SolGen defends cybercrime law at SC

By: Christine O. Avendaño, January 30th, 2013 05:06 AM

Launching the government’s defense of the controversial cybercrime law before the Supreme Court, Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza began by assuring the tribunal that the law aimed at combating crimes on the Internet was not a “24-7 Big Brother’’ lurking in cyberspace.

Jardeleza was given a chance to reply to the issues raised by petitioners who questioned the constitutionality of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 during the first oral arguments last Jan. 15.

Jardeleza was grilled for more than three hours on the online libel provision and its penalties as well as Section 12, which authorizes law enforcers, after finding due cause, to collect or record “traffic of data’’ in pursuing cyber offenses.

Some justices expressed misgivings that the provision may be open to abuse by law enforcers but Jardeleza pleaded with the high court to save Section 12, saying that law enforcers be given a chance to do their job.

All the members of the high tribunal were present for yesterday’s oral arguments except for Associate Justices Estella Bernabe, Presbitero Velasco and Jose Mendoza.

Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno said the high court would “address in due time’’ the request of petitioners to extend the temporary restraining order (TRO) it earlier granted for the law’s implementation which expires on Feb. 6.

Jardeleza underscored the need for government to fight what he said was the “new scourge’’ of crimes committed on the Internet which could be effectively done through Republic Act 10175, or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.

He said  the argument of petitioners  that the law invades the right to privacy was unfounded.

“RA 10175 does not authorize 24-7 Big Brother surveillance,’’ he said.

Jardeleza said he would not defend Section 19, the provision which allows the Department of Justice to restrict or block websites found violating the law, saying that the provision was unconstitutional and “intrudes into (free speech).’’

“Should the court strike Section 19, the victory belongs to all of us who cherish free speech and expression. But Section 19 does not void the whole RA 10175,” he said.

Various justices took issue with Section 12, particularly the possible abuse of law enforcers in interpreting the “due cause’’ provision when going after data from suspected violators.

Define ‘due cause’

Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo pointed out that Congress did not define what due cause was while Associate Justice Marvic Leonen asked whether under this section the law was giving law enforcers “blanket authority’’ in interpreting due cause.

While Jardeleza maintained that Section 12 was constitutional, he said “we agree there could be more robust judicial safeguards’’ on this provision.

Reacting to Jardeleza’s position that liking or sharing defamatory posts could make someone liable for online libel, Associate Justice Roberto Abad remarked this sends a “chilling effect to the people.’’

“Defamation is defamation whether it’s said face to face or in cyberspace. The reputation is the same,’’ Jardeleza said.

Sereno said what was questionable was not the task of law enforcers to investigate but the standards for them to do so.

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