New Cybercrime Prevention Law may post censorship, repression – solon

WITH  the passage of the Republic Act No. (RA) 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 this week, Kabataan Partylist Rep. Raymond Palatino reiterated the dangers that the new legislation might post to internet freedom.

RA 10175 is a consolidation of Senate Bill No. 2796 and House Bill No. 5808 passed by both chambers of Congress last June, and was signed into law by President Benigno Aquino III on September 12. However, the government released the full text of the new law just this afternoon.

The new law provides specific guidelines on the “prevention, investigation, suppression and the imposition of penalties” for cybercrimes, which include illegal access, interception, data and system interference, identity theft, cybersex, “cyber-squatting” or the misleading acquisition of internet domains, child pornography, and online libel.

“During the House deliberations on this law, I opposed the inclusion of online libel as one of the punishable acts. With its inclusion, we have in effect, legislated a law for online libel which is a step backward in our long-term aim of decriminalizing libel,” the youth solon added.

The anti-cybercrime law is supposed to be the legal instrument of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), the Department of Justice (DOJ), and other agencies in running after hackers, malicious spam and virus senders, cybersex operators, and hi-tech gangs that engage in phishing, credit card fraud, among others.

“But the inclusion of online libel in the list of dangerous cybercrimes would fundamentally affect and alter the implementation of the law,” Palatino said.

The youth solon cited Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto III’s recent statement wherein the senator said the new Cybercrime Law may be used to penalize users who post defamatory messages against him online.

“Under this law, politicians can easily file charges against ‘hostile and combative’ critics and witnesses by claiming that virtual protesters have threatened their life and property. Censorship will lead to repression once an activist or reform advocate has been labeled a cybercriminal,” Palatino said.

“Woe to the NBI agent and DOJ prosecutor who will be swamped with cybercrime cases filed by showbiz actors, politicians, business tycoons, and other untouchables who want to punish their online critics. Instead of dealing with cyberwarfare, our agents will be investigating online libel,” the youth solon added.

Palatino also warned that the new law may violate the people’s right to privacy since it empowers the government to access the private accounts and monitor activities of persons suspected of committing cybercrimes.

“Despite the court order requirement in the law, I still fear that the privacy of individuals will be violated. Will authorities specify the particular file folder to be collected or will they simply download all computer data?” he asked.

The youth solon also expressed fears on “vague provisions of the new law, including Section 5, which penalizes “aiding or abetting, or attempting to commit cybercrime.”

“These provisions are too general. Any person surfing the web, innocently sharing some virus-infected files, can be accused of aiding or attempting to commit cybercrime,” Palatino said.

“There are non-negotiables in drafting internet policies. The main concern should be the protection of internet users. Legislation should maintain the openness or the free, public character of the internet. There must be transparency and law enforcers must be accountable for their actions. National regulation is futile since cybercrimes operate globally and virtually,” Palatino said.

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