Internet users are up in arms in the Philippines over a new law that could land them in jail for engaging in “malicious” online activity.
The Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, which takes effect Wednesday, criminalizes identity theft, hacking, spamming, online trafficking and file-sharing. However, a couple of controversial provisions changed what could have been a standard law against illegal online activity into a potential way to gag free speech.
A last-minute addition to the law prohibits online libel “committed through a computer system or any other similar means which may be devised in the future,” which allows a wide range of online activity to be interpreted as libelous. According to lawyers, bloggers, journalists and political activists, the vaguely worded law leaves too much room for interpretation, giving the government unprecedented control of the Internet.
Under the new law, the punishment for libel will not be limited to the original source of the content. So under its wide set of parameters, everyone who shows agreement with and shares the content in question — like tweets, status updates, photos, videos, etc. — could be sued for libel. Penalties include prison time of up to 12 years, and a maximum fine of one million Philippine pesos (roughly $24,000) for each incident.
“Suddenly, I can be punished for expressing critical thought online or allowing my Facebook friends to do the same on my own page,” said Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, who voted against the law. “With this law, even Mark Zuckerberg, the owner of Facebook, can be charged with cyber-libel!”
Detractors accused Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, who is responsible for the last-minute libel provision, of retaliating against the Philippine online community. After bloggers discovered earlier this year two of his speeches contained plagiarized portions, Sotto quickly became the target of jokes through hashtags and memes. He subsequently claimed he was the first Philippine senator to suffer from “cyber-bullying.”
The Supreme Court of the Philippines failed to issue a temporary restraining order for the law, which will be effective immediately.
Do you think Philippine officials can implement the new law effectively? Let us know in the comments.
Image courtesy of Vice Ganda, Twitter.