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Philippine idea of Great Firewall

MANILA (Mabuhay) : While a new cybercrime law rolled out by the Philippine government on October 3 aims to tackle a wide range of online crimes, including pornography, promotion of and trading in child sex, hacking, identity theft, as well as spamming, it has come under fire for allowing authorities to collect information in real data transfer time without a warrant.

What is up for grabs is what critics see as an unwarranted invasion of social media and online conversations on applications like Skype.

Critics point to a contradiction in that anti-terrorism laws require a warrant from the Court of Appeals for the collection of data.

UCA News reported on
October 2 that both online and offline protests had been staged in The Philippines against the new law, with press freedom advocates branding it as a threat to the constitutional right of free speech.

They called on the Supreme Court to issue a restraining order. 

However, a member of the court was quoted as saying that the justices had not had time to study the law at this stage.

The Alliance for the Advancement of People's Right described it as posing a serious threat to the right of privacy, freedom of speech and expression, as well as other civil and political rights.

The general secretary of the Philippine human rights watchdog, Cristina Palabay, was quoted by UCA News as saying that the law gives free rein to authorities to monitor Internet traffic and take out sites which they deem to be libellous.

Palabay also claimed that it would restrict the ability of citizens to search out information on human rights issues and to express their opinions.

“Let me just point out that we need a Cyber Crime Prevention Act. However, the inclusion of these problematic provisions on cyber libel will just curtail a fundamental principle of good governance,” a senator, Teofisto Guingona, the only member of the upper house to oppose the passage of the law, said.

Facebook practitioners posted black image profiles on their accounts and replaced their personal information with black blobs, while some added the words, “Post blocked.”

On October 1, the South China Morning Post quoted José Disini, a professor of law at the University of The Philippines, as dubbing the new law the equivalent of the Great Firewall of China. The sticking point in the new legislation is a section on libel, which snuck into the legislation without reference to the congress.

It criminalises merely saying you like an alleged libelous comment, sharing it or on-Tweeting it, and makes the person liable to a 12-year stint at the government’s pleasure.

The controversial addition came from a senator, Vicente Sotto. He claims that he does not believe that it does any harm.

However, he has been the butt of cyberspace ridicule since he was caught plagiarising a speech he made in the senate from a late senator in the United States of America, Robert Kennedy.

Archbishop Luis Tagle, from Manila, may be one of the first to have recourse to the law, as an unknown person began posting information claiming that he supports the law around 6.00pm on October 3 over FaceBook under an account name of Archbishop Luis Antonio Gokim Tagle DD, STD.

However, the archbishop does not have a Facebook account, only a fan page administered by Jesuit Communications, and he has not issued any statement on the new law, CBCP News reported.

On the other side of the coin, YouthPinoy reported Bishop Joel Baylon as calling on people to give the new law a chance.

“Let’s give it a chance. After all, freedom has its consequent duty and responsibility,” he said, explaining that he believes it is hard to draw the line between curtailing the right to information and free speech and not tolerating those who abuse the media and Internet to destroy the credibility of a person.

“Both pros and cons have a point,” the chairperson of the Commission on Youth said. “But above all else, we should also recognise that it is also a human right to be protected from people who use the Internet to advance their malicious intentions.”

He claimed that it will protect people from online bullying.

However, he cautioned the government to eliminate the grey areas from the legislation during the 90-day lacuna period prior to the president, Noynoy Aquino, signing it formally into law.

“The law should clearly set the limits of human rights and freedom, defining where freedom ends and where responsibility starts. The enforcing body should make sure that the new law will be just and humane,” Bishop Baylon warned.

He called the bottom line message, “Think before you click.”

Social commentator, Father Shay Cullen, says that he believes the new law is largely unnecessary, as legislation already exists that would enable the government to crack down on pornography and the child sex trade, if it wanted to use it.

“The existing Philippine Internet law mandates that Internet service providers install software that will block access to child pornography websites. But to date, the law is allegedly not being implemented,” he told Mabuhay.

He notes that similar legislation in other countries has convicted cyber sex traffickers and The Philippines could do so too if the political will existed to use it.

“The good aspects of the cybercrime law should be retained for investigating child abuse suspects, but it should be changed to remove libel as a criminal Internet crime. The freedom of speech is too precious to have it crushed and gagged by this faulty law,” the Columban missionary said.

... it would restrict the ability of citizens to search out information on human rights issues and to express their opinions