Palace: Cybercrime law will help curb online sex abuse

CRACKDOWN. Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda says the government intends to crack down growing cybersex industry targeting minors.

File photo by AFP

MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang vowed on Saturday, January 18, continued action against the growing cash-for-cybersex scheme in the Philippines that targets mostly minors. (READ: NBI: Online sex trade cottage industry in PH)

In a dzRB interview, Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda said an anti-cybercrime law – passed in September 2012 but blocked by the Supreme Court (SC) a month after – could have helped the country in its efforts to curb online prostitution.

Lacierda disapproved of the country being known as a global source of child pornography.

The government, he said, intends to crack down on "any syndicates that will prowl on our minors."

"That is something that we will really pound the hammer on," he added.

A legal debate over the law's provisions on online libel, the state's power to shut down websites and monitor online activities, and liability on data transmitted is being tackled by the High Court. 

Lacierda described the debate as "a ticklish issue." Telecommunications companies and state officials could hopefully reach an agreement, he said.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) earlier said that its cybercrime unit couldn't go on "full blast," as it awaits the SC ruling. (READ: De Lima: Not enough resources in anti-cybersex effort)

Cybercrime law needed?

The High Tribunal is set to rule on the country's cybercrime law, whose first version was filed in the Philippine Congress 11 years before a law was eventually passed.

Currently, apprehended online traffickers and child pornography pimps are charged in violation of various other Philippine laws. These include: 

While the Cybercrime law adopts the RA 9775 definition of child pornography, it differs in its penal provision tackling the crime. The penalty imposed by the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 for child pornography is one degree higher.

Meanwhile, Senator Loren Legarda said the upsurge in online child pornography – with the Philippines in the midst of the issue – is "another storm brewing in the country."

Legarda in October 2013 filed Senate Bill No. 532 or the Anti-Computer Pornography bill, which penalizes the transmission of "indecent and immoral material" to minors through electronic mail and other electronic media.

The bill also contains provisions that raise questions on liability and who is responsible for data transmitted online – whether it is the source of the material alone or whether it should include those that transmit the material with the knowledge of its character.

Work being done

For its part, the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) has implemented preventive measures given the "threat that these cybercrimes pose especially in developing countries." 

In 2013, the council created the IACAT Cyber Trafficking Unit (ICTU). ICTU serves as the foreign liaison with the United States Homeland Security Investigation, which provides assistance in busting cybercrime syndicates or groups in the Philippines. 

Five successful entrapment and rescue operations since April 2013 led to the capture of 6 alleged cybercriminals now facing charges.

Two April 2013 operations led to the rescue of 8 victims, 5 of them minors. The entrapments were prompted by online advertisements posted by two pimps with Internet pseudonyms "Mhaelaq" and "whoreboy."

In November, ICTU's monitoring tool dubbed "Cyber Trafficking Cop" took notice of an internet website "Play Gurl Bunnies" that appeared to be used for online prostitution. An entrapment led to the rescue of 3 victims, one of them a minor.

IACAT is primarily tasked to tackle human trafficking in the country. It is headed by the DOJ and the Department of Social Welfare and Development, and is composed of 6 other member-agencies. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com