Much has been said about Republic Act 10175, or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, otherwise known as the Cybercrime Law. As in other matters, opinions on the law have been based on fact, supposition, and an oftentimes misguided understanding of the law.
Such confusion is no surprise, considering that the Cybercrime Law is not only new (enacted by Congress in September 2012 and with parts struck down by the Supreme Court in February 2014), it covers an area that relatively few persons are comfortable with, i.e., the intricacies of computers and similar devices and the Internet.
Considering that no person can function in today’s society without even minimal interaction with either a computer or mobile phone, it is important to understand one’s rights and obligations under the Cybercrime Law.
The first question that needs to be addressed is what devices or equipment are covered by the Cybercrime Law. Under the latter, computers as well as mobile phones are covered, as well as any device that performs logical, routing, or storage functions, as well as devices that have data processing and communications capabilities, e.g., iPads and tabs.
The second concept that one must be clear about is what acts are prohibited and punished by the Cybercrime Law. Essentially, a person cannot open or access a computer and its files and programs without permission from the appropriate persons, i.e., the Cybercrime Law prohibits “hacking” into a computer for whatever reason.
Likewise, even if one has authority to access a computer and its files, e.g., one’s office assigns him a laptop to perform his work for the company, the Cybercrime Law punishes anyone who abuses such authority in order to delete, copy, or in any way change or alter the files or programs in the computer, e.g. employees to after resigning from their company maliciously delete files from their office computers.
The Cybercrime Law also forbids the “interception” of any transmission through a computer, e.g., tapping into text messages between mobile phones.
Also interesting is the prohibition on “cyber-squatting” and identity theft, wherein one commits a crime when he or she illegally or improperly acquires a domain name or other information of another person on the Internet for either profit or some ill motive, e.g. assuming the Internet name or other identifying characteristics of another on the Internet in order to paint the real owner of the information in a bad light.
Of particular relevance to most people is the Cybercrime Law’s prohibition on libel, wherein a person who posts defamatory or libelous comments against another on the Internet is punished by a heavier penalty than libel committed in the traditional way, i.e., libelous statements in newspapers.
It is likewise important to be cognizant of the third concept, namely how the Supreme Court, in its 18 February 2014 decision entitled “Jose Jesus M. Disini, Et Al. vs. The Secretary of Justice, Et Al.,” viewed the Cybercrime Law.
In the case, various persons asked the Supreme Court to declare the entire Cybercrime Law unconstitutional, based primarily on the ground that the prohibitions on various acts violated the right to free expression as well as the right against unlawful searches and seizures of property.
The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of most of the Cybercrime Law, but held that the following provisions of the latter were unconstitutional, and so could not be enforced by the government against anybody:
- The Cybercrime Law’s prohibition against “unsolicited commercial communications”, i.e., “spam” messages. According to the Supreme Court, persons can legally send via email or text messaging commercial advertisements whether or not the receiver asks for them, and if a person does not wish to receive such ads, he or she can simply “block” the email addresses or numbers sending the same;
- The Cybercrime Law’s authorization for the government to collect “traffic data in real time”, i.e., for the government to monitor sites and activities on the Internet and collect information on the same when such collection is warranted by “due cause” as determined by law enforcement, i.e., under this provision, law enforcement can decide that a particular email pattern indicates a crime or potential crime, and begin monitoring and maintaining a record of such emails. According to the Supreme Court, this is an unlawful search as prohibited by the Constitution;
- The Cybercrime Law’s authorization for the Department of Justice to block access to any Internet site which “prima facie” violates the Cybercrime Law. According to the Supreme Court, this prohibition was not only also an unconstitutional search, it also violated the freedom of expression by improperly giving government the power to decide who could say what.
Even more interesting was the Supreme Court’s ruling that in cases of libel on the Internet, the person who first posted the defamatory article is liable for libel under the Cybercrime Law. However, those who merely “like”, “repost”, or “share” the defamatory article, or merely react to or comment on it, are not liable for any crime.
No doubt, the Internet is a complicated place for those who do not specialize in it. The Cybercrime Law and Supreme Court decision interpreting the latter have sought to simplify it. Unlike on Facebook, one cannot simply “unlike” the Cybercrime Law and Supreme Court decision on the latter, because these are here to stay regardless of individual opinions.
Hence, the best guides to a layman in comporting himself or herself on the Internet is, like the other aspects of life, are honesty, fairness, and respect. Adhering to these tenets will ensure a truly likeable Internet experience, regardless of the Cybercrime Law.
Atty. Rodrigo G. Moreno earned his Juris Doctor Degree from the Ateneo De Manila University School of Law, and is the Founding Principal of Moreno and Associates, a Law Firm that specializes in Litigation and Labor and Employment Disputes.
Atty. Moreno is also the Vice Chairman and General Counsel of Gun Owners in Action, or Go Act, a Non-Stock, Non-Profit organization that advocates for the right of all responsible citizens to arm themselves, and in a broader sense espouses personal security and safety in the community.
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