Reaction Paper on Cybercrime Act of 2012

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Cybercrime Law in the Philippines

The Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, signed by President Benigno Aquino III on Sep. 12, aims to fight online pornography, hacking, identity theft and spamming following local law enforcement agencies' complaints over the lack of legal tools to combat cybercrime. However, the law came with tougher legal penalties for Internet defamation, compared to traditional media. It also allows authorities to collect data from personal user accounts on social media and listen in on voice and video applications such as Skype, without a warrant. Users who post defamatory comments on Facebook or Twitter, for example, could be sentenced to up 12 years in jail. The Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, also known as Republic Act 10175, may aim to bring crime-fighting into the 21st century by addressing harmful acts committed with the use of the worldwide web but it raises the risk of rights violations and curtailment of freedom of expression and of the press by expanding the concept of the criminalized act of libel. The law also raises the penal sentence for libel committed in cyberspace one year longer than that imposed in the Revise Penal Code for libel in general. The salient features of the Act include internationally consistent definitions for certain cybercrimes, nuanced liability for perpetrators of cybercrimes, increased penalties, greater authority granted to law enforcement authorities, expansive jurisdictional authority to prosecute cybercrimes, provisions for international cybercrime coordination efforts and greater ability to combat cybercrimes. It is highly advisable that the imperfections in the law, the provisions that conflict with other aspects of good governance and national and international obligations, be corrected soon through amendments. Strong leadership does not shirk from acknowledging the need to revise and strengthen policy and law. The calls for amendment should not be seen as personal attacks on anyone’s character or effectiveness. The Office of the President has replied to the outcry against the libel provision in the new law by saying that freedom comes with responsibility. Yes, and, indeed we all have responsibilities to respect the rights of others and the press is obliged to observe professional ethical standards, but the regulation of freedom, in order to impose responsibility and order, should not cross the line into curtailment of the freedom or creating an environment in which such rights cannot be fully and equally enjoyed. While the Convention does allow sovereign governments to regulate freedom of expression, such regulation should be done in a way that does not curtail the freedom. The Committee further elaborates in General Comment No. 34 (2011), “States parties should consider the decriminalization of defamation and, in any case, the application of the criminal law should only be countenanced in the most serious of cases and imprisonment is never an appropriate penalty.” Among the ironies of the relatively quick passage of this legislation and the timing thereof: 1. It is not compliant with the ICCPR, which was ratified by President Corazon C. Aquino, after decades of non-ratification by President Ferdinand Marcos; 2. It was signed by President Benigno S. Aquino III days before the country marked the 40th anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law, a period whose chief characteristics include repression of the freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and the right to political participation and dissent; and 3. The 1987 Constitution, whom the President and all the lawmakers have sworn to uphold has a number of provisions with which this law is not consistent, including the provision that “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press... “ (Art. 3, Sec. 4), the guarantee of “full respect for human rights,” the recognition of “the vital role of communication and information in nation-building,” and the inviolable...
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