MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Hackers incensed by the Philippines’ controversial cybercrime law have attacked government sites that deliver emergency information during natural disasters, an official said Saturday, October 6.
Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte appealed for a stop to the attacks on the websites and social media accounts of the weather service, the earthquake and tsunami monitoring service, and the social welfare agency.
Valte did not disclose the extent of the damage, if any. All the sites she mentioned appeared to be up and working on Saturday afternoon.
“Many people are being affected by this,” she said.
“We are aware of the opposition to the National Cybercrime Prevention Act. There are other ways to express opposition to it,” she said in an appeal broadcast on government radio.
The Philippines sits on the “ring of fire” of tectonic activity that generates earthquakes around the Pacific, and is also regularly hit by typhoons, with the agencies’ online arms providing citizens with disaster data and advice.
Valte reported the attacks a day after Aquino set out a broad defense of the cybercrime law, which seeks to stamp out offenses such as fraud, identity theft, spamming, and child pornography.
But it has sparked a storm of protests from critics who say it will severely curb Internet freedoms and intimidate netizens into self-censorship. Various media outfits, including Rappler, and other concerned groups have protested the cybercrime law. (Watch Rappler’s video statements below.)
One of the law’s most controversial elements mandates much longer jail sentences for people who post defamatory comments online than those who commit libel in traditional media.
It also allows the government to monitor online activities, such as e-mail, video chats and instant messaging, without a warrant, and to close down websites it deems to be involved in criminal activities.
Int’l group’s warning
In a separate statement issued Saturday, the international human rights watchdog Amnesty International denounced the cybercrime law for posing “serious” risks to freedom of expression. The group said the government should review the law.
“The ‘cybercrime’ law rolls back protections for free speech in the Philippines. Under this law, a peaceful posting on the Internet could result in a prison sentence,” said Amnesty International deputy Asia director Isabelle Arradon.
The group noted that the United Nations Human Rights Committee has already pushed for the decriminalization of libel in the Philippines, in line with the freedom of expression clause in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
“Instead of bringing its libel legislation in line with its UN treaty obligations, the Philippines has set the stage for further human rights violations by embedding criminal libel in the ‘cybercrime’ law,” Arradon said.
On the Department of Justice’s power to close down websites and monitor online activities without a warrant, Arradon added: “This violates due process guarantees and will have a chilling effect on freedom of expression.”
A constitutional law expert, Sen Miriam Defensor Santiago has also said the cybercrime law is unconstitutional.
In a speech delivered at Adamson University on October 6, Santiago said the Constitution promotes free speech, as in the provision: “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech.”
“The Cybercrime Act is a law that dangerously limits the growth of the marketplace of ideas. Therefore, it is presumed to be unconstitutional. But in addition, the law is unconstitutional, because it uses language that is overbroad, and language that is too vague. In other words, it violates the overbreadth doctrine and the void for vagueness doctrine in constitutional law,” Santiago said.
She listed the following provisions as “too broad or too vague”:
Section 4, Paragraph 4 – It makes libel a cybercrime, if committed online;
Section 5 – It punishes any person who aids or abets the commission of any cybercrime, even if it is only through Facebook or Twitter;
Section 6 – It adopts the entire Penal Code, if the crime is committed by the use of information technology, but the penalty shall be one degree higher;
Section 7 – It makes the same crime punishable, both under the Penal Code and the cybercrime act; and
Section 19 – It authorizes the Department of Justice to issue an order to restrict access to computer data which is found to be prima facie in violation of the new law
“For these reasons, I humbly predict that the Supreme Court will strike down the cybercrime act as unconstitutional. Otherwise, it will be a black, black day for freedom of speech,” Santiago explained.
The Supreme Court is hearing petitions to have the law declared illegal. Aquino, whose mother led the “people power” revolution that toppled the military-backed Ferdinand Marcos regime in 1986, said he remained committed to freedom of speech.
But he said those freedoms were not unlimited. On Friday, October 5, Aquino even defended the law’s provision against online libel. – Rappler.com, with reports from Agence France-Presse