The government of the Philippines today has passed the troubling Cybercrime Prevention Act. The Act covers a range of offenses, but—as we wrote last month—is particularly problematic because of a libel provision that criminalizes anonymous online criticism.
In addition to criminalizing online libel, Section 19 of the Act would also allow the country’s Department of Justice to block access to “computer data” that is in violation of the Act; in other words, a website hosting criminally libelous speech could be shut down without a court order.
Activists in the Philippines believe that the Act is unconstitutional and are petitioning the country’s Supreme Court to declare it so. In their submission, the petitioning groups (including the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, the Philippine Press Institute, among others), write:
In this case of first impression, this Court is asked to rule on a statute that, if allowed to stand, will set back decades of struggle against the darkness of “constitutional dictatorship” and replace it with “cyber authoritarianism”. It is fitting that the words of the President’s own platform be the backdrop against which the looming darkness is to be dispelled.
Petitioners ask this Court to rule on Republic Act No. 10175, a law that establishes a regime of “cyber authoritarianism” and undermines all the fundamental guarantees of freedoms and liberties that many have given their lives and many still give their lives work to vindicate, restore and defend. It is a law that unduly restricts the rights and freedoms of netizens and impacts adversely on an entire generation’s way of living, studying, understanding and relating.
In addition to the petition, activists have taken more steps to demonstrate their opposition. The Philippine Internet Freedom Alliance has been encouraging a SOPA-style blackout protest and yesterday initiated a protest march to the Supreme Court. On social media—where many have referred to the Act as “Cyber Martial Law”— activists are using the hashtag #NoToCybercrimeLaw to register their opposition and encourage action. And one lawyer, Argee Guevara, is seeking to instigate a test case by posting libelous comments about a doctor who filed a libel case against him in 2010.
Others have taken a different approach: Philippines news site GMA News reported that on Monday, numerous government websites were defaced by a group claiming to be ‘Anonymous Philippines.’
Just today, Senator Edgardo Angara, who introduced the Act, filed a bill to amend his own law. According to reports, one of the amendments he intends to make would require the Department of Justice to secure a court order before restricting or blocking access to computer data that violates the law.
These events echo those that followed the introduction of the Stop Online Piracy Act in the US last year. That comparison hasn’t escaped Forbes contributor Paul Tassi, who stated that the Cybercrime Act “makes SOPA look reasonable,” and pointed out that “much like SOPA, these are lawmakers who don’t understand the true implications of the law on the technology they’re attempting to regulate.”
EFF stands with the many local activists in opposing this egregious violation of freedom of expression and offers our support to the petitioners and other activists in standing against the Cybercrime Prevention Act.
The following groups and initiatives are opposing the Act, and EFF encourages support of them: