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“Policies governing cyberspace or information and communications technology (ICT) in general should always be in the framework of rights,” reiterates the Foundation for Media Alternatives (FMA), an APC member organization in the Philippines that actively pushes for the upholding of human rights in different ICT policy spaces.

On 18 February the Supreme Court finally announced its decision over the highly questioned Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 (Republic Act 10175) after issuing a temporary restraining order on it indefinitely last year. It may be remembered that massive online blackouts and street protests were launched when RA 10175, which has been dubbed the “Cyber Martial Law”, was signed into law. Despite petitions calling for the total repeal of the Act for being contrary to the democratic values and rights of the Filipino people, the Supreme Court ruled to uphold the majority of its provisions.

FMA is dismayed over the ruling. “While we understand that the Supreme Court has (partially) seen the light and declared the unconstitutionality of Section 12 on the real-time collection of traffic data, and Section 19 on the blocking of access to computer data based only on prima facie evidence, we are still disappointed with the Supreme Court for upholding the constitutionality of Section 4(c)(1) on cyber sex, 4(c)(4) on cyber libel, and Section 6, which would increase the penalty for both offences to one degree higher than that provided for by the Revised Penal Code,” said Nica Dumlao, the internet rights coordinator of FMA. “These provisions are oppressive, susceptible to abuse, and against the fundamental liberties guaranteed by the constitution.”

Section 4(c)(1) defines cyber sex as “the willful engagement, maintenance, control, or operation, directly or indirectly, of any lascivious exhibition of sexual organs or sexual activity, with the aid of a computer system, for favor or consideration.”

Section 4(c)(4), for its part, defines cyber libel as “unlawful or prohibited acts of libel as defined in Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended, committed through a computer system or any other similar means which may be devised in the future.”

“Because of its overly broad and vague definition of cyber sex, the law will just be used to further perpetrate abuse on women and will even criminalise victim-survivors trapped in cyber prostitution dens,” stated Lisa Garcia, the Take Back the Tech Philippines campaign coordinator. Take Back the Tech is a global campaign to utilise technology to address violence against women.

FMA added, “We are worried that with the Supreme Court upholding the constitutionality of criminal libel online, those who try to advocate for reforms in the government by expressing discontent or by exposing corruption might be harassed and gagged by powerful and guilty politicians.”

“We believe that human rights being enjoyed offline should also be protected online, and the Supreme Court not standing by this rights framework is problematic,” Dumlao stressed. RA 10175 restricts rather than protects and promotes internet freedom. It imposes limits on legitimate online activities and even criminalises the use of ICT instead of harnessing its potential, he added.

FMA has committed to exhausting all possible avenues to ensure that human rights on the internet will be upheld and not violated by repressive policies such as this law. “We will continue to fight for internet freedom alongside stakeholders for a truly democratic and developed nation,” the organisation declared.