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Cybercrime Prevention Act Could Curtail Internet Freedom in the Philippines
Freedom House strongly condemns the passage of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, which went into effect on October 3, and urges the government to heed the calls of concerned netizens and repeal several provisions in the bill that could curtail Internet freedom.
While the Cybercrime Prevention Act addresses issues relating to online crime, the provisions of the law that extend to libel and “other offenses” violate established global norms of free expression. The Philippines’ existing libel law is vague, criminalizing any speech deemed “critical”, including speech criticizing the government or other authorities. The Cybercrime Prevention Act extends this law to cover online speech with a maximum penalty of 12 years – double the maximum penalty for libel in traditional media – and leaves open the possibility of authors facing ‘double punishment’ for libel if their work appears both online and in print.
Because of the law’s vague wording, anyone who shares offending content could end up behind bars, even if he or she did not write it. Merely a Facebook "Like" could be construed as libel under the Cybercrime Prevention Act. The law also establishes that the Department of Justice can block websites that contain criminal content without in-depth or third party review, and that it can monitor online communications traffic without a court-ordered warrant.
Several appeals have been filed with the Filipino Supreme Court and Freedom House urges the government to overturn these worrisome provisions of the law. Freedom House recognizes the need to prevent online crimes but believes that this act is a gross overreach that severely jeopardizes the Philippines’ status as a country with a free Internet. This law could lead to widespread self-censorship by individuals and online platforms and cause a chill in what has been a vibrant space for free expression.
The Philippines has previously been ranked as a regional leader on Internet freedom issues: the country was ranked Free in Freedom House’s Freedom on the Net 2012 report, which was compiled before this law was enacted. The government has no prior record of stifling online expression, blocking websites for political reasons, or pressuring journalists and bloggers to delete content critical of the authorities – all practices that could potentially be reversed with the enforcement of this troubling law.