of it. People can no longer “blacken the memory of one who is dead,” no matter how terrible a person they were. It also does away with the requirement of criminal intent for cybercrimes. Instead, simply performing anything defined as a criminal act, no matter your intentions, could get you arrested.
Then there's this bit of nastiness:
In an InterAksyon.com article written by Patrick Villavicencio, University of the Philippines College of Law Professor Atty. JJ Disini said that under the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 the so-called “victims” and their lawyers “could argue in court that old libelous posts [that are] still live today can be charged with online libel.” The report further quoted Disini, who explained, “Kasi pwede nilang sabihin na (Because it could mean) by keeping it there today, you’re still publishing it now. So if you’re still publishing it after the law took effect, then you’re liable for its publication today.”
There's nothing like having previously legal activity “grandfathered in” by new laws. Not only will Filipinos need to be very careful what they say going forward, they're also going to take a long look at anything they've said in the past. Not only that, but they're going to need to be very careful with their responses to anything others say that veers towards libel.
Those who play a part in unwittingly or willfully encouraging the spread of libelous content shall be charged for abetting libel. That means the act of clicking the “Like” button of Facebook or retweeting posts on Twitter may be tagged as unlawful as well.
What else? “Ironic, suggestive or metaphorical language” can be considered libelous. And the penalties are incredibly harsh. Online libel can be punished with a prison term of 12 years and a ₱1,000,000 fine, far harsher than the penalties for offline libel.
Between the free speech limitations and the sweeping powers being granted to content creators and law enforcement, the new law is bad news all around. The DOJ will be meeting with stakeholders in October to ensure that the IRR (implementation of rules and regulations) “will not stifle basic human rights, not the least of which is internet users' freedom of speech and expression.”
Well, we'll see how that goes. Most “stakeholder” meetings seem to be long on listening to concerns but short on actually addressing them.