2:13pm | 9 October 2012 | by Michael Skinner
The Filipino Supreme Court today issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the newly enacted Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012. The TRO comes on the heels of large scale demonstrations, Blackout Tuesday, both online and offline from citizens and journalists who claim the new law is tantamount to a new “cyber authoritarianism.” Access joined with Philippine Internet Freedom Alliance (PIFA.ph) in calling on lawmakers to repeal the law, and on Tuesday delivered an open letter to the government calling on them to junk the law. This letter was backed by the 13,000 of people from over 100 countries who signed a petition urging for the law to be taken off the books.
In light of the recent decision, Access applauds the Supreme Court in its decision to stay the law while it determines whether it violates civil liberties. We will continue to push lawmakers to repeal the law, or at the very least craft significant amendments that protect the rights of Filipinos.
As PIFA stated in response to the court’s ruling, “PIFA invites all netizens to consistently participate in its efforts to pressure our legislators to repeal RA 10175. Let us make them know that we will not elect, tolerate, nor bow down to anyone who has no qualms in trampling upon our basic human rights offline and online.”
As it stands now, the Supreme Court’s suspension will last 120 days while critics gather the evidence needed for oral arguments on January. The government on the other hand will have 10 to 15 days to respond to the petitions with its position. This will be a test for President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III who was supportive of the law and of the controversial libel provision. Though the court has issued the temporary order, the fate of the law and of the Filipino citizens still remains in the air.
The law, which was modeled on provisions from the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime, falls short of its predecessor due to weak and sometimes vague language. Even lawmakers who signed the bill are now having doubts, indicating that review and amendments are be necessary.
At the heart of the debate is the application to the country’s stringent libel laws to digital communications. Facebook posts, emails, and even text messages are subject to scrutiny under the new legislation. Supporters claim that these new provisions will help combat cyber bullying, but critics suggest that the laws could be used to suppress political dissent by ushering in a new era of “cyber authoritarianism”.
In order to enforce these new rules online, the law also allows law enforcement officers to collect and review Internet traffic data on users effectively creating a mechanism for warrantless surveillance of the entire internet population. Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center (CICC) Chair Geronimo Sy likened the surveillance to an “online version of CCTV,” and stressed that the government would only access the data to prosecute “bad elements”.
Thousands of citizens and journalists, as well as international organizations, have protested and petitioned the Supreme Court to strike down the law. Activists organized “Blackout Tuesday” the same day the SC handed down the TRO. While thousands of protesters hit the streets in front of the Filipino Supreme Court, thousands more mobilized an online response. Websites, social media profiles and blogs all went black on Tuesday in a showing of solidarity, much like the SOPA and PIPA protests online in the US earlier this year. “Considering how much there has been a public outcry about this law…It is judicious of the judiciary to issue a Temporary Restraining Order, ” Said Human Rights Commissioner Coco Quisumbing. The widespread response has had an immediate effect on lawmakers who are seeking to distance themselves from the controversial law.
Access will continue to work with PIFA and other organizations to repeal this law. While today’s ruling is a step in the right direction, the court could still come back and allow the law to come into effect. That is why we must be vigilant in pressuring the Filipino government to stand up for the rights of it’s citizens and scarp this law for good.