Yesterday Was Black Tuesday…

…So if you have a Filipino friend on Facebook and you noticed they changed their profile picture to a stark black image or an image with a black background, don’t be surprised. They’re just making a statement against Republic Act No. 10175, also known as the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.

The Philippine government begins implementation of this law today.

As its name obviously states, RA 10175 criminalizes heinous acts committed online, such as child pornography, identity theft, online fraud, piracy, deliberate distribution of viruses and malware, and others. Just like most laws, the principle behind this law is good. What makes it bad is it contains Section 4(c)4, an unfortunate snippet on libel that applies an 80-year-old libel law, namely Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code, to 21st century circumstances.

This antiquated law defines libel as: “public and malicious imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status, or circumstance tending to cause the dishonor, discredit, or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead.” As this article on Spot.ph aptly put it, “You’re damned if you’re lying and you’re damned if you’re telling the truth.”

Many law experts, media practitioners and bloggers have claimed Cybercrime Prevention Act is “a blow against free speech.” Senator Teofisto Guingona, who voted against the enactment of this law, called it “unconstitutional.” Said Sen. Guingona, “some parts of this bill clearly attempts to legislate morality and penalize people if they breach our standards. I feel as a legislator, we have no right to dictate what people should or should not see.”

And indeed RA 10175 is unconstitutional. Article III, Section 4 of the 1987 Constitution states:

No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievance.”

Even more alarming than the inclusion of the libel clause in RA 10175 is the fact that the Cybercrime Prevention Act gives the Department of Justice (DOJ) overreaching powers for implementing this law. These powers include real-time collection of traffic data, computer and data confiscation, and restricting or blocking access to computer data found in violation of this law.

In his analysis, Atty. Mel Sta. Maria of TV5 described a rather scary situation where RA 10175 can be used to invade your privacy, deprive you of your use of your computer and the Internet and harass you continuously before you are even charged with anything in a court of law.

The Internet is ideally the bastion of freedom of speech, a basic human right. It is a place where we can say what we want when we want it without any fear of being persecuted or silenced by government policies or corporate agenda. Freedom of speech does come with certain responsibilities, such as not making malicious statements or perpetrating lies, but implementing legislation like the RA 10175 is a backward way of reminding us of these responsibilities.

As Forbes.com’s Paul Tassi said, “Once again we see a mix of ignorance to technology and the desire to exert further control over a population. Neither is pretty, and neither has any place in good government.”

Image: Inquirer Technology


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Anna Sibal-Gonzaga is a freelance writer based in the Philippines. She likes reading books and watching movies and TV shows in the sci-fi, fantasy and historical genres. She is also a casual gamer and an all-around nerd.

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