The Internet has proven incredibly resistant to being controlled by lawmakers; acts such as SOPA and PIPA have earned the rage and ire of online communities everywhere, and (in my opinion) for good reason, as such laws went completely overboard and threatened more innocent people than they aimed to protect.
The latest such law to hit a stumbling block is the anti-cybercrime law in the Philippines, which its Supreme Court suspended in order to determine whether or not certain parts of it violate civil liberties. The law was signed last month by Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, and is intended to combat Internet crimes such as identity theft, hacking, spamming, and child pornography online. The law also makes online libel a crime with a harsher penalty than print libel, and gives the government authority to block websites that it thinks may violate the law.
Critics of the law fear that it will be used to silence critics; after all, people posting constant threads about how much they hate a politician may be annoying, but if the government steps in and shuts down the entire site for spamming and libel, that’s even worse. This has also lead to claims that it violates freedom of expression, and ignores the due process, describing it as “cyber authoritarianism.”
In protest to the law, Facebook (News - Alert) and Twitter users in the Philippines have replaced their profile pictures with black screens. Hackers have shown their displeasure by hacking into government websites and vandalizing them. However, while this may express their displeasure quite efficiently, it doesn’t exactly support their cause, and in fact gives the government agencies whose sites they hacked more reason to crack down on them.
The law is suspended for 120 days, with oral arguments scheduled for January 15th. The court also ordered the government to respond to 15 petitions that aim to declare the law unconstitutional within ten days.
There’s no denying that cybercrime is a very real thing that should be stopped. Hacking, identity theft, and so on are threats that need to be prevented. However, many politicians are so overzealous to combat them that they bring the hammer down on much smaller infractions, or entire websites for the actions of a few users.
For example, Megaupload was raided and shut down because users were using the site to upload TV shows and movies, although the site itself was used to host and send many other files that were perfectly legal, and was even used as pseudo-cloud storage for some people. Laws like SOPA were protested not because they would make it a crime to download TV shows and movies (which, in my opinion, can be prevented much more efficiently once the companies that make those start figuring out how to use the internet to stream and distribute said shows, a la Netflix), but because they could strike down content creators for using clips and music within the boundaries of Fair Use.
There is a real need to strike down cybercrime, but it must be done in a way that affects the criminals alone, rather than everyone on the Internet. There is a balance to be found, and it is tricky, but when achieved, then progress can be made.
Edited by Amanda Ciccatelli