By Raïssa Robles
What Guillermo Sy didn’t mention during the conference was that he apparently blames lawmakers as the cause for the scuttling of the Cybercrime Law.
You see, Geronimo Sy gave a talk during an academic forum at Silliman University last December. Perhaps he didn’t bank on someone from Silliman U writing about his talk afterward. This was what came out in the Silliman University Alumni Newsletter dated January 19, 2013. It was accompanied by the picture below of the smiling, boyish cybercrime expert:
This was the write-up on what Geronimo Sy told the students:
Addressing one of controversial issues today, the Dr. Jovito R. Salonga Center for Law & Development conducted a forum on The Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 (RA 10175) on December 11 at the SU Justice Aldecoa Jr. Moot Court. The chairman of the Office of the Cybercrime of the Department of Justice, Assistant Geronimo L. Sy came to speak on the topic.
In his lecture, Assistant Secretary Sy clarified some of the most frequently asked questions about cybercrime: 1) data privacy, 2) cybercrime, and 3) cyber security. He said their proposed version of the cybercrime law seeking to conform to the Budapest Cybercrime Convention was to address only the core cybercrime issues but the current version of the law passed by Congress contained many unnecessary provisions, including provisions on libel and child pornography, which he quipped were only inserted at the last minute. Aside from Sillimanians, the forum which covered Republic Act 10175 otherwise known as the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 approved on Sept. 12, 2012, was also attended by the teachers and students from schools in Dumaguete.
When Guillermo Sy told the forum about the last-minute insertions, did he also tell them that one of those insertions involved the controversial section – on Real-Time collection of traffic data?
The Silliman U Alumni Letter can be accessed by clicking here.
Weren’t you inviting me over for coffee before all of these controversies blew up, Sir Assec Sy?
In any case, I’m still highly suspicious of what Assec Sy’s draft bill will still contain. The online libel provision is not the only problem with this law. For instance, there is also the take-down clause and the powers given to authorities to spy on digital traffic.
Any take-down provision will now have to be reconciled with a new United Nations declaration, shown below:
I’m reposting below an article by my hubby Alan on what Geronimo Sy’s Cybercrime Law was like:
What the Cybercrime Law really means
By Alan Robles
Government is perplexed. President Benigno Aquino says he can’t understand why the public is so angry. After all, what’s wrong with a law that chills free speech online, allows warrantless surveillance of Internet traffic, and promises specially stiff jail sentences for Filipinos who commit crimes using digital technology or a digital device (such as a smartphone)?
A law, furthermore, that allows government to block websites without warning and provides no oversight or accountability of the implementing agencies?
Oh, and did I mention the law’s most repressive provisions were inserted stealthily and without any public hearings?
If Aquino seems clueless — he says he’s read the document at least thrice — citizens are not. Civil society recognizes Republic Act 10175, the Cybercrime Prevention Law, as a crude and blatant attempt to censor the Internet and trample the Bill of Rights. The good news: barraged by outraged petitions, the Supreme Court issued a Temporary Restraining Order against the law’s implementation. The bad news: the TRO expires in January. The worse news: if the law takes effect, surfing the Internet will never be the same for Filipinos. They face a surveillance and censorship state in the making. As Senator Teofisto Guingona III says, the Cybercrime Law is an attempt to dictate what Filipinos may and may not see on the Internet. It’s also an effort to control what they may and may not say online. Plus, it offers law enforcers exciting new possibilities for abuse and extortion.
How could such a draconian law have come into being? Simple. Most of the country’s politicians and leaders neither use nor understand the Internet. Back in the 1990s, Internet visionary Nicholas Negroponte already had a term for these people: the“digital homeless.” He described this as the part of the population that is neither young (who’ve grown up knowing nothing but the Net) nor elderly (who have the time to go online). Unfortunately, according to Negroponte, the digital homeless “tend to be the decision makers, executives, and politicians” despite the fact that they “are really out of it. They are not part of this digital world; they don’t understand it.”
There seem to be three main characters behind RA 10175: Department of Justice (DOJ) Assistant Secretary Geronimo Sy, Senator Edgardo Angara, and Senator Vicente Sotto. The law started life in Congress as a bill to fight cybercrimes like hacking, spam, destruction, theft of data, and child pornography. Sy seems to have given identical drafts of the bill to at least four senators, who promptly put their names to their copies and submitted them as their own without bothering to change them much — and apparently without understanding the contents. Angara delivered the sponsorship speech, becoming the bill’s padrino.
