Philippine Cybercrime Law: E-Martial Law or Good Business?

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The Philippine press has been calling attention to Sept. 21. That day marks the 40th anniversary of Philippine President Ferdinand E. Marcos’ declaring martial law in 1972. Philippine History‘s website explains:

The declaration issued under Proclamation 1081 suspended the civil rights and imposed military authority in the country. Marcos defended the declaration stressing the need for extra powers to quell the rising wave of violence allegedly caused by communists. The emergency rule was also intended to eradicate the roots of rebellion and promote a rapid trend for national development…

…Thirty-thousand opposition figures including Senator Benigno Aquino, journalists, student and labor activists were detained at military compounds under the President’s command (Proclamation 1081 and Martial Law). The army and the Philippine Constabulary seized weapons and disbanded private armies controlled by prominent politicians and other influential figures (Proclamation 1081 and Martial Law). Marcos took control of the legislature and closed the Philippine Congress (Proclamation 1081 and Martial Law). Numerous media outfits were either closed down or operated under tight control (Proclamation 1081 and Martial Law). Marcos also allegedly funnelled millions of the country’s money by placing some of his trusted supporters in strategic economic positions to channel resources to him. Experts call this the “crony capitalism.”

Just last week in the Philippines, the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 was signed into law. And some analysts are viewing it as a declaration of E-martial law.

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This response, according to the independent news site Interaksyon, results from concerns that “certain ‘vague’ provisions in the law, signed by President Aquino last week, could lead to the invasion of netizens’ rights to privacy as well as the takedown of websites without a court warrant.”

In another article analyzing the new law, the news site noted, “a number of provisions which penalize a number of acts which may be committed only by individuals who are deep in cyber-technology. It also provides provisions which may put anybody, computer-savvy or not, in trouble of ending up in prison.”

A member of the Philippine Congress, Rep. Raymond Palatino, criticized the legislation, saying, “There are several provisions in the new Cybercrime Law that post threats to free speech, expression, and the right to privacy of Internet users. It’s equivalent to imposing Martial Law online.”

He noted that proponents argue the law helps protect the Internet by providing specific guidelines on the ” ‘prevention, investigation, suppression and the imposition of penalties’ for cybercrimes, which include illegal access, interception, data and system interference, identity theft, cybersex, ‘cyber-squatting’ or the misleading acquisition of Internet domains, child pornography, and online libel.”

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But Palatino added the law also “flagrantly empowers state forces to collect personal data from users without their knowledge.”

Attorney James Mark Terry Ridon added, “The law may be treading upon unconstitutional waters on the powers being granted to law enforcement agencies, which includes preservation, disclosure, search and seizure and destruction of computer data.”

Meanwhile, the new anti-cybercrime law will strengthen the Philippines’ position as a top location for IT-BPO services, the Business Processing Association of the Philippines (BPAP) has said.

“The Cybercrime Prevention Act will help sustain and enhance investor confidence and strengthen our position as one of the world’s top locations for high-value IT-BPO services,” according to Benedict Hernandez, BPAP president and CEO.

The IT-BPO industry is seen to become a $25-billion industry by 2016 and to employ 1.3 million Filipinos, according to ABS-CBN News.

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The turbulence rising from the legislation’s approval indicates that court challenges may arise in efforts to overturn the law, or sections of it.

America, the World, and Internet Freedom

The legislation echoes similar national and international attempts at cybercrime legislation stretching from the U.S. to the European Union. These include ACTA, PIPA, SOPA, and President Obama’s moves to put the Internet under government control.

The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) is a multi-national treaty for enforcing intellectual property rights. Several nations including the U.S. have signed it, but no signatory has ratified it. Proponents see it as a deterrent to, among other things, pirating copyrighted works. Opponents believe it poses dangers to freedom of expression and privacy.

In 2011 the U.S. House and Senate introduced similar legislation to stop Internet pirating of films, music, and TV shows. The House called it the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), the Senate dubbed theirs the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA). According to The New York Times:

The bills were supported by some of the biggest business lobbies, including the Motion Picture Association of America and the United States Chamber of Commerce. But they were met with widespread protests that included not only free speech advocates but many of the biggest Internet companies.

Both houses delayed attempts at passage.

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Meanwhile, Obama has continued efforts at gaining government control of the Internet.

Last May, Bruce McConnell, a senior cybersecurity counselor with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), reported to a cybersecurity gathering in Washington that DHS will establish “institutions” on the Internet to govern it, including working with other nations to determine what content is “proper.” McConnell led his presentation by explaining that Obama has instructed DHS to protect the Internet because it is a “civilian” agency.

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In July, Obama signed an order giving the executive branch emergency control of America’s communications including the Internet and media outlets. It was the president’s second executive order in five months which binds more citizens’ freedoms under federal government emergency authority.

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Later that month, The U.S. Senate was unable to approve the Cybersecurity Act of 2012, which would strengthen Obama’s attempt to control the Internet, primarily through the departments of Homeland Security (DHS) and Defense. Proponents look to push the bill later this year.