The National Cybercrime Bill defines what are crimes committed on cyberspace (or technology) constitute a crime in the Philippines. It attempts to be encompassing, and overreaching. It is a catchall in how vague some provisions are. In many ways, this is good, and in many ways, this is evil. Philippine Law enforcement has been clamoring for a law that define crimes committed on cyberspace. It makes their job “easier” because they don’t have to think, and the overreaching power of the bill means the law can be interpreted as seen fit.
The Philippine Senate passed the National Cybercrime Bill.
It follows the passing of a similar cybercrime bill by the House of Representatives. Representative Antonio L. Tinio (@tonchi) on Twitter corrected the Philippine Star report. The House version is still on its second reading“, he tweeted.
Cybersex, sexual harassment, child pornography online
The origins of the cybercrime bill date back to people who made a sex tape like the Hayden Kho videos— with one of the parties or all of the parties unaware that they were being videoed. What’s more the videos were uploaded on the Internet without the consent of the parties in the video. It brought the righteous fury of conservatives to bear. One would imagine that a cybercrime bill would cover the prevention of such video. Imagine being photographed or videoed without your consent. What’s worst, such private content is published on the Internet, without your consent.
This bill does not in anyway prevent anyone from doing that. It is a kind of assault doesn’t it? This bill does not give men and women protection when their rights are violated that way.
What this bill does is define what constitute Cybersex. Which this bill says is “Any person who establishes, maintains or controls, directly or indirectly, any operation for sexual activity or arousal with the aid of or through the use of a computer system, for a favor or consideration.”
So if a man or a woman— presumably with mutual consent— could video or stream themselves performing some sexual activity, and upload it or stream it to their partner’s (or partners) mobile phones doesn’t constitute cybersex crime unless there was some exchange of money or favor. Only then does it constitute a cybercrime.
That said, technically, a Couple– married or otherwise engage in cybersex because say, one spouse is abroad, and who happened to give the other spouse say, an iPad, and said spouse wanted to “thank” the other one— could constitute a felony under this law. And it doesn’t have to be abroad, with FaceTime every iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad now has a camera that you can video chat with your loved ones.
It isn’t to say this provision is useless. In fact, it could be useful so government can hunt down syndicates who use the Internet for cybersex chat business. It is useful against websites that use Filipino children— and the bill explicitly defines what Child Pornography is. And I think we can all be on the same page that Child pornography, and child abuse is something we all care about and agree on. That aspect of the bill is very, very good. In fact, so good, and important— one wonders why it isn’t on a separate bill or as an amendment to existing laws on pornography laws, and child abuse.
TechWireAsia points out, “Child pornography is already covered by Republic Act 9775 or the Anti Child-Pornography Act of 2009. Meanwhile, online voyeurism is covered under Republic Act 9995 or the Anti Photo and Video Voyeurism Act of 2009.”
In our pursuit to stop these syndicates are we indadvertedly creating our own version of the Taliban? Are we not legislating morality? Is this unconstitutional?
The national cybercrime bill does not define what sexual harassment on cyberspace is. Not on chat or Facebook, or on twitter or whatever service that gets invented tomorrow, and neither does it define what sexual harassment is on mobile phones. This happens quite a lot, and a number of people I personally know have been victims of this. So I’m sorry to say, there is no reprieve for you.
Hacking and reverse engineering
The Philippines according to some news reports is a haven or fast becoming one for transnational crimes such as hacking. Yet, hacking is already illegal, and well defined in the Philippines. It has been since the E-Commerce Act of 2000 became law. It has also defined what piracy is in the Philippines.
One would imagine that a Cybercrime bill would outlaw Fraping— the act of using someone’s Facebook account when they leave it on, and without their consent. How many times have people used the excused, “My Facebook account was hacked! Sorry for sending so and so message” or Twitter account or whatever social tool there is. And yet, it vaguely falls on what the bill calls, “Illegal Access – The intentional access to the whole or any part of a computer system without right.”
Does the part of the bill that says, “Data interference – the intentional or reckless alteration of computer data without right.”— fall under this category?
So are you ready to charge your little sister with a cybercrime violation— or do you have to wait until they are 18 to do so?
What else does cybercrime bill add to the table?
I have an app on my iPhone called “Scany (iTunes link)”. Now, this app is brilliant. It is a multifunction networking tool. What it does is find connected devices on the network. It can tell me for example that there is an iPhone, named “Megan’s iPhone” on the WiFi network that I’m on. It can tell me what PCs or Macs are on the network, and it can tell me what sort of router is on the network as well. This tool is very, very useful for people diagnosing a network— which sometimes I do. That’s the good use of this tool. Now, what if I was evil? I could go to my friendly neighborhood Coffee Bean, get on their wifi, and set Scany loose.
Under this proposed Philippine Cybercrime bill, this is a fraudulent act. I’m illegally “listening”. It falls under “Illegal interception” clause of the bill. This is correct in that a) No one gave me the right to scan this network, and that b) it is bad manners to do this on someone’s network without their consent, and c) I could be a bad guy attempting to find out more about my neighbors.
Remember back in 2010, that Firefox add on called “Firesheep”? What that does— someone on the same wifi network in an Internet cafe near you could use that Firefox extension to steal your browser cookies to find out your identity and account password. There’s also a similar piece of software on Android.
So fast forward to 2012— guess how such “intrusion” got solved? I mean you can’t expect Grandma to go to Lifehacker and very well open a SSH Socks proxy— and I 99% of you just snored and zoned out— which was my point! How the hell do non-geeks protect themselves?!
