Philippines anti-cybercrime law 2.0

15 Jan 2013

Transparent, participatory, and consultative -- big words often used to describe democratic processes. Yet, they are almost always wanting or non-existent in real life. But in the Philippines, often cited for its unpredictable and unruly political system, a Senate bill was conceptualized and drafted based on those very principles.

The proposed legislation called “The Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom” (MCPIF) was filed by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago -- a veteran court judge and international law expert known for her ferocity in fighting to uphold the letter of the law. Santiago's bill can be said to be a better and more informed version of Republic Act (RA) 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act. The latter was signed into law in October 2012 by the same president who abolished the country’s Commission on ICT a couple of years back.

As reforms are often borne out of a crisis, a better crafted and more informed cybercrime bill was instigated by the passage of a much-contested “e-Martial Law,” as dubbed by critics.

Just a few days into the enactment of RA 10175, the Supreme Court, with its newly installed chief justice, was already swamped with appeals (16 petitions, as of this writing) to review and decide on the new law’s constitutionality.

The main bone of contention are the provisions on online libel, real-time monitoring and surveillance of online activities, and the sole power of the Department of Justice to take down a website without the usual court warrant.

The Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) to the implementation of the Cybercrime Law. A hearing of oral arguments is to take place today, January 15. Notwithstanding the solicitor general’s opinion that the takedown clause is unconstitutional, it is still unclear how the government will position itself after the uproar it has witnessed upon the new law’s passage.

The netizens, who were up in arms both online and in the streets, did not just stop at opposing the Cybercrime Law. They crafted the MCPIF, an anti-cybercrime law version 2.0 seeking to replace R.A. 10175.

The story of how the bill came into fruition through crowdsourcing—the first in Philippine legislative history—cannot be more impressive. The jester-in-exile, one of the bill’s crafters, tells about it in a blog post.

A core group of “six ordinary, tech- and internet-savvy citizens” drafted the MCPIF over the course of a few months, and made the whole process open for observation and scrutiny to a loose, informal network of ICT enthusiasts and cyber onlookers over at Facebook, Twitter and Google Docs.

The draft bill was peddled to a number of legislators, but did not receive much interest amidst many other politically charged battles in Congress, like the bills on Reproductive Health (which was finally passed in December) and the Freedom of Information (which has yet to be approved). The bill was finally picked up by Sen. Santiago, who had earlier made public her position about the unconstitutionality of certain provisions of RA 10175.

The MCPIF is a better anti-cybercrime law on several accounts.

It gives the state the mandate to ensure access to the internet, first and foremost, and protection of citizens’ rights in cyberspace, including economic and consumer rights.

ICT is promoted as a tool for more effective governance and for creating an empowered citizenry.

Modern technology is harnessed for national development and exploited to stimulate the economy and encourage competitiveness.

Law enforcement is equipped with the capability to “prevent, detect, and respond to cybercrime,” as well as to protect critical national ICT infrastructure from any possible threats.

Unlike RA 10175 that prioritizes the State’s power to police internet use, the MCPIF focuses on the state’s power to uphold citizens’ rights on cyberspace.

It understands the reality of internet use by Filipinos in its still limited but blossoming state, and works to promote and enhance it.

Finally, the MCPIF was crafted in an interactive, consultative, and collaborative manner—version 2.0 in the truest sense of the concept.

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