While we laud the intent of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III to combat child pornography, identity theft, computer related forgery and other offenses using the said law; we are alarmed that some its provisions such as its anti-libel clause are alarmingly repressive in nature. We believe the law's provision on libel is ill-conceived and will only serve to limit the public's use of the internet as a venue for airing their opinions, views, and even dissent.
First, the law's lack of definition of who can commit "online libel" serves as an unwarranted infringement on the public's use of the internet. In comparison to print or broadcast media where reporters, writers, or editors and publishers may be sued for libel, the cybercrime law does not take into consideration the terrain and intricacies of cyberspace. The lack of editorial restraint in cyberspace means that it is the people who comment or simply share an allegedly libelous statement on popular social networking sites who will become the primary targets of the law.
Second, the law fails to consider that material posted and published online may have been posted under a used or false identity or may have been obtained through hacking another person's files or computer. This would lead to an absurd scenario wherein a person who may have been victimized by identity theft or hacking may also succumb to harassment via the libel provision of the law.
Third, the law is also open to interpretation as to whether one can compel the courts to obtain the internet service provider (ISP) or compel certain social media sites to divulge the identity of individuals who posted statements considered libelous. If so, it would serve as a chilling effect not only on the media but on the public in general. It is clear that the law will not only limit free speech but also invade people's privacy.
Lastly, the law's anti-libel clause, which was exposed as a late insertion, has been merely lifted from the anti-libel provision as provided for in the Revised Penal Code. As a result, the cybercrime prevention law has successfully expanded the pernicious effect of the antiquated and draconian anti-libel provision into the realm of cyberspace. This was introduced by the cut-and-paste master, Senator Vicente Sotto III, who warned his online critics who have accused him of plagiarism that they would be held liable under the said law.
Senator Sotto's statement clearly exposed the dangers that the law's controversial provisions pose to the public. It is clear at the onset that ordinary citizens who have posted comments or opinions critical of public officials will be at the mercy of this law. The law can also be abused by erring public officials to discourage criticism, hold back the expression of diverging perspectives and/or completely silence dissent in the cyberworld.
As such, Akbayan calls on President Aquino to address the infirmities of the law by inviting media people and organizations, social movements and civil society groups to participate in the crafting of the law's implementing rules and regulations (IRR) to negate the law's repressive provisions and safeguard the rights and welfare of internet users. The Aquino government must swiftly act to salvage this law or otherwise the people will have no option left but to bring this to court. While we support the government's effort to create a conducive environment for the development of information and communications technology free from misuse and abuse, this should not be done at the expense of the public losing their right to free speech provided for by a free and democratic space, whether in the physical world or cyberspace.
President Aquino of all people knows the dangers posed by draconian measures. Being the son of democracy icons, he is also no stranger to people power which of late has been powered by the people's creative use of social networks and the cyberspace to advance their democratic aspirations and which eventually led to freedom for peoples all over the world.
President Aquino must not let an otherwise good-intentioned law become tainted by a few provisions inspired by a dictatorial past.