CEGP slams SC ruling on Cybercrime Law

 

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The Supreme Court today declared “online libel” constitutional, as defined by Republic Act No. 10175, or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, in a ruling penned by Associate Justice Roberto Abad.

The Court struck down some of the law’s provisions  — including Sections 4(c)3, Section 19, and Section 12 — but left the provision criminalising “online libel” entirely intact, “with respect to the original author of the post.”

Section 19 of the law refers to the controversial “take-down clause”, which empowers the Department of Justice, and the Justice secretary in particular, to take down  at its discretion anything on the internet seen as libellous.  Section 12 involves the collection of internet traffic data in real-time, where “law enforcement authorities, with due cause, shall be authorized to collect or record by technical or electronic means traffic data in real-time associated with specified communications transmitted by means of a computer system.”

On the other hand, the Court struck down Section 4(c)3,  lifting protections for consumers against  “unsolicited  commercial communications”, which includes e-advertising.

It also upheld Section 5 of the law, which criminalizes the aiding and abetting of cybercrime, technically leaving the door open to criminal charges against  unwitting internet users who re-tweet or re-hash  a libellous post, notwithstanding those “who simply receive, post, react to the [message].”

Since 2012, the law has been a flashpoint of public protests, not least among cyber-savvy youth.   The Anti-Cybercrime Law Alliance dubbed it “e-Martial Law”, and now plans to file a motion for reconsideration against the Court’s latest decision. Around 15 petitions against the law remain pending and await future deliberations.

The College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) stands by its position that the Cybercrime Law should be junked, and that it amounts to:

a.)   an assault on basic civil liberties and democratic rights, above all the right to free speech, free expression and freedom of the press;

b.)   that the law’s definition of libel  is vague at best and is a hold-over from the Revised Penal Code of 1930, where libel carried out through  mimeograph machines is declared a criminal offence:  i.e., hardly applicable to our day and age.

c.)   that “libel” can mean anything that is inconvenient to those in power, turning the law into a tool for de facto censorship of the press, in a society where libel is routinely used to criminalize journalists, both online and off.

d.)   that the law itself is unwieldy and next to impossible  to implement on its own terms – with libelous comments  being posted literally every second on  cyberspace –  barring a complete crackdown  by the government on  the internet. Criminalizing “online libel” is above all ironic in the context of a legal system that leaves little in the way of rights for internet users.

e.)   that it is incompatible with the right to free and open public discourse   in a society that declares itself a democracy.

CEGP believes the Supreme Court’s decision not only speaks to its failure to think out of the box, but perhaps calls into question its independence from the Aquino administration, which supported the law from the start.

The Cybercrime Law forms just one part of a broader attempt by the status quo to paper over  its failure to address the root causes of the crises in  Philippine society,  from rising poverty, corruption and unemployment to the government’s inability to respond adequately to the needs of the victims of Yolanda, among countless other issues.

Such laws are passed not in the interests of public safety or national security, but to defend the status quo’s own interests against public dissent. Defence and security become convenient justifications to chip away at democratic rights, bit by bit, when in reality a political system like our own ought to be defending the public – against itself.

The Cybercrime law is above all symbolic of a bigger crackdown on political and civic rights across the globe. In America, the Obama administration’s witch-hunt against NSA-whistleblower Edward Snowden is a case in point. Another is the widespread bid to silence even mainstream reporters who dare to report on corruption, government secrets or corporate misbehavior.

Governments the world over have increasingly relied on similar  tactics to monitor social movements, censor both the mainstream media and the independent press, or deter people from openly expressing dissent by the sheer fact that these policies exist.

In an age of intensifying socioeconomic crises, the controls on free expression are tightening. Amid rising public anger, governments have resorted to repressive measures to keep their citizens in line.

This applies as much to the Aquino administration, which is beholden not to the country’s working class majority, but to the narrow political elites and big business interests that are the President’s real “bosses” – vested interests with much to hide and everything to lose from real transparency and accountability.

It is for this reason that protests against the Cybercrime Law, and all similar policies that infringe on our people’s democratic rights, will continue. CEGP encourages all internet users, youth and campus publications to use all the tools at our disposal, from social media to the streets, to expose and oppose all assaults to our civil liberties, and highlight the real issues surrounding our people’s plight.

 

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