Youth lawmaker warns vs Aquino’s ‘e-Martial Law’

AS THE nation commemorates the 40th anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law, Kabataan Partylist Rep. Raymond Palatino warned that a newly-enacted law on cybercrime has effectively enforced Martial Law to the Philippine online community.

The passage of Republic Act No. (RA) 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 will severely hamper the freedom of expression in the Internet and post threats to user privacy, fears that are reminiscent of the Martial Law era, said Palatino.

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.

“There are several provisions in the new Cybercrime Law that post threats to free speech, expression, and the right to privacy of Internet users. It’s equivalent to imposing Martial Law online,” the youth solon said.

Calling RA 10175 an “e-Martial Law” legislation, Palatino compared it to several famous Marcos-era decrees, particularly President Ferdinand Marcos’ Letter of Instruction No. 1, which led to the sequestration of several media outfits during Martial Law.

“All of these issues remind us of how Marcos released decrees and laws that enabled his regime to search and destroy materials he considered subversive. The only difference is, now, the curtailment of free expression has become high-tech,” Palatino said.

Threat to privacy

Certain provisions in the new law “flagrantly empowers state forces to collect personal data from users without their knowledge,” Palatino said.

Chapter IV Section 12, for example, authorizes the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to collect traffic data from users even without a court warrant. RA 10175 defines data as data which include the electronic communication’s origin, destination, route, time, date, size, duration and even type of service.

The said provision excludes the collection of content or identities of electronic files, both of which require a court warrant before state authorities can lawfully collect said information.

“But there are now advanced methods that can reveal identities and other private information simply from traffic data,” Palatino said. “Collection of such information goes against several provisions of the 1987 Constitution,” he added.

Section 3(1) of the Bill of Rights in the Constitution states, “The privacy of communication and correspondence shall be inviolable except upon lawful order of the court, or when public safety or order requires otherwise as prescribed by law.”

Upon issuance of a court warrant, Internet service providers can even be compelled to produce all available data for any particular subscriber.

Also, Chapter IV of RA 10175 also empowers government authorities to keep all collected data for up to six months. “In the fast-paced electronic era, six months is an eternity, especially as the creation of back-up copies for unscrupulous or unauthorized filing of shady officials,” Palatino said.

“We fear that such provisions might start an online witch hunt for those that are vocal about criticizing the government, and even whistle blowers. With this new law, the Internet is no longer a safe place to air dissent. Now that’s why we call it a de facto e-Martial Law,” Palatino explained.

‘DOJ superpower’

Section 19 of RA 10175 also effectively makes the Department of Justice an all-encompassing “Internet superpower,” the youth solon added.

Section 19 states, “When a computer data is prima facie found to be in violation of the provisions of this Act, the DOJ shall issue an order to restrict or block access to such computer data.”

Under such provision, the DOJ can take down websites that it suspects – upon initial observation – to be violating RA 10175.

“This effectively gives DOJ total control of the Internet in the Philippines. As only prima facie evidence is needed, the new law has done away with due process. Once the DOJ realizes this new power and uses this provision to take down dissident websites – that would be the death of Internet freedom as we know it,” Palatino said.

Worse than SOPA, PIPA

With Section 19, the Cybercrime Prevention Law has become far worse than the “Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA) and the “Protect IP Act” (PIPA), that were pushed in the US Congress earlier this year but failed to prosper, according to the Computer Professionals Union (CPU).

CPU explained that Section 19 will have a “chilling impact” to bloggers, online journalists, advocacy groups and normal netizens, as any website can be shut down with accusations of infringement without due process.

For his part, Palatino explained that online censorship under Section 19 is more encompassing than traditional censorship. “If for example, an online article is said to be libellous, DOJ may order the total shutdown of its host domain, effectively censoring not just the article in question, but also other articles in that site – a clear violation of the constitutional right to free speech.”

“And what about posts on Facebook and tweets? If some of those posts are found violating RA 10175, DOJ can theoretically block access not only to the posts in question, but to the whole social networking site,” Palatino said.

Greater punishment for cybercrimes

A provision in the Cybercrime Prevention Law also effectively raises the punishment for crimes committed with the aid of computer systems.

Section 6 of RA 10175 states, “All crimes defined and penalized by the Revised Penal Code, as amended, and special laws, if committed by, through and with the use of information and communications technologies shall be covered by the relevant provisions of this Act, provided that the penalty to be imposed shall be one degree higher than that provided for by the Revised Penal Code, as amended, and special laws, as the case may be.”

Under the new law, a person who commits crimes such as theft and kidnapping with the aid of ICT may get six to to 30 more years in jail than those committing the same crimes without the use of computers and ICT.

Similarly, committing online libel will result to longer prison sentences. The penalty for printed libel under the Revised Penal Code is only six months to four years. However, applying the “one degree higher” clause in RA 10175 when the libel is committed online, the penalty is raised to six to 12 years.

“The new law was seemingly drafted with the mindset that crimes committed online is graver than those committed in the real world. This poses a serious threat to online journalists and bloggers. Due to the vague provisions in RA 10175, even commenters and those that retweet libellous materials can also be incriminated,” Palatino said.

Petition for prohibition

Kabataan Partylist is mulling to file a petition for prohibition against RA 10175 to the Supreme Court in the coming days.

According to Atty. James Mark Terry Ridon, president and general counsel of Kabataan Partylist, the youth group is set to challenge RA 10175 in the Supreme Court. “Several provisions in this law are clearly unconstitutional. We need to really challenge this in the high tribunal,” Ridon said.

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to file it before the new law takes effect,” Ridon added.

RA 10175 is set to take effect on the first week of October.

“Apart from filing legal remedies, we need to raise public awareness on this issue. The government is taking our Internet freedom. There is an urgent call for us to reclaim it,” Palatino said.

“RA 10175 is a big issue, especially for the technology-savvy youth. Just as what Marcos did during Martial Law, this new law signed by Aquino posts threats to Internet freedom and might be used to run after government opposition,” Palatino said.

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