The Philippines’ Cybercrime Prevention Act 2012, a law that was designed to curb cybercrimes in the country had been criticized by many even before it took effect. As a testament of how flawed it is, the country’s highest court issued a temporary restraining order to suspend it days after it became a law.
Local media outlets and the Associated Press have reported that the country’s Supreme Court found it wise to freeze its enforcement for 120 days until a review could be done. Justice Secretary Leila de Lima confirmed the order and the Supreme Court will hold sessions to listen to oral arguments from both critics and supporters of the law this coming January.
The Cybercrime Prevention Act 2012 was approved by the country’s President, Benigno Aquino III and it became a full-fledged law last week.
Thousands of people took to the streets to protest against the law during the past weeks, signaling that the laws lack of support from the populace. The protests were also meant to show to the current government that the general provisions of the law violated civil liberties. Law makers who supported the Cybercrime Prevention Act claimed that it was intended to prevent cybercrimes, identity theft, spam, online child pornography, and hacking. But the law also sees online libel as a crime punishable for 12 years. Many people have even voiced their concerns that Facebook “likes” can even be misconstrued as libel.
Protesters include many sectors from the Philippine society like human rights groups, journalists, and civil society groups to name a few. They are concerned that politicians will use the law to jail government critics, or at a lesser degree, silence them.
A few international groups also criticized the law. The Electronic Frontier Foundation called the passage of the law a “dark day for the Philippines”, while Human Rights Watch director Brad Adams demanded from the Supreme Court to “go further by striking down this seriously flawed law.”
The non-governmental organization Reporters Without Borders commented that the Philippine Congress should repeal the law immediately.
“Combating cybercrime is legitimate but this law, which added online defamation to its list of “cybercrimes” at the last moment, poses too much of a threat to freedom of information,” the France-based group said in a statement.
“In the Philippines, libel is a crime punishable by up to four years in prison and a fine of P200 to P6,000 under article 355 of the 1930 Revised Penal Code. That’s bad enough, but under Chapter III Section 8 of Republic Act No. 10175, online defamation is punishable by up to 12 years in prison and a fine of P1 million,” RSF added.
The temporary restraining order issued by the court was not supported by explanations but many believe it is one way for Congress to amend the law, especially the flawed online libel aspect and the authority of the Department of Justice to restrict and block websites without any court order.
Many bloggers and websites carried out their protests online while many Twitter and Facebook users changed their profile photos to a black screen in support of the critics. Hackers also hit a handful of government websites across the country.