To the Senate: Roll out the red carpet for internet freedom

Here is a copy of the remarks I made at the hearing today, March 3, called by the Senate science and technology committee, regarding bills seeking to amend the Cybercrime Law.

This hearing coincides with the Oscars. Netizens are busy watching the world’s biggest celebrities parade on the red carpet.

Dear senators, please roll out the red carpet for Internet freedom. Roll back, repeal the Cybercrime Law’s worst provisions.

I’m here on my own behalf both as a blogger and a newspaper columnist, and on behalf of my co-petitioners in one of the petitiona filed before the Supreme Court challenging the Cybercrime Law.

(1)

We are here to lay claim to Section 4 of the Bill of Rights which states clearly and without reservation:

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

This important part of our constitution speaks of an ideal situation where citizens participate actively in a democracy: to speak freely for ourselves, foster a free media to help us speak truth to power, show the ability to join other citizens and work together to compel government to take action on our demands.

The internet today makes this possible. 35 million of our people already have internet connections. We engage in online debates and discussions with media, political parties and leaders. We form groups online, organize mass actions and launch campaigns.

The Cybercrime Law criminalizes these citizens’ actions. We ask you to work for the repeal of the overly-broad provisions of Republic Act 10175.

(2)

The proponents of the Cybercrime Law proclaim that it complies with the Budapest Convention.

That is not true.

Nowhere is it stated in the Budapest Convention that states should enact sweeping laws governing the internet.

Nowhere is it stated in the Budapest Convention that defamation and cybersex should be included in national cybercrime laws.

Nowhere is it stated in the Budapest Convention that measures against cybercrimes should ignore international standards and national constitutional safeguards to defend the rights to privacy and against unreasonable search and seizure.

The Budapest Convention do no seek to criminalize free speech online, but only very specific cybercrimes.

The Cybercrime Law, which is already overbroad if we use the standards of our constitution, likewise goes against the recommendations of the Budapest Convention which calls on states to fight cybercrime to keep the Internet free.

For the record, the Philippine government has not signed the Budapest Convention. Neither has the Senate talked about it.

Meanwhile, the Philippines is a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Which would you priotize, Your Honors?

(3)

Innovation in information and communication technology is also endangered by this sweeping law.

In the technology sphere, the widest latitude of freedom is a requirement for our developers. Criminalizing access to or modification of technologies, and other activities would be bad for innovation.

Creativity too is in peril. Our artists and graphic designers should not be terrorized with the thought that their outputs, sometimes that make use of existing creations or improve on them or modify them are now criminal acts punishable under this statute.

(4)

Aside from Cyberlibel, there are other oppressive and unfair provisions of the Cybercrime Law and this meeting would not be sufficient to cover all of them. But we cannot let the opportunity pass to bring to your attention Section 6.

Right now, the authorities could investigate any crime in our law books and prosecute them as cybercrimes if the offenders used ICT. For the simple reason that they use ICT.

This is totally crazy. For instance, if a household help shares a cyberlibelous status message to her 500 Facebook friends, she faces a a heavier punishment than a person who commits libel in the country’s biggest newspapers. Your sons and daughters, nephews and nieces face such specter.

(5)

While we agree that government should crack down on certain clearly-defined cyberoffenses, we remain steadfast in the belief that a good, effective cybercrime law should uphold the Constitution and the five basic principles of the Declaration of Internet Freedom.

These are: (1) Expression: Don’t censor the Internet; (2) Access: Promote universal access to fast and affordable networks; (3) Openness: Keep the Internet an open network where everyone is free to connect, communicate, write, read, watch, speak, listen, learn, create and innovate; (4) Innovation: Protect the freedom to innovate and create without permission. Don’t block new technologies, and don’t punish innovators for their users’ actions; and (5) Privacy: Protect privacy and defend everyone’s ability to control how their data and devices are used.

We respectfully suggest that supplementary to the Constitution, the Senate consider these principles as you shepherd bills concerning the internet.

(6)

Finally, your Honors, please join us netizens to remember in a very relevant manner, something that happened on March 29, 1994 in the University of San Carlos in Talamban, Cebu. On that day, a conference of geeks and techies made the first Philippine connection to the Internet.

So much has happened since then, Your Honors. The internet today is part of the Filipino way of life, one of the principal way to connect our people across our islands, and between our 10M kababayans abroad to relatives here at home, a laboratory for innovation and creativity, and a marketplace of ideas and platform for expression. So much good has been done using the Internet: providing employment, helping during disasters, and most recently, making it finally possible to abolish PDAF.

Let us celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Philippines’ first link to the internet by promoting freedom online and offline, and the internet’s growing role in our way of life.

Thank you.

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