Cybercrimes law: not just on sex or fraud but on libel-A A +A
Thursday, September 20, 2012
[Related articles: Will limits on media work on internet libel?, July 21, 2012; Why public officials shouldn’t sue for libel, Aug. 18, 2012; Why public officials sue for libel, May 12, 2012]
Journalists find it ironic coincidence that President Aquino signed the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 last Sept. 12, less than 10 days before the 40th anniversary of martial law.
Sarcasm isn’t subtle at all to local media who are celebrating Cebu Press Freedom Week (Sept. 16-22) as effects of Republic Act 10175 are made clearer.
Nini B. Cabaero, Sun.Star website chief, in her newspaper column “Beyond 30” last Sept. 18, calls it discomfiting, a bit understated response to a troubling development. She worries that the provision on libel in the cybercrime law could “hog” the discussion over its other important provisions.
Terrifying is that everyone who uses the computer is suddenly, with no warning, covered by the law on libel under a provision that is archaic and harsh.
What the cybercrime law does on anyone who writes online, including journalists whose work is also accessible on the web:
-- It broadens scope of libel to include the internet, even amid clamor for review of libel law under the Revised Penal Code (RPC), which the United Nations Human Rights Council calls “excessive” and, it argues, must be decriminalized.
-- It raises the penalty for libel by one degree when the “offensive” material is published in the internet.
-- It expands jurisdiction of the Regional Trial Court “to include any (internet) violation committed by a Filipino national regardless of the place of commission.”
-- It allows real-time collection of traffic data and, by court warrant, all other data to be collected or seized which, in a way, might lead to shutdown of the blog or website.
Those arguing for the law will cite its merit of punishing acts from illegal access to a computer system to illegal interception of data computer-related forgery or fraud or identity theft and cybersex and child pornography.
R.A. 10175 fills a vacuum of law on new techology which is as awesome as it is lethal.
Abuse in the internet, such as plain defamation, cyber bullying, and inciting people’s passion, needs to be regulated but hosing on it with a provision lifted from the Revised Penal Code, with no consideration of internet use nuances, is reckless and dangerous.
While R.A. 10175 says internet libel is as defined in Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code “committed through a computer system or any similar means that may be devised in the future,” implications on free speech, penalty and jurisdiction were apparently not considered by lawmakers.
Why the one-degree-higher penalty when libel is committed through internet? Most news stories and opinion columns in the paper are also published online. A complainant would now use cybercrime law instead of the penal code to get the heavier penalty.
The same Congress that explored the idea of decriminalizing libel has just produced a law that perpetuates what National Union for Journalists (NUJP) calls an “antiquated law” and makes it even more “draconian.”
There are more internet users than writers of readers’ views and letters-to-the-editor in newspapers. Given Facebook and Twitter speed, writers, with little or not much thought, and no editor to filter “offensive” material, netizens are more prone to commit libel.
An online editor once said it’s difficult to delete slander in viewers’ comments. But can it be done? Wouldn’t it be odd that defamation isn’t allowed in print while it’s “go” on the web? Particularly disturbing to those who write for Sun.Star the newspaper and Sun.Star Online.
There were complaints filed before R.A. 10175 but their basis was the penal code whose Art. 355 provides that libel may be committed by means “similar” to “writing, printing, lithography, engraving, radio, phonograph, painting, theatrical exhibition.”
Prosecutors went to court using that law.
Now there’s the cybercrime law that specifies “the unlawful or prohibited acts of libel as defined in Art. 355 of the Revised Penal Code” and slaps with a stiffer penalty.
The prohibition may bring some self-restraint in internet writing, often hasty and harsh with no editing. But implications for mainstream journalists are vexing. Aside from the higher penalty, there’s the threat of being sued in the RTC of any place where any element of libel is committed.
Doesn’t that multiply the places where a complaint can be filed? It totally overhauls the rule on jurisdiction provided by the penal code which, as it is, already harasses the journalist when the lawsuit is initiated in a province or city outside principal office of business of the newspaper or broadcast station.
The possibility of a website or blog being shut down raises a specter as fearsome as that of a newspaper or broadcast station being padlocked for libelous material in it.
Can cyber police, which will be organized by Department of Justice, suppress an internet outlet? And will they be fast enough to collect “offensive” data?
Complainants against broadcast stations even find it tough to obtain authenticated versions of broadcast material. How tougher can it be on the web when the libel or slander can be erased in seconds?
It’s new ground to be sure, given the internet’s peculiarities. Yet even this early, the cybercrime law on libel is likely to face a host of problems, not just on constitutional ground of free speech and press and due process but on practical demands of enforcement.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on September 21, 2012.