Philippines’ Enhanced Cybercrime Prevention Act

The Philippine Cybercrime Prevention Act was signed into law in September 2012. It was dropped in response to immediate and fierce opposition by both the public and government officials. After fifteen petitions targeting the unconstitutionality of the law were filed in the Supreme Court, a temporary restraining order was granted. An “enhanced” version of the Republic Act is ready for review pending the Court’s decision. Opinions are divided with some still insisting that it be thrown out entirely.

The Cybercrime Prevention Act was drafted in an effort to give law enforcement the power to battle cybercrime. The infamous Philippine 2000 Love Bug caused some $10 billion in losses in as many as 20 countries. The email virus penetrated the British Parliament, the Pentagon and the CIA, but there were no laws covering cybercrime. After the embarrassment of only being able to charge the culprit with credit card fraud, plans for true and comprehensive anti-cybercrime legislation.

Like in other countries dealing with cybercrime laws, there was heavy protesting from the public. Protests revolved around the legality of online surveillance, the libel provision and website blocks. The power given to the Philippine National Police to monitor websites was generally viewed as a danger. Ill-equipped to carry out comprehensive monitoring, they would likely limit their surveillance to sites known to broadcast criticism of the government. This would then, in the words of outspoken journalist Luis Teodoro “[give the] monitoring power a political character.”

The original draft of the Act included a section on online libel which was targeted by journalists, active bloggers and other users as a severe attack against freedom of speech, privacy, and universal human rights. Under the provision, users could be jailed for retweeting or liking a post that was considered insulting. Human rights activists zeroed in on the provision that allowed, without a court order, the real-time gathering of online communications, a clear violation of privacy rights.

The law granted to the governmentpowers to take down websites and restrict access to computer data systems on the suspicion of a violation. “Whatever happened to ‘innocent until proven guilty?'” one popular blogger heatedly remarked during a brief interview outside his home last week. Teodoro also commented, “It gives DOJ the unprecedented power of acting as both judge and executioner,” as the department is empowered to both decide what is considered libelous and to implement penalties.

There were heavy protests against the law’s apparent dismissal of the right to due process and equal protection of the law, and protection from double jeopardy.The provisions in the enhanced law levy heavier penalties for cybercrimes than for similar crimes committed offline. This angered the countries internet fans raising cries of foul play.

Amid protests, the Department of Justice recently announced that it would remove the provision on libel and that the revised act would focus instead on organized cybercrime.The revised act aims to discourage crimes that threaten the economy and national security. Little provision is made for the protection of intellectual property when it falls outside the domain of major economic interests such as large corporate investments that could boost national growth.

Philippine netizens now wait for the Supreme Court to decide on the fifteen petitions that protest the Act as unconstitutional. Pending this decision, they continue to scrutinize and protest the “enhanced” Cybercrime Prevention Act in anticipation of its passage in Congress. The use of web proxy services and virtual private networks is not widespread in the country. But amid fears of possible restrictions being passed into law, many netizens believe it may become necessary to protect their online freedoms.

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