THE DOJ (Department of Justice) “Primer on Cybercrime” should be required reading for anyone who’s ever had any doubts about the Aquino administration’s support for the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 (RA10175).
Benigno Aquino III signed the RA 10175 into law on September 12, 2012, but his spokespersons initially blamed Congress for passing it. The Supreme Court stopped its implementation last October upon the filing by journalists’, media advocacy, lawyers’, and human rights groups and individuals of 15 petitions questioning its Constitutionality.
The DOJ released its “Primer” on New Year’s day 2013, supposedly, said Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, as part of “a continuing effort to address the need for education and information of the public, especially the (N)etizens who are or may be victimized by a modern menace.”
The next sentence in the DOJ press release did not follow from that statement—it’s what’s known in logic as a non sequitur—but was also attributed to De Lima. She supposedly said next that “Delivery of justice should be proactive and dynamic.”
Forget that motherhood statement. No one should be under the illusion that the Primer’s real purpose is “to make the Filipino public aware of the nature, history and extent of cybercrime occurrence in the country,” which the DOJ seems to think it has done in its three-page Primer.
The 120- day Temporary Restraining Order issued by the Supreme Court against RA10175 expires on February 6. The Court will hear oral arguments for or against it starting January 15. It should be obvious that the Primer’s real purpose is to whip up public sympathy for the administration position on RA 10175 while it continues to resist the passage of the Freedom of Information bill.
But the opponents of the Act have little to fear, if the Primer’s an indication of the kind of arguments the government will be raising come January 15—assuming, however, that the Supreme Court, which didn’t even have an email account as of October last year, is by now as knowledgeable about cyber space as it should be, and is indeed the defender of liberty and the rational entity some Filipinos still presume it to be.
The DOJ primer makes the absurd claim that 87 percent of all Filipino Internet users have been victimized by cybercrime. It manages to shamelessly say that by arbitrarily describing not only certain acts but also online glitches as crimes. It includes among such “crimes” malware and virus invasions of computers, and something it refers to as “services in social networking site (sic!) like Facebook and Twitter.”
Never mind the vagueness of the latter “crime.” Viruses are technical problems anti-virus programs are already addressing. Most Netizens routinely deal with computer viruses through anti-virus programs. The introduction of viruses into entire computer systems for the purpose of destroying data is criminal for the damage that it can do, but programs to protect data more vital than, say, Juan or Maria’s email account, are already in place among savvy private organizations and corporations and, presumably, such government agencies as DOJ.
The Primer, however, mentions the year 2000 “I Love You” virus as an example of the alleged defenselessness of such systems. That was all of 12 years ago. Anti-virus and other security programs—in many cases integral to operating systems such as Windows—have since been become more sophisticated than the anti-virus and security programs in place at the time. The rapid developments in computer technology are already conventional wisdom and a mantra you’ll hear often. Either the DOJ has found those developments too dizzying to comprehend, or has had to shop around for an argument—any argument no matter how dated—to justify RA 10175.
The DOJ Primer’s definition of cybercrime is similarly revealing. It defines cybercrime as “a crime committed with or through the use of information and communication technologies such as radio, television, cellular phone, computer and network, and other communication device or application (sic).” Bad writing aside, the description refers to radio and television, as well as cellular phones, as “technologies.” These are more properly described as media that utilize communication and information technology.
But what’s even more indicative of the media mindset in the Aquino administration is the inclusion of the old media of radio and television as well as cellular phones among the means through which cybercrime is committed. Apparently, as those opposed to RA 10175 have warned, the DOJ thinks the mandate of the Act extends beyond the Internet and includes radio and television as well as communication via cell phones.
The Primer not only ungrammatically, but also unwittingly, reinforces the argument by Netizens, journalists and free expression and human rights defenders that the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 would restrict free expression not only among bloggers and online journalists, but also everyone else’s right to free expression by subjecting even interpersonal communication through the new media and devices such as cell phones to harsh penalties including imprisonment.
Cybercriminals such as those who use the Net for child pornography do need to be stopped and penalized. But RA 10175 casts such a wide net that even online conversations in chat rooms on, say, governance and other public matters can simply be described by the Department of Justice as libelous, leading to the possible imprisonment of those convicted for as long as ten years (the maximum penalty the Act prescribes for libel online). The Act also sanctions, in violation of the right to privacy, police monitoring of such conversations, and empowers the DOJ to summarily take down, or block access to, “offensive” material.
The DOJ primer’s addition of radio and television among the list of “technologies” through which cybercrimes may be committed validates suspicions among journalist and media advocacy groups that the law will be used even against practitioners in the old media (which, in addition to print, include radio and television) as well as the new (the Internet primarily).
The Aquino administration fired the first salvo against free expression on the very first day of the New Year, the Primer being part of its attempt to win public support for RA 10175. But the administration’s commitment to the defense of the Act is only one of the many forms its antipathy to Article III Section 4 of the Bill of Rights (“No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.”) has taken since it came to power in 2010.
Expect that antipathy to find expression in other ways during the remaining three years of Aquino’s term. But the Aquino administration should itself expect resistance.
Luis V. Teodoro is on Facebook and Twitter
Published in Business World
January 4th, 2013