The Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012

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By Faye Hernandez and Roald Moy

Roald Moy

Friday, September 21, 2012


PRESIDENT Aquino recently passed Republic Act No. 10175, also known as the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012. This law has suffered much negative publicity because of its penal provisions. The question today then is this: is the cybercrime law really so bad?

Unfortunately, the answer is yes based on a plain reading of the law.
Under R.A. 10175, the crime of libel now applies online. It includes libel as one of the “cybercrime offenses.”

Essentially, the law provides that libel is criminally punishable and describes it as: “Libel – the unlawful or prohibited act as defined in Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended, committed through a computer system or any other similar means which may be devised in the future.”

Thus, your Facebook status, your Twitter tweets, your comments on Facebook and even those “shares” of stories on Facebook can all be possible basis for a charge of “cyber-libel” as Professor Harry Roque would call it.

In the past, it was questionable whether libel could be committed online through Facebook or other social media methods. In fact, there have been libel cases filed in the Philippines based on Facebook status statements. None have prospered.

Under the current law, such charges would now succeed.

So what then is the effect of the cybercrime law on the everyday Facebook or Twitter user? Well, anyone and everyone are now vulnerable to charges of libel.

If you say something bad against someone even on Facebook, you will likely face charges of libel. This likewise applies if you share a libelous article someone else wrote on your Facebook status or twitter account, since the cybercrime law is worded so broadly (i.e. committed through a computer system or any other similar means which may be devised in the future) that anything you do on a computer can reasonably be subject of a libel suit.

In short, you now have to be very, very careful with what you say online. One careless tweet, one unfortunate share, one hapless status, and you may find yourself on the receiving end of a criminal complaint.
The ones who stand to suffer the most from this law however, are the bloggers.

The arena of the bloggers is online. Bloggers share their thoughts on blogs which is how many of them become famous. Offhand, with the passage of this law, I know of several fashion blogs that could face cyber-libel complaints and will likely have to tone down their blogposts, if not shut down their blogs entirely lest they be charged.

But the worst thing about this law, as pointed out by Professor Harry Roque of the University of the Philippines, is that R.A. 10175 increases the penalty of cyber-libel one degree higher than ordinary libel. To quote Professor Roque in his Rappler.com article:

“This means that electronic libel is now punished with imprisonment from 6 years and one day to up to 12 years, while those convicted for ordinary libel under the RPC are subject to imprisonment only from 6 months and one day to four years and two months. And because parole, a means by which a convict may be spared from actual imprisonment may be granted only to those sentenced to serve a prison term for no more than 6 months and one day, anyone convicted for cyber libel will inevitably serve a prison term.”

One can readily see then that this law will likely have a strong chilling effect on internet users and the media.

Until this law is repealed, amended or declared unconstitutional, it remains valid and existing law. As such, all Internet users, bloggers, Facebook fanatics, Twitter addicts and online media people must be very careful with their online words and acts.

*****

Atty. Kelvin Lee is a consultant of the Siguion Reyna Montecillo & Ongsiako Law Office (www.srmo-law.com). The opinions expressed herein are his own. This column does not constitute legal advice nor does it create a lawyer-client relationship with any party. You can reach Kelvin at kelvinlesterlee@gmail.com

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on September 21, 2012.

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