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Low-tech cyber criminals

A self-confessed “hacktivist” group went on a hacking spree of several government websites purportedly in protest against the signing into law of the country’s Anti-Cybercrime Act. The group calling itself “Anonymous Philippines” warned about the new law’s infringing into our cherished freedom of speech and expression.

“It can imprison anyone who commits libel either by written messages, comments, blogs or posts in sites such as Facebook, Twitter or any other comment-spaces of other social media in the Internet,” the group claimed. They tagged the new law as “the most notorious act ever witnessed in the cyber-history of the Philippines.”

The hackers group successfully — but illegally —cracked the government domains considered the most secure online sites. They defaced the websites of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP); the Department of Health Anti-Smoking; the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS); the University of the Philippines (UP), among other victims.

Their attacks on these government websites were not just open defiance. It is also an outright challenge to Philippine authorities on how they could possibly enforce this new law that precisely goes after hacking, online libel and Internet-related criminal offenses.

This is not the first time though that hackers have attacked government websites. At the height of the renewed tensions over the conflicting territorial dispute of China and the Philippines over Panatag Shoal in Zambales, Chinese hackers defaced the UP website.

The latest cyber attacks came a few days after President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III signed Republic Act (RA) No. 10175, or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012. Dispensing with ceremonies, the President’s signing of RA 10175 was merely announced by the Palace last September 12.

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The entire content of the law though came out in The STAR a few days later. RA 10175 becomes effective 15 days after its publication also in other national newspapers as required under the country’s laws.

With or without signing ceremonies, however, this does not detract the effectivity of the new law. But what makes me wonder is how come a lawmaker like Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, a member of the 15th Congress that crafted RA 10175, is now claiming that this law was legally and constitutionally flawed.

In fact, Guingona formally elevated yesterday his complaint before the Supreme Court (SC). He filed the fourth petition so far lodged against RA 10175. The first three petitions were filed by those in media, bloggers, netizens and Internet law experts.

Under the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, Guingona cited, cyber-libel gets graver punishment. Punishment for traditional print media libel is up to four years and two months while online libel is punishable by 12-year imprisonment period. Moreover, Guingona pointed out, a person can be prosecuted for libel under the Revised Penal Code and libel under the Cybercrime Prevention Act. Obviously, this is contrary to the guarantee against double jeopardy under our country’s 1987 Constitution.

Worse, the neophyte senator noted, the new law contains confusing and vague provisions that suppress the citizens’ right to freedom of speech and expression. “Without a clear definition of the crime of libel and the persons liable, virtually, any person can now be charged with a crime — even if you just like, re-tweet, or comment on an online update or blog post containing criticisms,” he warned.

If that was how the provisions were worded, how come it got passed in both chambers of Congress? With more than 270 members of the House of Representatives and 23 senators, how could such provisions slip through them without any loud howls heard from the halls of Congress?

Unfortunately for Guingona, he cast the lone vote against the approval of this law. It is not because, I hope, our lawmakers are technologically-challenged that they failed to appreciate the grave impact of this new law on cyber crime activities.

As I gathered, many of our lawmakers are tech-savvy and outnumber those who are low-tech in Congress. But you don’t have to be very conversant on the use of modern gadgets of information communication technology (ICT) to understand what could be construed as felonious cyber activities or abuses of one’s rights in cyber space.

An independent watchdog – Freedom House – in its report dubbed “Freedom on the Net 2012,” said Internet use in the Philippines is among the most free in the world.

“People in the Philippines enjoy nearly unrestricted access to the Internet and other ICTs,” the Freedom House stated in its report. The Philippines is ranked 6th out of 47 in their survey which covered the January 2011-May 2012 period.    

“Mergers and acquisitions amid the country’s market liberalization initiatives during the 1980s and the absence of anti-trust laws,” Freedom House said, has been stifling Internet growth in the Philippines. It particularly cited the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT) that acquired last year Sun Cellular Digital Telecommunications Philippines, Inc. With Smart Telecommunications, the acquisition gave PLDT a 70-percent control of the country’s telco market. “The slow growth of the broadband industry is mainly due to the dominance of the privately-owned PLDT that has maintained a stronghold since the late 1920s,” the report said.

The STAR editors had a luncheon meeting last Monday with PLDT executives led by Ramon Isberto, head of Public Affairs Group of PLDT and Smart. Certainly, they reassured us PLDT’s upgrade program is meeting the growth of demand with its market leadership.

Isberto cited continuing systems and facilities upgrade programs of PLDT like installation of fiber-optic cables to provide the most efficient broadband service in the country, including those accessed through wireless or mobile phones.

The problem though, he rued with a laugh, while they replace the theft-prone cable wires (pilfered for its high copper content), they have to deal with crude type of cyber criminals. These petty criminals are low-tech people who cannot distinguish fiber optic from copper cable wires. Ooops!

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