Putting the House in order

On Apr. 10, I attended an e-commerce conference organized by the government and an industry group composed of local e-business companies.

On Apr. 10, I attended an e-commerce conference organized by the government and an industry group composed of local e-business companies. It was a well-attended event and, as usual, it featured government officials who spoke about their current efforts in the field of e-commerce.

The chair of the Commission of Information and Communications Technology (CICT), Ray Anthony Roxas-Chua, presented the event's keynote speech and talked about how the agency is working to push for the passage of proposed laws on data privacy and cybercrime.

Aside from a bill on cybercrime, there's also a bill on data privacy that is pending right now in Congress. The need for such a law was borne out of the requirement imposed by the United States and Europe to protect the integrity and privacy of their data once they're sent to outsourcing countries such as the Philippines.

As I listened to the CICT executive deliver his address, I turned my head to get a comment from Palmer Mallari, the executive officer of the anti-fraud and computer crimes division of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), who was seated beside me.

Mallari, who has been at the forefront of the NBI's campaign against computer-related crimes, willingly obliged but surprised me with his sharp rebuke of what Roxas-Chua, a fellow government official, was saying at that time at the podium.

"It seems all of these are for speech purposes and nothing concrete is being done," he told me. Taken aback, I asked him to elaborate further on the reason why he made the remark.

It turned out that Mallari is peeved at the failure of the CICT to hand over to lawmakers the amendments to the cybercrime bill that were drafted during a seminar held last year. He said it's almost been six months since that draft was submitted to the CICT but the agency has yet to give it to the sponsors of the bill.

Mallari said he, along with other industry stakeholders, labored from July to November last year to finish the enhancements for the proposed law. He said Microsoft even held a concluding event at a posh hotel, and invited representatives from the Council of Europe, for the turnover rites.

This could be the reason, the NBI official said, why nothing is probably happening to the bill. And yet, he was there again at another seminar hearing talks about combating cybercrime and enhancing e-commerce in the country.

I asked Roxas-Chua about this comment and he said a technical working group formed by the CICT is already polishing it for submission to lawmakers. He didn't say, however, as to when that will happen.

Mallari said he and his colleagues at the bureau are almost powerless in prosecuting cybercriminals. Because of the lack of an applicable law, he noted that in most cases, they had to let go of suspects even if the evidence against them were strong.

"Every minute that passes without a law on cybercrime is always an opportunity for them to do what they want," he said.

Law enforcements agencies like the NBI are forced to use old laws on new crimes, such as cybersex and online child trafficking. The country has an E-commerce Law, which was signed into law in June 2000, but this delves mostly on electronic evidence and penalties on common Internet offenses such as hacking and copyright violations.