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Cyberycrime Law Still Under Fire; Hacktivism, Threat to National Security?

Is it the cyber rage or is it the Cybercrime Law itself that has caught the executive department off guard?

After the recent hacking of various government websites, including that of the Office of the President, and a series of protests in the past couple of days, Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda reiterated that Constitutional guarantees are in place to safeguard liberties amidst the implementation of the Cybercrime Law on October 3, 2012.

Spokesperson Lacierda further said during a press briefing that, “People are spreading fear of this law but they should also remember the power of the Constitution, the rights that it guarantees. That should be our safe harbor; that should be our refuge.”

Fr. Joaquin Bernas, in his article “What’s frightening about the cybercrime law?,” published in his column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, pointed out certain civil liberties affected by RA10175 such as “freedom of expression, freedom of communication, and the privacy of communication but also with the equally sacred right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against government intrusion.”

While Fr. Bernas also said that delicate civil liberties encompassed by the Cybercrime Law were the same ones attacked during the martial law, and usually suppressed by “governments that have dark intentions,” the Palace sought to downplay the public’s allegation of e-martial law by saying that the government hasn’t suppressed public efforts to express their concerns.

Spokesperson Lacierda, however, agreed with Fr. Bernas when the latter contended that the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) cannot cure the deficiencies of the law for it is “bound by the law itself.” The IRR shall only provide the guidelines for its enforcement and shall not limit all the discretionary powers vested upon executive arms expected to carry out the mandates of the law.

The IRR, by no means, shall change the questionable provisions of the Cybercrime Law raised by Fr. Bernas as follows: (1) Implementation of penalties one degree higher than that prescribed by the Revised Penal Code (RPC), as amended, and special laws (Section 6); (2) Cybercrime prosecution shall not prejudice any liability arising from violating provisions under the RPC, as amended, and special laws (Section 7); and (3) Executive prerogative, specifically by the Department of Justice, to restrict or block access to certain computer data violative of the Cybercrime law upon prima facie evidence (Section 19).

In the same way, it is not likely to alter the introduction of electronic libel punishable one degree higher than the penalty for libel prescribed by the RPC which suggests one degree higher than the minimum and medium periods of prision correccional. Online libel offenders, as a result, may suffer from criminal punishment under prision mayor.

Senator Edgardo Angara, the sponsor of the Cybercrime Prevention Law, in defense of the penalties provided by the RA 10175, claimed that the aggravated punishment was brought about by the global reach of the Internet saying, “With one click, you can send it all over the world.”

With the overwhelming protests, however, Senator Angara expressed his interest to amend questionable provisions of the RA10175 such as the following: (1) the “takedown provision” which requires no probable cause and no court order for the DOJ to restrict or block access to computer data violative of the cybercrime law upon prima facie evidence; and (2) the penalty for online libel one degree higher than the RPC provision. He seeks to harmonize the penalty for online libel with the one prescribed by the RPC, and amend the takedown provision.

Meanwhile, Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Leila De Lima assured the public that they shall deal with the drafting of the IRR prudently along with the Department of Interior and Local Government and the Department of Science and Technology.

DOJ Secretary De Lima also hopes that the IRR could shed light on the questionable provisions of the Cybercrime Law, and that law enforcement authorities shall be selective so as to address “palpable criminal acts conducted or committed through information and communication technology.”

Government websites hacking tagged as “threat to national security”

Although the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) maintained that the Official Website of the NBI was not hacked, and was only shut down by the agency to check whether or not the system was hacked, it seems as if the agency has been startled by the series of hacking activities against government websites.

Special Investigator Joey Narciso of NBI Computer Crimes Division said, “The threats are now a national security concern because the targets are leading government agencies.”

Anonymous Philippines hacked several government websites and warned the government for hacking more state websites as a protest to the Cybercrime Law. Apparently, the NBI responded by qualifying such warning as “threat to national security,” and calling some back up from the international community.

Special Investigator Narciso, in an interview with Inquirer News, said, “When it comes to cybercrime investigation, we would have to coordinate with the law enforcement agencies abroad, this is international cooperation.” By virtue of the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, the NBI anticipates for the cooperation of law enforcement agencies abroad to properly address the threats.

NBI Computer Crimes Division has been in full force against the so called “hacktivists” upon the mandate of DOJ Secretary De Lima who said, “I have a standing directive to NBI to hunt down hackers. There’s now a team working on it in coordination with intel units of other investigative offices.” DOJ Secretary De Lima strongly opposed the unlawful act of hacking government websites to question legislative intent of certain provisions in the Cybercrime Law.

Among the many government websites hacked by Anonymous Philippines are the following: Bureau of Internal Revenue, Central Bank of the Philippines, Department of Health, Office of the President, Philippine Congress, Philippine Information Agency, Philippine National Police, and Philippine Senate.

As of October 4, 2012, the NBI has identified 20 “hacktivitists” who have defaced government websites during the series of hacking attacks. According to an Inquirer News report, Special Investigator Narciso said the agency has been monitoring “Anonymous Occupy Philippines, Prisoner, Private X, Sibusabo, and others.”