Cybercrime law: Yay or nay?

Kim Arveen Patria
Kim Arveen Patria
Yahoo! Southeast Asia Newsroom

The newly approved law aimed at combating cybercrimes has been met with mixed reactions from the public and private sectors.

The Cybercrime Prevention Act is a boon for local firms, particularly in the information technology sector, business groups said.

Other groups meanwhile warned that the new law threatens Filipinos' freedom of expression as well as freedom of information.

But what does the anti-cybercrime law mean for the ordinary Filipino netizen?

Most if not all of the offenses in the law are already crimes punishable under the Revised Penal Code.

Commenting on the new law, Information and Communications Techonology Association of the Philippines (ITAP) President Dondi Mapa said: "It's not a matter of identifying new crimes but only recognizing that existing crimes now happen in a new environment."

The anti-cybercrime act itself notes under its declaration of policy that it is the state's mechanism to adopt "sufficient powers to effectively prevent and combat such offenses by facilitating their detection, investigation, and prosecution."

The law categorizes cybercrimes into three: (1) offenses against the confidentiality, integrity and availability of computer data and systems; (2) computer-related; or (3) content-related offenses.

Illegal access to computer systems, illegal interception of data, data or system interference, as well as misuse or computer systems or data belong in the first category.

Also in the same group is "cyber-squatting," which involves the acquisition of a domain name "in bad faith to profit, mislead, destroy reputation, and deprive others from registering the same."

In case of businesses, these may include the use of a domain name "similar, identical, or confusingly similar" to registered trademarks.

But businesses are not the only targets of "cyber-squatters," as the law also covers the use of personal names "identical or in any way similar with the name of a person other than the registrant."

Computer-related offenses, meanwhile, include the input, alteration or deletion of any computer data with the intent of forgery, fraud or identity theft.

On the other hand, cybersex, defined under the law as the willful engagement in online sexual activities, is included in content-related offenses.

Child pornography is another content-related offense in the law.

The anti-cybercrime act notes that punishment to child pornography committed through a computer system will be one degree higher than the sanctions in the Anti-Child Pornography Act.

Also named a content-related offense is the sending of unsolicited communication which advertise or sell products or services.

Under the new law, firms may only send electronic messages if recipients who grant prior consent or to existing subscribers or customers for service announcements.

Otherwise, the messages should allow recipients to "opt out." The source and intention of the message should also not be disguised.

Meanwhile, the law broadens the coverage of libel to include those "committed through a computer system or any other similar means which may be devised in the future."

This means that online statements against the reputation of an individual or an entity may give rise to libel suits, as if they were published or broadcast.

Among the crimes enumerated in the law, the provision on libel is most hit.

Media watchdog Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility said the inclusion of libel as an act punishable by imprisonment goes against a long-standing UN principle of decriminalizing libel.

"Libel as a criminal offense has been used by past administrations as well as local officials today to harass and intimidate journalists," it noted.

For his part, Senator Teofisto Guingona III called the law "a prior restraint on the principle of the freedom of expression and freedom of speech."

Although broadly welcoming the anti-cybercrime act, ITAP's Mapa meanwhile urged the government to be circumspect in drafting the new law's implementing rules.

"The implementation should be done with due process and without curtailing citizens' rights," Mapa said in a press briefing.