Bad Cybercrime Law Not Unique to US

A disturbing new law called the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 was recently passed by both houses of the Philippines Congress and signed into law by President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III. It’s disturbing because it theoretically allows criminal prosecution for people making “libelous” comments on Twitter and also for those who retweet them.

This bad new Philippine law is not unique among the democracies of the world. It simply follows a series of bad laws that have been proposed, with some passing, in the United States, for example. Provisions of the Patriot Act, the Obama Administration’s International Strategy for Cyberspace, and the egregious SOPA and PIPA proposals are all part of this pattern.

Sunog!! (Fire!!)
In the Philippines, a predictable firestorm of protest erupted from many voices from the country’s vocal media, some politicians have chimed in, President Aquino has since backtracked, and the law is now under review by the nation’s Supreme Court. The Congress may also amend it before the court would take any action.

I don’t have the time to write the 5 million or so words necessary to cover all the backstories in Philippine politics and constitutional battles. But a key thing to know is that Article III of the country’s constitution (passed in 1987 after the fall of Ronald Reagan’s good friend, the dictator Ferdinand Marcos) contains a Bill of Rights, including the right of free speech, that is quite similar to the Bill of Rights enshrined in the US Constitution.

The Philippines Cybercrime law started out innocently enough, as a lower-house measure to punish illegal hacking into computer systems. It’s critical that the country has strong laws against this type of cybercrime; it must instill global confidence in the security of its IT infrastructure as it continues to build a massive BPO industry (now at $12 billion in revenue and 500,000+ employees). Provisions against cybersex were also included in the original version of the bill.

But onerous language against alleged libel and its criminalization was inserted into the bill once it reached the Senate. An original House sponsor later admitted she didn’t read the amended version, and Aquino signed it into law, apparently not reading it either or not fully considering its consequences.

I admire the Philippines struggle to achieve a more fair-minded democracy, in a region in which it’s surrounded by Communists, religious and secular authoritarians, and a neighbor that metes out stiff prison sentences for joking about its king.

Perhaps as the country’s politicians sort out this Cybercrime mess in their own unique, circuitous, sometimes entertaining way, they can set an example that their American counterparts can follow.

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