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CYBERCRIME LAW

Angara: Tough penalties due to Net’s global reach

Senator Edgardo Angara

Just one click and a libelous content goes global.

So said Sen. Edgardo Angara in explaining a provision in the Cybercrime Prevention Act that prescribes a prison term for online libel longer than the penalty for the same crime under the Revised Penal Code.

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Angara is the sponsor and one of the authors of the Senate version of what eventually became Republic Act No. 10175, the much-criticized cybercrime law that took effect on Wednesday.

“With one click, you can send it all over the world,” he said.

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Angara said the reach of the Internet was more extensive than that of a newspaper. “You can call someone a thief in the newspaper. There would be a limited number of readers. In this case, with just one click, it’s global,” he said.

Angara said raising penalties a degree higher for online crimes,  was the suggestion of the Department of Justice (DOJ), National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) unit involved in addressing cybercrimes.

“That was part of the recommendation of the DOJ and the technical working group that includes the NBI and the PNP cybercrime unit,” he said.

These agencies said cybercrimes were more widespread and more extensive, according to Angara.

He said his colleagues raised no objection to the provision penalizing crimes committed online one degree higher than those committed in the real world and already covered by the penal code.

“We thought there was a consensus,” Angara said after the provision breezed through the committee level on the Senate floor and in the bicameral conference committee.

Aggravating circumstance

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“Why was the penalty raised? The only rationale I can think of is that because of the novelty and swiftness, and the spread and reach of information and communication technology, it becomes an aggravating circumstance,” Angara said at a Senate news forum.

Section 6 of RA 10175 provides that all crimes “defined and penalized by the Revised Penal Code, as amended, and special laws, if committed by, through and with the use of information and communications technologies shall be covered by the relevant provisions of this Act.”

“Provided that the penalty to be imposed shall be one degree higher than that provided for by the Revised Penal Code, as amended, and special laws, as the case may be,” the law added.

Libel in the penal code is punishable by imprisonment of no more than four years and two months.

Online libel under RA 10175 is punishable by a penalty one degree higher than the one in the penal code. In this case, it’s a maximum penalty of 10 years, said information technology law expert JJ Disini.

Because the penalties are cumulative, a single act of online libel can result in a maximum jail time of more than 14 years, Disini said.

Protests

The new law also allows government agencies to search, seize and destroy computer data deemed libelous.

Media groups and netizens stepped up calls for repealing the new law that targets cybercrime but activists fear it will be used to suppress online freedoms in the country.

The law is envisioned as a measure against hacking, identity theft, spamming, cybersex and online child pornography. But citizens and groups who protested on social networking sites, blogs and out in the streets fear politicians will use it to silence critics.

Many Facebook and Twitter users in the country and the portals of the main media organizations have replaced their profile pictures with black screens as a protest against the law.

Asked during the forum if he would propose that online libel be punishable with the same prison term set by the penal code, Angara said, “Just remove the provision (on penalties in the cyberlaw being) one degree higher.”

Like, share

He sought to allay fears that clicking “like” and “share” buttons on libelous materials posted on Facebook and other social media would automatically make a netizen liable under the cyberlaw.

Asked if one would be liable for “liking” a libelous material online, Angara said, “No, because you’re not the author.”

As to “sharing,” Angara said one must prove connivance or conspiracy between the one who shared and the one who came up with a libelous material.

“You know it’s more difficult to prove conspiracy. There really is a difficult hurdle for those who’d complain,” the senator said.

With such nuances in the law, Angara said Filipino journalists shouldn’t be too concerned about online libel and the cyberlaw.

“Journalists are the most protected species on earth, especially in the Philippines… No one is convicted in the Philippines except the really brazen ones,” he said.

Angara, nonetheless, said that freedom of speech and of the press “does not protect libelous or malicious statements.”

Guingona lone dissenter

Amid the uproar over the new law, he called for calm, noting that no one’s rights were being threatened.

He said there was even no implementing rules and regulations for the cyberlaw yet.

The Senate journal showed that the chamber approved on Jan. 30 its version of the cyberlaw on third reading.

The following senators voted in its favor: Pia Cayetano, Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, Francis Escudero, Gregorio Honasan, Panfilo Lacson, Manuel “Lito” Lapid, Loren Legarda, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Aquilino Pimentel III, Ralph Recto, Ramon Revilla Jr., Vicente Sotto III and Manuel Villar.

Sen. Teofisto Guingona III was the lone dissenter.  With a report from AP

Originally posted at 09:44 pm | Thursday, October 04, 2012

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TAGS: Congress, Crime, Cybercrime Prevention Act, DOJ, Edgardo Angara, freedom of express, Freedom of expression, Government, Internet, justice and rights, law and justice, Laws, legislation, Libel, News, Online Libel, online news media, Senate, Social Media, technology
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