Philippine authorities just got more teeth against computer-related offenses such as hacking, child pornography, and even online libel, after President Aquino signed the Cybercrime Prevention law.
Defense lawyers have used the absence of a law to argue against punishing hackers and bloggers who attack the reputations of others. Turning frequent acts on the Internet into crimes is expected to make potential violators think before they click.
But at least one lawmaker has already warned that the law is a potential threat to Internet freedom and can be used to silence criticism on the web.
Kabataan Partylist Rep. Raymond Palatino said he opposed the inclusion of online libel as one of the punishable acts, decrying the law as "a step backward in our long-term aim of decriminalizing libel.”
Palatino cited Senator Tito Sotto’s recent statement that the new law may be used to penalize those who have attacked him online. Sotto has been castigated on social media and blogs for a series of speeches that copied from the blogs and speeches of others.
“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.
He added that complaints of online libel will distract law enforcers from stopping the more serious crimes of cyber porn, hacking, and credit card fraud.
“Woe to the National Bureau of Investigation agent and the Department of Justice 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,” Palatino said.
"The inclusion of cyberthreat and cyberdefamation in the list of dangerous cybercrimes would fundamentally affect and alter the implementation of the law,” he added.
Spamming also banned
The new law signed by Aquino on September 12 as Republic Act 10175 also punishes cybersquatting and identity theft, according to the text of the law posted on the Official Gazette website on Saturday.
Spamming or unsolicited commercial communication is also among the offenses covered by the new law.
- Illegal access to a computer system
- Illegal interception of data
- Data interference, including intentional alteration or damaging of data
- System interference, including damaging or altering computer data or programs as well as the use of viruses
- Misuse of devices
- Use, production, sale, procurement, importation, distribution or making available without right of malware, passwords or codes
- Computer-related forgery
- Computer-related draud
- Computer-related identity theft
- Child pornography
- Unsolicited commercial communication
Those convicted of violating the law face a punishment of prision mayor or a fine of at least P200,000, or both.
Those convicted of misusing devices may face prision mayor and/or a fine of P500,000.
But if the offense is committed against a critical infrastructure, the penalty is reclusion temporal and/or a fine of at least P500,000.
On the other hand, those found guilty of child pornography will be meted a punishment one degree higher than those in the Anti-Child Pornography Act of 2009.
Also, the law mandates the creation of an Office of Cybercrime within the Department of Justice, the central authority in all matters related to international matters including extradition.
Also to be created is an inter-agency Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center (CICC), under the administrative supervision of the Office of the President.
It will have the executive director of the ICT Office under the Department of Science and Technology as chairman; the director of the National Bureau of Investigation as vice-chairman; and the Chief of the Philippine National Police and heads of the DOJ Office of Cybercrime and one representative from the private sector and academe as members.
The CICC will have a secretariat manned by selected existing personnel and representatives from participating agencies.
A budget of P50 million will be appropriated annually for the implementation of the law.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte acknowledged that online libel will be a subject of debate among lawyers.
“We will leave it to the other lawyers to determine ang aktong napapasailalim sa libel na sinasabi nila (We will leave it to the other lawyers to determine what constitutes online libel),” she said on government-run dzRB radio.
On the other hand, Valte said the bodies to be created by the new law may still be different from a Department of Information and Communications Technology being proposed by Sen. Edgardo Angara.
“Ang DICT mas malawak ang mandate, everything related to ICT (The DICT may have a wider mandate, it may cover everything related to ICT),” she said. — with Gian C. Geronimo, TJD/HS, GMA News