Philippines mulls over cybercrime law

Government must pass anti-cybercrime bill to prevent the Philippines from becoming a haven for hackers and child pornographers, say observers.
Written by Joel D. Pinaroc, Contributor

PHILIPPINES--The government is taking its time passing an anti-cybercrime law, which observers say, will safeguard the country from becoming a haven for crimes such as phishing or identity theft, and child pornography and prostitution.

According to local media reports, congressman and anti-cybercrime advocate Joseph Santiago, said Congress has yet to act on a "hanging" bill aimed at curbing cybercrime in the Philippines. Santiago said the bill was submitted for approval as early as two years ago.

The lawmaker, who was formerly chief of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), said there have been numerous reports of emerging cybercrimes emanating from the country, particularly, cybersex and child trafficking rings.

Santiago, who also chairs a congressional committee on information technology, said provisions on the existing E-Commerce Law--implemented in 2000--may not be enough to address these emerging crybercrimes.

Republic Act No. 8792, or the country's E-Commerce Law, focuses more on electronic evidence and common online crimes such as hacking and copyright violations.

However, an umbrella law covering more nefarious crimes such as cybersex and child pornography, is needed to complement the existing law, Santiago said.

Threat of phishing

In an advisory released last month, computer security vendor Trend Micro confirmed several phishing attacks had occurred in the Philippines, mainly against major banks and credit card companies including the United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB).
In a note posted on its official blog site, Trend Micro said its security experts retrieved e-mail messages from the UCPB which were found to be suspicious and contained bogus warnings of "unauthorized attempts" to log into its customers' online accounts.
The security company said the messages contained information on a supposed partnership between the bank and a foreign outsourcing services provider, but the links contained in the e-mail "aimed to collect banking credentials from unwitting users".
Trend Micro reported that similar phishing cases have been reported by the Bank of the Philippine Islands and Equitable PCI Bank in February, but noted that due to the Philippines' comparatively small credit card user base, the problem is not as widespread as other countries.

Local reports further quoted the lawmaker as saying there have been difficulties in passing an integrated anti-cybercrime bill, as other lawmakers also have proposals that are similar.

In fact, Santiago added that there is a pending bill that deals specifically with cybersex crimes.

The call for an anti-cybercrime law has also won support from private sector groups, particularly the Philippine Computer Emergency Response Team (PH-CERT), and numerous industry organizations in the field of security and software development.

Alber Dela Cruz, chief of PH-CERT in recent media interviews, disclosed that the industry body is actively collecting inputs from industry players and soliciting support for Congress to pass the anti-cybercrime law.

Government taskforce
The government is not necessarily lying idle, either. In fact, it is answering the call for action and has created a taskforce to act against online crimes.

The Philippine Department of Justice (DoJ) last month created a team which it said, will assume various actions against cybercrimes, ranging from prosecution to imposing appropriate sanctions against those who will be convicted.

According to the DoJ, the taskforce will be headed by State Prosecutor Geronimo Sy and will also work with other government agencies, such as the National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine National Police.

The local police have been documenting reported cybersex crimes and child pornography, which in most cases, had involved foreign nationals using the country as a base of operations.

The DoJ said it will ask the government to create "specialized" courts to prosecute cases its new taskforce will present.

The agency further added that the anti-cybercrime team will enlist the help of local experts as well as the Council of Europe, which have agreed to lend its expertise on fighting cybercrimes.

Private sector players are also pitching in, particularly Microsoft Philippines, which last month signed an agreement with the government to join efforts against online crimes.

Joel D. Pinaroc is a freelance IT writer based in the Philippines.

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