Cybercrime law: Demonizing technology

Teofisto Guingona III
With this law, even Mark Zuckerberg, the owner of Facebook, can be charged with cyber-libel!

I own a Facebook page where people are welcome to make comments, positive or negative. I also own a public Twitter account where my views are published for everyone to see.

If any of my own thoughts or the thoughts expressed by people on these accounts that I own happens to offend someone, I can now be charged for libel under the newly enacted Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012. Suddenly, I can be punished for expressing critical thought online or allowing my Facebook friends to do the same on my own page.

With this law, even Mark Zuckerberg, the owner of Facebook, can be charged with cyber-libel!

A Cybercrime Prevention Act is necessary, but must not be oppressive.

Republic Act 10175 is oppressive and dangerous. It demonizes the computer user and extends its tentacles to a computer user’s freedom of expression and speech. In an age when decriminalization of libel is the trend, this law makes a fatal step back, toward the vault of archaic policies that cannot be made to apply to the modern man operating in a modern world.

Let me just point out the fact that we need a Cybercrime Prevention Act. Except for certain problematic provisions, this law is necessary. That’s why it is unfortunate that the overly vague and oppressive provision on libel was inserted into the law at the last minute.

Why am I against the libel provisions of the law?

1. Vague: No limitations against liability

First, without a clear definition of the crime of libel and the persons liable, virtually any person can now be charged with a crime. Included in the potential list of accused are:

Persons, adult or child, who tweet criticisms against politicians, actors and actresses, and other persons.
Persons who post Facebook status updates and those who comment on these posts.
Persons who share Facebook posts and those who re-tweet messages on Twitter.
Bloggers, Facebook accounts owners, and other online account owners who open their sites for comments from other people.

The online community thrives on these interactions. By not defining the crime of libel, and by not providing for exceptions to the presumption that a defamatory accusation is malicious, the obvious result would be a widespread and immediate gag on computer users faced with a law that has no limitations against liability. Surely, this is not a vision of a free and democratic environment.

2. Unfair: Cyber-libel gets graver punishment than libel in traditional media

The provision on cyberlibel demonizes technology and sends the message that the computer user is more evil than those who write on traditional media.

While libel committed through traditional print media is punishable by up to 4 years and two months of imprisonment, online libel is punishable by a shocking 12-year imprisonment period.

3. Oppressive: You can now be charged with two counts of libel—double jeopardy

The law is a loud warning against those who wish to exercise their constitutional freedom of speech and expression–because now, you can be prosecuted for both libel under the Revised Penal Code, and libel under the Cybercrime Prevention Act.

This is double jeopardy, and if we look at our 1987 Constitution, we are immediately reminded that we still have the right to be protected against this.

We must strike the void provisions.

A good law like the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 cannot be paralyzed by questionably dangerous provisions. The only remedy is to strike the void provisions.

The provisions on libel in the Cybercrime Prevention Act are dangerous expressions of archaic policies. As a result, any computer user will now live in fear knowing that his fair but critical comments, when published online, might expose him to a charge of libel.

For a state to truly gag a citizen, it is not necessary that we convict for expressing his thoughts. It is enough that we scare him from speaking up. I feel that a democratic government flourishes when its citizens are not left to cower in the sidelines because of fear, afraid to speak up, and later, afraid to even think against its own government.

These provisions on cyber-libel will just curtail a fundamental principle of good governance.

The last time I checked, we were still a democracy—we want empowered citizens, not scared and passive ones. –


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