The scenes at US and other Western embassies and consulates in the Middle East, Africa, and even Australia speak of an angry Muslim reaction against a blasphemous internet video. While some of the incidents—such as the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi—appeared to be planned and orchestrated, many others were genuine spontaneous outburst of indignation.
The power of the Internet and the social networking spawned to
influence events certainly has once again been tragically affirmed. Both
the producers of the anti-Islam video and the planners of the embassy
attacks may well have thought of the global impact of their acts,
primarily through the web.
It is an irony that the Western technology of the internet and web should be used against its own inventor. However, the global Internet community that it spawned is a diverse one, with no borders, no loyalties, and no leaders. Everyone uses the Internet—governments, NGOs and civil society groups, business, and, yes, even the porn industry, rebels, extremists, criminal and drug cartels, and what-have-you.
The incidents produced a backlash against the video with several government and Google-owned YouTube blocking it in several countries. However, I doubt if these can be effective since interest groups may well post it in other countries or websites. In fact the usual difficulty encountered by policing groups is the nature of the internet itself—it is designed for a multi-pathway, multi-level communications that is supposed to withstand even a major war.
There is a danger of killing the messenger here. As governments realize the power of the internet and its social network, there is a palpable effort to restrict, temporarily deny, or even stop internet access in many countries.
In the Philippines, President Benigno Aquino III has just signed into law Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012. The law is designed to impose specific punishments for internet crimes, including child pornography, Internet spam and online libel. While identifying specific Internet crimes and providing the legal foundation for their prosecution, it remains to be seen if its implementation does not undermine human rights, including the right to information and privacy of users. The particular provision on online libel is particularly worrisome since libel, in the case of other media, became a favorite toy of the rich, the famous, and the politicians to bludgeon journalists and critics.
Crime is crime wherever they occur. However, the unique medium that is the Internet requires a global legal response, not a fragmented or hasty one.
Ramon Casiple is a well-respected political analyst. He is also the Executive Director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform (IPER).
The blogger's views do not represent Yahoo! Southeast Asia's position on the topic or issue being discussed.