News from Manila reports that Philippine President Benigno Aquino, is actively defending the new Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 against a storm of protest from critics, and civil rights groups, that say it will severely suppress online freedoms, and intimidate web users into a state of self censorship.
The initial aim of the cybercrime law was to help protect and fight against online pornography, hacking, identity theft, and spamming while giving the local authorities the legal tools to combat internet crime.
ZDNet reported earlier in the week, that a group of petitioners” consisting of lawmakers, bloggers and students, have sought a temporary restraining order (TRO) on the country's implementation of its Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, declaring the law curtails “constitutional rights to due process, speech, expression, free press and academic freedom.”
Yet certain provisions of the law have millions of Filipinos literally up in arms, and that would be the issue of online libel.
Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, one of the lawmakers who voted against the passage of the law:
"If you click 'like,' you can be sued, and if you share, you can also be sued,"
"Even Mark Zuckerberg can be charged with cyber-libel,"
The provision itself is so broad and vague that it not actually clear, as to what is considered libel and defamatory.
The Philippine Star wrote earlier today,”citizens and groups who protested on social networking sites, blogs and out in the streets fear politicians will use it to silence critics.The law contains a provision that says libel – already punishable by up to six years in prison – is also a cybercrime.”
The new law would also allow agencies to collect data from personal user accounts on the social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, as well as monitor (eavesdrop) on voice and video applications such as Skype, without a warrant. Users who post defamatory comments on Facebook or Twitter, for example, could be sentenced to up 12 years in jail.
Aquino specifically backed one of the most controversial elements of the law, which mandates that people who post defamatory comments online be given much longer jail sentences than those who commit libel in traditional media.
Aquino told reporters
"I do not agree that it (the provision on libel) should be removed. If you say something libellous through the Internet, then it is still libellous... no matter what the format,"
The government can also now close down websites it deems to be involved in criminal activities without a warrant.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino says he remains committed to freedom of speech
Human rights groups, like Freedom House have strongly condemned the passage of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, which went into effect on October 3 and media organizations and web users have voiced their outrage at the law, with some saying it echoes the curbs on freedoms imposed by Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the 1970s.
Certainly this troubling law has caused outrage amongst the Filipnos, and least one senator who voted for the law, Francis Escudero, has acknowledged having glossed over the controversial provision and said it was a mistake.
Meanwhile CBS news reminds us all that Sen. Vicente Sotto III may have an axe to grind with the Filipino online community after coming under fire for allegedly plagiarizing an American blogger and the late Sen. Robert Kennedy for his speeches against a controversial family planning and reproductive health bill.
"Yes, I did it. I inserted the provision on libel. Because I believe in it and I don't think there's any additional harm," Sotto was quoted as saying in the local news website Interaksyon.com
Even though there is increasing pressure from the public to repeal the law there is little evidence that government is backing down.
President Aquino said earlier today that " those freedoms were not unlimited."
"The purpose of this law is to address the shortcomings of our system, so we can have a clean Internet." he said.
US government-funded Freedom House was among the international rights watchdogs to criticize the law this week.
"Anyone who shares offending content could end up behind bars, even if he or she did not write it. Merely a Facebook 'Like' could be construed as libel," it said in a statement.
"This act is a gross overreach that severely jeopardizes the Philippines' status as a country with a free Internet."