The bill was supposed to follow an international agreement on specific cybercrimes, the Budapest Convention (by the way, the Philippines is not a signatory). But, in a fit of creative legal engineering, it looks as if Sy and congressmen went above and beyond what the agreement calls for. To cite an example: the Budapest Convention has a section on safeguards to protect human rights and liberties —the Philippine Cybercrime Law drops that totally. And, where the Convention lists the very specific crime of “child pornography,” RA 10175’s framers invented and added a new vague category, “cybersex”— the “willful engagement, maintenance, control, or operation, directly or indirectly, of any lascivious exhibition of sexual organs or sexual activity, with the aid of a computer system, for favor or consideration.” Looking nervously at the porn stash in your smartphone?
In the final stages of preparation, someone tampered well and truly with the bill’s DNA, producing the patchwork Frankenstein creation sent to Aquino for signing. The Budapest Convention does not at all mention libel as a cybercrime, but apparently Senator Sotto shoehorned it in while his fellow senators (Guingona exempted) nodded or dozed. Sotto’s insertion was neither easily noticed nor subjected to a public hearing. Completing the mutilation, other congressmen threw the entire Revised Penal Code into the bill, wildly changing the bill beyond the Budapest Convention’s intended scope. Nobody objected, least of all Sy. By the way, RA 10175 calls for the creation of a DOJ Office of Cybercrime and an interagency, Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center (CICC). Assistant Secretary Geronimo Sy will head the first and be a member of the second.
Adding insult to injury, rather than brief the public on the act while it was being legislated, the Justice Department only called for “public consultations” after the bill had been signed into law. Fortunately, Filipinos had already been alerted long before that when Senator Sotto, smarting from online mockery of his speeches, taunted his detractors by warning them a law on cyber libel was coming. As a result, much of the outrage has centered on the Cybercrime Law’s provision on libel, which promises to create a mess.
Now, anyone who’s at all used the Internet (and social networks in particular) knows it’s rife with harsh insults, mockery, badinage, and naughty language. It’s the way the Internet has always been. The Cybercrime Law apparently wants to change all that: it empowers anyone and everyone to sue at the drop of the proverbial hat. If you’re among the nearly 30 million Filipinos using Facebook, you see those buttons,“Like,” “Comment,” and “Share”? Start treating them with lots of respect. Wait, maybe “respect” isn’t the right word — “fear” is. Because should you happen to use them the wrong way, those buttons could land you in prison.
What, you ask, is the “wrong way”? The concise legal answer to this question is, “Your guess is as good as mine.” If you post a comment on FB about a celebrity, politician, neighbor, or even total stranger, that person could sue you for libel. It’s conceivable that if someone else makes such a comment and you share it, you could also be sued. What if you neither comment nor share, but indicate you “like” the comment? You could still be included in the libel suit. Senator Angara even helpfully suggested that if enough people “like” a libelous post, they could all be charged with conspiracy. He said on a TV show that “if you agree to destroy the reputation of this person, then that is conspiracy.”
The Cybercrime Law’s libel provision threatens to unleash a tidal wave of suits which could flood a court system already legendary for its backlogs, delays, and corruption. If you’re accused of cyber libel, even if you eventually beat the rap, in the process you’ll still be forced to spend time and money fighting the case, a process that could take years. In the Philippines, libel has always favored the rich and powerful.
Libel aside, there’s also the fact that the Revised Penal Code has been folded into the Cybercrime Law. Should RA 10175 come into effect, any crime committed with the aid of information and communications technology (ICT) will incur a much harsher jail sentence than the same crime committed with no-tech. Charged with theft? Trespassing? Estafa? If you happened to have used digital tech during those crimes (a call on your iPhone? An email?) your possible jail sentence will be increased. Plus, you could face a separate charge for “misuse” of the device. And, by the way, every Filipino, no matter where in the world he or she happens to be, is covered by the Cybercrime Law and can be sued at a low level Regional Trial Court here.
Ironically, the Cybercrime Law will certainly not stop your kids from accessing porn, visiting banned content, or insulting each other. Internet users have a variety of ways to circumvent blocks and it’s doubtful Aquino, Angara, and Sotto know about sockpuppets, fake accounts, proxies, spoofers and tunnels. Even banning websites will not work, not when the contents can simply displace to another site, or millions of other channels (the term for this is the Streisand Effect). Assistant Secretary Sy, in one forum, pointed to sites that give instructions on how to build Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) as pages that could be blocked. A Google search “how to build IEDs” yields 16 million results. Will the government block them all? Will it block Google? If government proposes to give us China’s repressiveness, shouldn’t it at least also give us China’s economic growth?
My thanks @Mel for posting the story of Purple Romero entitled DOJ drops online libel in cybercrime law.