The Cyber Chastity Act of 2014
The outlawing of virtual sex was not a particularly ominous moment in national history. Very few knew what the ban meant, not Congress, not the public, certainly not the justices of the High Court whose majority decision committed a quarter of the population to possible prosecution.
The spokespersons of the government claimed the ban only extended to sex online. There was not, it appeared, anything wrong with sex in itself—although the Catholic Right argued otherwise. It was sex in combination with technology that the government opposed. The new law listed among its many prohibitions cybersex as a content-based crime, punishable by 6 years in prison or P200,000 in fines.
It was as if the addition of the word “cyber” to “sex” suddenly and incomprehensibly made sexual activity a criminal act. The law defined cybersex as “the willful engagement, maintenance, control or operation, directly or indirectly, of any lascivious exhibition of sexual organs or sexual activity, with the aid of a computer system, for favor or consideration.”
It did not matter that protestors argued most things sexual were bound to be lascivious, or that most things could be construed as lascivious, sexual or otherwise. The determination of what was lewd was passed on to the nation’s police force.
Conscientious officers began searching Facebook pages and Tumblr accounts, and quickly discovered it was possible to track online film purchases simply by following the status messages of the terminally talkative. “Just bought Wolf of Wall Street off Amazon” led to further cases against common friends who had purchased Schindler’s List, Bridges of Madison County and Titanic. Director Jose Javier Reyes, sharing a clip of his 2000 film Live Show, was also called to explain himself, as well as an 18-year-old girl with a penchant for uploading old episodes of the Japanese cartoon Sailormoon.
In the months that followed the High Court’s ruling, a large number of film trailers were ripped from Vimeo accounts, the Oblation was removed as the banner icon of the University of the Philippines' home page, and service providers began demanding higher fees as buffers against future lawsuits. Online degrees on the sciences were shut down for requiring the study of anatomic texts. Medical journals became limited to print circulation. A John Lennon fan was hauled in to explain why his Facebook page was emblasoned with the image of a naked man wrapped around a Japanese woman. His stuttered explanation of Anne Leibovitz’ work was not well received, neither did the fact that further search revealed reposts of Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball music video.
It became clear that the Internet had become a hunting ground for those who had axes to grind. Conservative groups sued the National Museum for posting images of National Artist Fernando Amorsolo’s pastoral series of half-naked young women traipsing across pastoral landscapes.
The clenching of online law led to a furtherance of local prostitution and an increase in black market pornography. What was slowly becoming the democratization of expression among young artists came to a halt, after online galleries and video accounts were shut down for carrying allegedly lascivious material. Unlike Cannes winner Dante Mendoza and national artist Ben Cabrera, many aspiring artists did not have the financial backing necessary to fight police charges. A short-lived online protest, crushed immediately, had naked activists in Guy Fawkes masks pretending orgies inside computer shops.
Case vs Pope Francis
One year after the law’s implementation, the Philippines made international headlines after Pope Francis tweeted from the Sistine Chapel a photo of Michelangelo’s fresco of Birth of Adam. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines demanded that the government attempt to sue @pontifex himself for the exhibition of sexual organs using a computer system. The Department of Justice declined, explaining that a case in the Vatican would be extraterritorial.
It became common to see yellow crime scene tape looped around Manila's cyber cafés, as well as reports of sudden arrests right before the annual art fair. The editors of Playboy, Esquire and FHM were trundled off to jail, as well as a number of documentary filmmakers with grants to cover the mating principles of wild boars. Several young couples were also targeted, largely due to complaints from informants that one or the other had achieved orgasm during Skype conversations, and in the process had lasciviously exhibited sexual organs for “favor or consideration.”
Very few of the cases reached trial, with lower court judges attempting to regulate the varying moralities of policemen whose investigations often included the words whore and slut. The costs of lawyers and the sheer, unadulterated fear that came with surviving preliminary investigations made self-censorship a natural course of action.
The Catholic Church argued that cybersex between unmarried couples was in violation of God’s will. The fact that procreation was not possible over a computer system in spite of the “spilling of seed” led the archbishop to read a pastoral letter denouncing the nation’s slide into a culture of immorality. Former senator Francisco Tatad went further, with a press conference on how lax implementation of the cybersex law could open the country to charges of genocide.
Complaints reached the Department of Foreign Affairs from seamen who had suddenly discovered their wives were being held in police stations—the policemen arguing remittances could be construed as payment for sex. The crisis led to crowds of women marching before their respective congressional representatives, demanding divorce from men they suspected of getting their favors elsewhere.
Many other overseas workers decided to put primacy on family over nationality. OFWs began applying for immigrant status for entire families. Others with pending cases flew wives and children into other countries to beg asylum, claiming their liberty would be at risk if forced to go home.
In early March, three years after the law’s implementation, a tip through the cybersex hotline led to the arrest of an 18-year-old boy from Makati in the act of masturbating before a webcam while moaning with his naked girlfriend in Cavite. The parents of the boy argued attempted cybersex should carry lesser fines—the defendant after all had been interrupted midway through his brave efforts. The fines were significantly lowered.
It was after the government lost its cases against Skype, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram that right-wing members of Congress began proposing amendments to the Cybercrime Act of 2012. They argued that the current clause on cybersex was too vague and open to interpretation, and suggested more specific crimes that would end the debate on what precisely constituted cybercrime. Although one senator sheepishly admitted he had signed the original law under the presumption cybersex was the same as cyber prostitution, he was voted down by Senator Tito Sotto.
"It's the exact same thing," said the senator. "You could even call it plagiarism."
Sotto explained to his constituents that attaching the word “cyber” to any verb or noun would justify penalties for criminal acts. Cyberprayer and cyberconfessions were permitted as a concession to the Catholic Church.
The new offenses included cybertheater, cyberactivism, cyberdating, cyberclasses, cyberauctions, cyberhugs, cyberliterature, cyberbanking, cybergaming, and, to clear all vagaries with regards to the law, cyberspeech. - Rappler.com
(Editor's note: This speculative fiction essay is inspired by the High Court's ruling that declared as constitutional the outlawing of cybersex within the Cybercrime Act of 2012.) – Rappler.com