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February 11: Activists Say No to “Cyber Martial Law”, Digital Surveillance in Philippines

“Our fight against Cybercrime Law is not yet over. The Supreme Court still has not decided on its constitutionality or unconstitutionality and while we are waiting for a decision, we will continue fighting for our right to privacy and right to freedom of expression.”

Netizens and activist groups in the Philippines put out the statement of  on February 11 as part of the global action against mass surveillance. They added that the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 or Republic Act 10175, whose constitutionality is being questioned in the Supreme Court, can be used as a tool to justify mass surveillance in society:

The Cybercrime Law, once declared to be implemented, will become a tool for the Philippine government’s mass surveillance. As defenders of Internet freedom, we will be one with the world in the global protest.

The law was questioned a month after its signing in 2012 by media groups and citizens alarmed by provisions in the bill that would seriously undermine human rights and media freedom in the country. They questioned the insertion of provisions on libel and the delegation of power to the government to take down websites and restrict access to computer data systems suspected of violating the law. The bill's restrictions on freedom of expression inspired netizens to give the bill the nickname “cyber martial law.

Fortunately, the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order which prevented the government from implementing the law. But the high court is expected to finally deliberate and decide on the petition before the end of February. This has emboldened netizen groups to launch a series of activities aimed at pressuring the court to junk the “draconian” law.

Below are some photos of the February 11 protest in front of the Supreme Court:

But supporters of the controversial law are urging the lifting of the restraining order so that it can be used to combat serious cybercrimes, especially child pornography.

A flurry of news stories about the proliferation of child pornography in the Philippines suddenly appeared in the face of the controversy. It is unclear whether or not this is by coincidence.

Police claimed that they can nab cyber child porn syndicates if the restraining order on the law is lifted. The president’s spokesman and some senators supported this position.

But the anti-cybercrime law is in fact not needed to arrest child pornography site operators — ample existing legislation can do the job. Authorities can invoke the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act, and most importantly the Anti-Child Pornography Act to swiftly act against suspected criminals.

Apart from reminding Philippine officials that they can maximize the provisions of the anti-child porn law to combat online sexual content involving children, journalist Raïssa Robles warned against the dangers of the anti-cybercrime law

I cannot stress enough the dangers of the Cybercrime Law. Its atrocious lack of safeguards can easily enable rogue cops and government officials to commit crimes of extortion and blackmail using the digital highway.

Poverty eradication is the best solution to child pornography, according to the Manila Times:

…online child pornography is a byproduct of poverty. It is a problem that needs a total government approach. Our officials should find ways of helping the families that have been caught in the web of child pornography get out and rebuild their lives.

Instead of pushing for the implementation of a notorious law, the Philippine government should consider asking Congress to draft a new bill that would address growing cyber security threats without violating the human rights of individuals.

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