Manila, Philippines (4E) – As part of a comprehensive new anti-cybercrime and libel law, the Philippine government has passed a new law that prohibited cybersex and explicit online video chat last Tuesday.
President Beningo Aquino III signed the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 that defines cybersex as “the willful engagement, maintenance, control, or operation, directly or indirectly, of any lascivious exhibition of sexual organs or sexual activity, with the aid of a computer system, for favor or consideration.”
The law also makes “illegal access,” “illegal interception of data,” “cybersquatting,” and spam illegal.
One of the law’s instigators, senator Edgardo Angara, said that the act is to assist authorities “detect, investigate and suppress cybercrime such as hacking, cybersex, identity theft, spamming, and child pornography online.”
Violators are to be fined 250,000 Phillippine pesos ($6,000) and face imprisonment of up to six months.
One controversial part of the law, which is now the focus of a heated cyber discussion, is about the act’s anti-libel provision.
A person found guilty of posting libelous comments on Twitter, Facebook, blogs or elsewhere on the internet could now spend up to 12 years in prison under the new act, with no possibility of parole.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a US non-profit organization that works to protect human rights online, is calling the act “a troubling development for free expression.”
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has joined the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) to examine the matter, saying that inclusion of online content in the act could be used to curtail freedom of expression online.
The Centre for Media Freedom and Responsibility said the act exposed “how restrictive rather than expansive is the mindset of the country’s legislators and of Aquino himself” in promoting transparency, press freedom, and free expression.
The National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine National Police are now tasked to create a cybercrime unit to exclusively handle cases involving violations of this act. Cybercrime courts with specially trained judges are to be established to handle the said cases.
The digital activitists are also in uproar about the law’s global reach as stated in the Republic Act’s text “shall have jurisdiction over any violation of the provisions of this Act including any violation committed by a Filipino national regardless of the place of commission… if any of the elements was committed within the Philippines or committed with the use of any computer system wholly or partly situated in the country, or when by such commission any damage is caused to a natural or juridical person who, at the time the offense was committed, was in the Philippines.”