Aquino’s Cybercrime Law destroys Internet freedom

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Had lawmakers focused solely and exclusively on Identity Theft, Cybersex, Child Pornography, Computer-related Fraud and Forgery, Illegal Access and Interception, and Data and System Interference, there would have been no objections to the enactment of the Aquino Cybercrime Law.

But they didn’t. Instead, Congress made a full-scale, omnibus legal attack on netizens of the world’s social media capital.

It is now Game Over for the freedom we used to enjoy until September 12 when President Aquino signed the Cybercrime Law.

Let us not buy the bullshit that if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. We must not buy bullshit of any kind. At stake here are our fundamental and basic rights to privacy and free expression. Even if you have nothing to hide, the government or any other individual or entity has absolutely no right to violate your privacy or to harass you into not speaking freely. The only exception is when it is ordered by a court of law which guarantees you have your other basic right – due process.

Because our very basic rights are being curtailed and endangered under the Aquino Cybercrime Law, everyone is under threat from those we speak or write about online: your telco and its horrible services, your mayor who goes epal, a company that sells substandard products, your president who wastes time Noynoying.

Criminalizing internet activity

Today, if you use a computer to commit any crime listed under the Revised Penal Code, including libel, inciting to sedition and rebellion, you could be held liable. And your penalty shall be one degree higher than that provided under the Revised Penal Code.

Now, any company or person may take you court and ask that your website or social networking account be taken down on concocted, manufactured, hyped or invented claims that you committed libel. Your fair comments as a citizen on the conduct of your public officials and public agencies (think Aquino’s shooting buddy or Tito Sotto’s plagiarism) may be argued as a cybercrime under this law. To add insult to injury, if the court find you guilty, you would be meted punishments a level higher than usual.

World’s social media capital, a police state in the making

Under section 12 of the Aquino Cybercrime Law, titled “real-time collection of traffic data”:

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.

Traffic data refer only to the communication’s origin, destination, route, time, date, size, duration, or type of underlying service, but not content, nor identities.

All other data to be collected or seized or disclosed will require a court warrant.

Service providers are required to cooperate and assist law enforcement authorities in the collection or recording of the above-stated information.

Yes, Big Brother is now watching you. Without a warrant properly issued by a court, the police could collect real-time data coming from your house or office. If you live alone in your apartment, the police may spy on you. The second paragraph says something about protecting a spying subject’s content and identity but that is already moot because your location already betrays you.

Our personal, school- and work-related secrets, and other private information are now fair game for police and they could do it without court-issued warrants. This is an unconstitutional violation of our right to privacy and to due process. Only the courts have the constitutional and legal powers to limit a citizen’s most basic fundamental rights.

Section 13 of the Aquino Cybercrime Law titled “preservation of computer data” gives another power to the police:

The integrity of traffic data and subscriber information relating to communication services provided by a service provider shall be preserved for a minimum period of six (6) months from the date of the transaction. Content data shall be similarly preserved for six (6) months from the date of receipt of the order from law enforcement authorities requiring its preservation.

Law enforcement authorities may order a one-time extension for another six (6) months: Provided, That once computer data preserved, transmitted or stored by a service provider is used as evidence in a case, the mere furnishing to such service provider of the transmittal document to the Office of the Prosecutor shall be deemed a notification to preserve the computer data until the termination of the case.

Again, court orders are not required to cover the government’s interference in who has access to user information, including content data.

Section 14 of the Aquino Cybercrime Law makes a belated, meaningless mention of a requirement for court warrants on the disclosure of computer data. But what else is left for the court to decide on when the police and other law enforcement authorities already have access from the very start?

Another very dangerous provision in the Aquino Cybercrime Law is Section 19 which allows the Department of Justice – not a court – to restrict or block access to computer data. This could have far-reaching implications as the Executive Branch, the nerve center of politics in this country and also the magnet of vociferous criticism for citizens demanding accountability, would have the power to take down websites, blogs, social networking accounts and the like.

I am sure our legal eagles and constitutional experts, civil libertarians and pro-active members of the online communities would find other objectionable, illegal, unconstitutional provisions in the Aquino Cybercrime Law. The unprecedented grant of powers to the police to violate our constitutional right to privacy – this alone – should provide a basis for us to go to the Supreme Court to demand that this law be struck down and declared unconstitutional.

Let me say that with this Aquino Cybercrime Law, the government and law enforcement officials themselves become the cybercriminals for violating the constitutional rights of citizens nationwide.

Daang Matuwid direcho sa bangin

We do not know what happened between Congress, the Senate and Malacanang before Sept. 12, when President Aquino signed the Cybercrime Law. (Tito Sotto happened!) We cannot impute official stupidity, no matter how much we are tempted to. For at the end of the day, no matter how stupid our lawmakers and leaders may seem and act, their actions hold the force of a law. We now have a very bad Cybercrime Law and we have to do something about it.

I urge bloggers, netizens and other citizens to sit down, study, talk about this law. We cannot be complacent. We cannot wait for a test case. A test case may become a bad precedent. If we need to nip this in the bud, we should. If we have enough legal and constitutional ammunition to kill this monster of a law, let us do so and immediately proceed to the Supreme Court.

If we do not act, the Daang Matuwid promised by President Aquino would lead us nowhere except the cliff. The President continues to deny the Philippines a Freedom of Information Law. He also refuses to work for the decriminalization of libel. Instead, he enacted the Cybercrime Law and the Data Privacy Law, both of which violate fundamental rights of citizens and cut down efforts to hold public officials, starting with the President, accountable.

President Aquino’s stubborn refusal to pass FOI and to decriminalize libel which would both benefit the public – and his speedy action to pass the two laws that now harass netizens – illustrate the priorities and mindset of his government.

It is now up to us netizens and citizens to stop Aquino’s mad rush to the cliff. Our freedom is at stake.

Putting it simply

Let me put it this way, when we are in front of our computers, when we’re tinkering with our tablets and phones, most of us hate it when people look from behind our shoulders. We do not want anyone to mess with what we want to say, and, worse, those who stop us from speaking freely.

Now, Aquino’s Cybercrime Law is watching, behind all of us, threatening us with jail time, checking what we do online. If that’s now a cause for concern, I do not know what the hell that is.

(Author’s Note: This is the full text of my abbreviated remarks at the roundtable discussion on Sept. 19 at the Sarmiento Room, UP College of Law, Diliman, Quezon City. Kabataan Partylist organized the forum.)

Statements critical of the Aquino Cybercrime Law

Kabataan Partylist: The Cybercrime Prevention Law: Initial Discussion on Legal and Political Implications

National Union of Journalists of the Philippines: Cybercrime Law threatens freedom of expression

Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility: A Restrictive Mindset: First Law Since 2000 Affecting Cyberspace Communication

Burgos Media Center: RA 10175, a Marcosian move

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