The Cybercrime Prevention Act (R.A. 10175) takes effect on October 3, 2012, 15 days after it was published in at least 2 major dailies and the Official Gazette.
ONE OR MORE OF OUR CHILDREN MAY BE COVERED BY THIS LAW.
I am compelled to speak out. And this time, I am not speaking as a citizen advocate but as a mother – one who is concerned not just for her children but for all the other young kids out there who spend so much of their free time on the internet and are unaware that they are covered by some repressive provisions of this law.
Let’s start out first with what I think of having an anti-cybercrime law.
I AM FOR AN ANTI-CYBERCRIME LAW. We need it. The absence of a law that punishes cybercriminals has just resulted in the Philippines being used by some countries as their hub for cyber crimes including child pornography, computer-related fraud, identity theft, computer-related forgery, etc. I welcome this kind of law because for the longest time, we have had to endure phishing attempts via email, unsolicited texts, spamming via email or sms.
So what is the problem with R.A. 10175 that worries me as a parent?
Several. But foremost is LIBEL.
Art. 353 of the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines defines libel as follows:
“a public and malicious imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any 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 who is dead”.
The thing with libel is that it isn’t whether what you said or wrote was true or not. Truth is NOT a defense. Something is libelous if MALICIOUS INTENT is shown.
But libel has been there for some time already. What’s new?
Think back to our childhood days when the only source of our news and communications were newspapers, a transistor radio, a TV with limited channels, landline phones and snail mail. Back then, with everyone depending on journalists and radio broadcasters for the news, the likely source of libel would be the journalists and broadcasters. Of course, there were instances of libel cases also among ordinary citizens but these were primarily between adults.
Fast forward to 2012 and the internet/social media age.
Almost everyone is now connected online. You can find bloggers younger than 10 years old. They are on social networking sites as well. Social media has become the new conversation platform.
How does this libel issue affect our kids?
We know that this generation is not only web-savvy. The kids of today are very outspoken and candid as well. Many times, those of us from generations past get shocked at the kind of language they use. But libel can be relative, depending on whether the party offended is thin-skinned or not. One person may take offense at something written while another may just shrug it off. Now comes this law.
I can think of at least 3 reasons to be concerned.
REASON #1 – KIDS OVER 15 YEARS OLD ARE COVERED
When I was first interviewed by a TV network, I expressed concern for children over 18 years of age who are no longer considered minors. But in a subsequent TV forum in which Atty. Jose Jesus Disini, an internet lawyer, and I were co-panelists, he was asked who are covered and he said those 15 years old and above. Can you imagine your 15-year old child being charged with libel?
REASON #2 – LIBEL IS MALA PROHIBITA
In his article for Interaksyon.com “How the Cybercrime Law criminalizes ‘Likes’ and tweets”, Atty. Mel Sta. Maria, a professor at the Ateneo School of Law, pointed out that R.A. 10175 is a special law. What are the implications of it being a special law?
Atty. Sta. Maria writes in his article:
“It is an accepted legal rule that offenses under special laws are considered MALA PROHIBITA as distinguished from MALA IN SE. In the latter, there must be a criminal mind to be convicted. In murder, theft, robbery and other offenses punished by our Revised Penal Code, for example, intention to do wrong is an essential element. In the former, MALA PROHIBITA, there need not be a criminal mind. The mere perpetuation of the prohibited act is enough.”
In other words, unlike MALA IN SE laws where you are innocent until proven guilty, in MALA PROHIBITA, which includes libel, you are presumed guilty and burden of proof falls on you to prove your innocence.
Just imagine if any of our kids was slapped with a libel charge. He/she could spend time in jail even before the case can be heard! What an injustice!
REASON #3 – VAGUE PROVISIONS MAKE ‘LIKES’ OR RETWEETS ON SOCIAL NETWORK SITES GROUNDS FOR LIBEL
Here’s the provision in R.A. 10175 that can implicate our kids:
Section 5. Other Offenses – The following acts shall also constitute an offense:
(a) Aiding or Abetting in the Commission of Cybercrime – Any person who willfully abets or aids in the commission of any of the offenses enumerated in this Act shall be held liable.
I looked up what “abet” means on my Merriam-Webster iOS app. It says:
1: to actively second and encourage (as an activity or plan)
2: to assist or support in the achievement of a purpose
So any action that seems like you are seconding or encouraging can be grounds for libel? That’s pretty broad!
Let’s look at some possible scenarios:
Scenario 1: An allegedly libelous status is posted on Facebook. Your child ‘likes’ the post. The offended party can claim that by ‘liking’, your child seconded or gave approval to the libelous post.
Scenario 2: An allegedly libelous status is reposted/shared/retweeted by your child. That may be considered, under this law, to be republication or re-publishing, and your child can be held liable.
Scenario 3: In an impulsive, angry moment, your child could post something online against a classmate or friend. The angry parents of the offended child cry ‘Libel’ and bring a case against your child. Because the nature of this charge is Mala Prohibita, your child is faced with possible jailtime.
I asked Atty. Disini if an old blog post, if found to be libelous, will get me in trouble. He answered that while the law is going to be prospective (not retroactive) in nature, the offended party can still argue that for as long as the post stays up, you are constantly republishing.
What should be done instead ?
Social media is so intertwined in our children’s lives but I also realize it can be misused and abused. But shouldn’t this be addressed differently? After all, if no one bothers to teach the youth proper social behavior online, how can we fault them for crossing the line from non-libelous to libelous?
The Department of Education (DepEd) should probably conside
r putting up a Social Media Ethics subject that would teach even young kids, who already have access to computers and social media, the right way to engage online. On our part, bloggers have also taken steps to re-educate netizens by including such topics in blogging summits. Because social media is a conversation platform, there are many opportunities as well to teach, guide and correct those who we engage with online.
But meanwhile, in the absence of a Temporary Restraining Order from the Supreme Court, R.A. 10175 takes effect October 3. Until this is repealed, all the dangers I mentioned above extend to our children who are of legal age.
For as long as this law stays in effect, I will do whatever I can, both as a mother and as a citizen advocate, to get this repealed in whole or have the controversial provisions stricken out. Our children are this country’s future. The way to make them future leaders is to shape and form them in body, mind and spirit and that includes their online lives. The controversial provisions of this law only serve to sow oppressive fear instead of constructive formation.
Photo via Philippine Internet Freedom Alliance. Some rights reserved.
Photo: “Library Club OPAC Scavenger Hunt – 16 January 2006” by , c/o Flickr. Some Rights Reserved.
Photo by Lauren Dado. Some rights reserved.