On the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 (Republic Act No. 10175)

Computer Professionals' Union
28 September 2012

The Aquino Administration recently signed RA 10175 to primarily “protect and safeguard the integrity of computer, computer and communications systems, networks, and databases and the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of information and data stored therein, from all forms of misuse, abuse, and illegal access”. It has fallen short in “providing an environment conducive to … free, easy and intelligible access to exchange and/or delivery of information”. Netizens criticized its provisions giving stricter punishment to libel committed online, among others. 
Atty. Mel Sta. Maria of News5 has written two articles explaining how the new law will affect our freedom of expression [1] and a warning on its “Takedown Clause [2]”. “We want empowered citizens, not scared and passive ones [3]” according to Sen. Teofisto Guigona III but the current Cybercrime Act is “oppressive and dangerous [3]”.
In the age of social network and advance information and communications technology, it is worrisome that such a law is passed in the Philippine Congress. A senator admitted to not knowing insertions after the deliberation of the Bill in the Senate. 
Reality Distortion Field
We will particularly focus on Sec 4 a and b of the Act on the next paragraphs. 
Section 4 (a) defines offenses against confidentiality, integrity and availability of computer data and systems. Private entities consider protection and safeguard to the listed offenses as routine security tasks. The Law adds a broken tool to current computer security toolbox used by computer professionals. It opened new mechanisms for misinterpretations (intentional or not) by State authorities wherein innocent computer users and hackers can be tagged to crimes and punished without due process. 
It is indeed illegal to intercept non-public computer data transmission without right. Conversations using gadgets are transmitted in one of the many forms of computer data and should be always kept private. Maybe in an act of good faith, the law attempts to defy the laws of physics. Section 4 (a) (2) punishes illegal interception of electromagnetic emissions from a computer system! Gadgets give off electromagnetic emissions or radiation. There are even researches that radiation causes ailments. We are intercepting electromagnet emissions everyday! While the law specifically punishes interception using technical means, this can be abused by State authorities. Although, there is a practical way such that we can lessen interception of electromagnetic emission. We can give aluminum foils to our friends and ask them to wrap their gadgets with it. 
Intelligence agencies have been known to initiate active surveillance and interception of computer data transmission on their perceived enemies. It is doubtful that the Department of Justice, National Bureau of Investigation and other implementing agencies will go after the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) and other similar State Intelligence units. Mrs. Arroyo should start building a case against ISAFP for the wiretapped Hello Garci conversation. 
A user with a gadget infected with a virus can be charged of reckless “introduction or transmission of viruses” on Section 4 (a) (3).  
For computer professionals and hackers working with information security and network administration our sets of tools can be misinterpreted as tools to commit cybercrime. It should be noted that crackers (bad hackers) and hackers almost use the same set of tools. We can be punished for “misuse of devices” in Section 4 (a) (5) (I) (aa).
Computer technicians are not spared. They should start asking waivers if they repair, reformat, and troubleshoot computer systems and networks. They could be punished for “system interference” in Section 4 (a) (4). 
“Unsolicited commercial communication” is now an offense, perhaps, the most noteworthy part of the law. It remains to be seen if agencies can actually jail spammers. How will they punish culprits outside the country?
Transparency in Governance
Online libel is a huge obstacle thrown suddenly to efforts of this Administration for transparency in governance. Social media users are good allies of the campaign.  Atty. Santa Maria delivers a clear warning “the Cybercrime law has clearly put the spectre of imprisonment as an imminent threat to our free-wheeling bloggers, commentators, repliers and others who write in the internet [1].”
What will happen to efforts of non-governmental organizations in support of transparency in governance if they can be charged with libel?
Our Action
We need safeguards against abuses in the cyberspace. However, these safeguards should ensure protection of our fundamental rights to free expression granted by the Constitution. 
  1. Atty. Mel Sta. Maria (2012). The Cybercrime Law and How It Affects Your Freedom of Expression. Retrieved from http://www.interaksyon.com/article/43328/analysis--the-cybercrime-law-an...
  2. Atty. Mel Sta. Maria. (2012), Beware the Cybercrime Law's Section 19 - the “Takedown Clause”. Retrieved from http://www.interaksyon.com/infotech/opinion-beware-the-cybercrime-laws-s....
  3. Sen. Teofisto Guingona III. Cybercrime law: Demonizing technology. Retrieved from http://www.rappler.com/thought-leaders/13041-gagging-the-computer-user-c...
  4. Republic Act No. 10175. Retrieved from http://www.gov.ph/2012/09/12/republic-act-no-10175
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