On Online libel of the CyberCrime law: Writing Well is the Best Defense

There has been a lot of anxious speculation in social media and the blogsphere about the possible chilling effect of the new cybercrime law (officially the “Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012”, Republic Act No. 10175) on the freedom enjoyed by netizens in cyberspace. All this hand-wringing is premature. A cursory reading of the law will reveal it to be simply an updated version of a hodge-podge of existing laws.

For instance, libel has always been a crime, whether committed online or the old-fashioned, printed way. Thus, it is Article 353 of the Penal Code that defines libel as “a public and malicious imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or nay act, omission, condition, status or circumstance tending to cause the dishonor, discredit or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one already dead. “ What the new cybercrime law simply does is make reference to the commission of libel through an electronic medium or Libel 2.0.

The new law also clearly defines offenses which have heretofore been only vaguely understood by the majority who mainly live their lives offline. These include “Cybersex”, “Cyber-squatting” and “Unsolicited Commercial Communications”, among others. Those who have been skirting the edge of the law by engaging in nefarious activities and getting away with it due to the virtual nature of their acts should beware. They may now be brought to justice before a brick-and-mortar court.

And there are sufficient safeguards to ensure that the law-enforcement authorities (in this case the PNP and the NBI) do not go overboard in going after cybercriminals. They need a court warrant (from the Regional Trial Courts) to interdict and gather admissible evidence of cybercriminal activities. Of course, there is no ironclad guarantee against abuse. But the cybercrime law has enough clearly outlined procedures to ensure that civil rights will be protected.

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But the fear that Big Brother will have one more devious tool to use against the oppressed and brainwashed masses is perfectly understandable. The powers granted the government bodies concerned are not to be sneered at. The cybercrime law even provides for a Cybercrime Investigation and Coordination Center (CICC), an inter-agency body under the Office of the President “for policy coordination among concerned agencies”. This sort of Geek Central Command is tasked with “the formulation and enforcement of the national cybersecurity plan” whatever this may be. But this certainly sound dubious and sinister to the imaginative and free-wheeling souls who inhabit cyberspace.

But any law, if it is to be at all effective, must have some teeth. It is up to a concerned and vigilant citizenry to make sure that these teeth do not turn into fangs.

Teddy Boy Locsin pointed out an unforeseen but welcome outcome of the low-grade and undefined fear brought about by the new cybercrime law. He said it will force those who have anything at all worthwhile to say online to write well. Mr. Locsin sets as a tongue-in-cheek example the quality of the writing in the defunct Soviet Union, which has steadily gone downhill after the collapse of the authoritarian state. There’s nothing like a virtual gun to the head to make one choose his words wisely. And to craft one’s writings carefully and deliberately.

In other words, the best defense against anything that would curtail our freedom of expression, be it online or off, is to express ourselves in words and deeds that are thoughtful, truthful and honest. This doesn’t mean we should pull our punches. It just means we should slug it out with more finesse.

Here is a copy of Republic Act No. 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012

Republic Act No. 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012

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