Philippine proposed changes to cybercrime law criticized

Department of Justice recommends revisions to the country's Cybercrime Law to exclude controversial provisions already punishable under other laws. But Internet lobby group calls proposal "half-baked".

Democracy.NetPH says governance of cyberspace is "piecemeal" and "ill-informed".

Philippines' Department of Justice (DOJ) is planning to propose changes to the country's cybercrime law which will exclude controversial provisions such as online libel. However, an Internet freedom group has described the proposal as "half-baked".

The DOJ will recommend the act excludes online libel as well as the empowerment of governments to shut down Web sites suspected of violating the law, Geronimo Sy, head of the DOJ's cybercrime office said, at the 3rd regional cybercrime conference in Manila, GMA News Online reported on Friday.

The proposed revisions also include the removal of provisions pertaining to child pornography and cybersquatting because these are already "punishable under other laws", Sy said. 

The Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, passed by Philippines' president Benigno Aquino III in September last year, had come under fire for its vague definition of online libel, violation of personal rights, and tough legal penalties  for Internet defamation. The Supreme Court last October suspended the law for 120 days  while it deliberated on whether the legislation violated civil rights, but extended temporary restraining order (TRO) in February until further notice .

The DOJ plans to endorse the new revisions, Philippine Justice Secretary Leila de Lima also said at the same conference.

Sy added the DOJ never really supported the online libel provision of the law, noting the libel provision was "definitely out [of] the enhanced version" of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012. Even if the Philippine High Court eventually rules in favor of other contested provisions of the law, the DOJ will still push through with its proposed changes, he added.

Internet lobbyist says proposal "half baked"

However, Filipino Internet freedom group Democracy.NetPH issued a statement criticizing the government's proposed revisions, stating it was "another short-sighted approach" to the development and growth of the Filipino netizen community.

"How online libel is treated is just one of the many fundamental flaws of [the cybercrime act]. Any half-baked proposal that does not address the fundamentals of information and communications technology should be rejected outright, as it can and wil put people's property and lives at risk," it said.

The group further described the country's governance of cyberspace as "ill-formed" and "piecemeal". Democracy.NetPH called for the government to turn its attention to the spate of cyberattacks on Philippines' infrastructure, which raised doubts on the readiness of defenses and showed the lack of police or military capability to respond to cyberattacks.

New laws should uphold the people's civil and political rights online while addressing how information and communications can be used to improve governance, promote economic development, and protect national security, the group said.