Philippine cybercrime law under fire, 6th petition filed

Another temporary restraining order against the country's Cybercrime Prevention Act has been filed, as Filipinos protest against its vague definition of online libel and violation of personal rights.

A group of petitioners in Philippines, consisting of lawmakers, bloggers and students, have sought a temporary restraining order (TRO) on the country's implementation of its Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012--making it the sixth filed against the controversial legislation.

According to GMA News Online on Monday, the petition centered on the definition of online libel stated in the law, specifically sections 4, 5 and 6, which the petitioners say are "unconstitutional due to vagueness". The law also curtails "constitutional rights to due process, speech, expression, free press and academic freedom", it stated.

The Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 , signed by President Benigno Aquino III on Sep. 12, aims to fight online pornography, hacking, identity theft and spamming following local law enforcement agencies' complaints over the lack of legal tools to combat cybercrime.

However, the law came with tougher legal penalties for Internet defamation, compared to traditional media.

It also allows authorities to collect data from personal user accounts on social media and listen in on voice and video applications such as Skype, without a warrant. Users who post defamatory comments on Facebook or Twitter, for example, could be sentenced to up 12 years in jail.

Hacktivists take aim
The other five petitions filed with the Philippine Supreme Court , too, noted the law infringes on freedom of expression, due process, equal protection and privacy of communication, a separate report by GMA News Online on Saturday stated.

Senator Teofisto Guingona, the sole opponent when the bill was voted on by the Senate and who filed one of the petitions, told the Supreme Court: "Without a clear definition of the crime of libel and the persons liable, virtually any person can now be charged with a crime--even if you just retweet or comment on an online update or blog post."

Hacktivist group Anonymous Philippines also protested against the cybercrime law last week by striking down several government Web sites in the country, according to The Philippines Star. The hackers replaced the sites with an animated logo and statement against the Cybercrime Act, calling it "the most notorious act ever witnessed in the cyber history of the Philippines".

However, presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda defended the cybercrime law last week. "The Cybercrime Act sought to attach responsibilities in cyberspace...freedom of expression is always recognized but freedom of expression is not absolute," he said. 

Lacierda did say the law could be redefined, and called for critics to submit their concerns to a government panel, which will issue specific definitions of the law, such as who may be prosecuted, by the year's end.

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