Well, Facebook and services like Twitter started using SSL— secure sockets layer which “encrypts” your traffic. Put it simply, Facebook and Twitter and others institutionalized this Lifehacker crack (which came out at the time of Firesheep). So you might notice now that every time you go to Facebook you find browser to have “https://facebook.com” rather than plain old “http://facebook.com”.
And yet sometimes, preventing someone from stealing your password is simply having a good passphrase from this Cyber Crime 101 comic strip.
Jailbreaking, rooting, modding devices— illegal
In the United States, rooting an Android phone is perfectly legal. Rooting or jailbreaking is obtaining superuser access on your phone or device— down to the manufacturer level, and removing restrictions on the device. So you can get your phone do things, the manufacturer never intended for you to do. Like FaceTiming on 3G.
Yes, you guessed it. This bill will make it illegal for you to Root, Jailbreak. Even removing DVD restrictions is illegal. And forget about PSP, PS3, XBox hacks and unlocks. All of those will be illegal.
Up to now we’ve been mentioning parts of the bill that, well doesn’t quite work. One provision of the bill is on computer-related forgery. So someone from say Recto would want to produce a diploma, so easy these days right? With Photoshop and all that? Well, this part of the bill makes that illegal. That’s good right?
Like people better not be suing FHM or some other men’s magazine for “Retouching” women. That’s not fraudulent design. That’s not dishonest!
This should give you pause. This should give you a chilling effect. The National Cybercrime Bill defines libel as “The 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.” It simply means that what Libel means in print, broadcast and radio means exactly the same online.
So bloggers beware! Hell, everyone beware! Angry at your Congressman? and you started Tweeting about it? You called him a fagot, after he dumped an equally famous actress, and you insulated he was a homosexual? Well you could be charged with libel!
What if that’s true?
Doesn’t matter, Truth is not a defense in the Philippines. And from this you can see, we need libel laws that decriminalize libel— a libel law that is just, equal and fair— that guards from abuse, but not used as a weapon to threaten, and silence.
Powerful DOJ, SOPA-like powers/Censor the Internet
Remember that hoopla about the Department of Justice having authority to say, prevent someone from traveling abroad? Like you know, without a court order that some of the Administration’s critics say make President Aquino act like a dictator? Well, you should be pleased by this. The National Cybercrime Bill empowers the Department of Justice in cases when computer data is “prima facie evidence found to be in violation of the provisions of this Act”— not a court of law—- “to restrict, or block access to such computer data”.
Say a website is against the government? It can order the ISP or the hosting provider or even— since the law is vague— and since this bill has a libel component, guess what? Bloggers beware!
Hell, this bill is so vaguely written that it can potentially mean the ability of Government to restrict Internet access.
We’ve seen it in Egypt. We’ve seen elsewhere during repressive regimes. I’ve no doubt that Aquino probably won’t be abusing this, but who is to say a more authoritarian government rises up?
In a world where Filipinos don’t get anything written down that defines their Internet Freedom, how can this provision not be abused? So yes, Representative Antonio Tinio is correct. This bill is so sweeping, so powerful and overreaching. And Senator Teofisto Guingona III’s assessment that this bill “legalizes morality“.
How does the National Cybercrime Bill empower government with these sweeping powers? It creates the following agencies:
1. “Office of Cybercrime within the DOJ designated as the central authority in all matters related to international mutual assistance, and extradition.”
2. “National Cyber Security Center (NCSC) within the DOST-ICTO designated to formulate and implement a national cybersecurity plan, and extend technical assistance for the suppression of real-time commission of cybercrime offenses through a Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT).”
3. National Cybersecurity Coordinating Council under the Office of the Presidnet which is tasked to “formulate and implement the national cybersecurity plan”. The NCCC is composed of the DOST-ICTO as chair, the director of the National Bureau of Investigation, the Chief of the Philippine National Police, and the head of the Office of Cybercrime.
You can already imagine the convoluted politics that will happen. One agency creates the cyberplan, which will not be implemented by the other agencies simply well— interagency politics.
If government was really serious about hunting for cybercrime it would have just empowered the National Bureau of Investigation to do it. They are experts in investigation, and cybercrime may happen on cyberspace , and the tools maybe “high-tech”, but wouldn’t the national bureau of investigation be already empowered to investigate? Giving them the tools for the job would be perfect.
Next, I’d be the first person to say the Philippines needs a cybersecurity plan. But Cyber Warfare and Defense— the protection of Cyber assets is a different beast from cybercrime. Remember the number of times Philippine websites have been brought down by crackers? And sometime 2010— Chinese hackers right after the failed hostage negotiation launched attacks on Philippine government websites. Protecting and counteracting when attacked like that— that’s Cyber War/Defense. In the same way, Military is used different from a police force. Crime and investigation is the real of police and detectives and investigators— protecting cyber assets, or using cyberwarfare to go after criminals or nation-states? That’s something for a Cyber Security Center. My point is— there are different emphasis, and the last thing you need is for Philippine National Police to be involved in National Defense.
And make no mistake. We need teams of people studying how viruses work. How trojans work, and how to deliver them. We need hackers who can infiltrate behind enemy lines, and shift though information— or use it against them. A lot of it is in the realm of the imagination sure, and hollywood movies but we do need people who know how to protect government servers, and to counter act when those servers are hacked by the Chinese— as we’ve seen over the years, or to hostilely bring down a child pornography site. So that’s a completely different function than say investigating a sexual harassment case online or building a case to take to court on a child prostitution ring.
Why I am against the passage of this bill
If you’ve gotten this far, and I haven’t bored you to death you could see how this bill attempts to be far reaching, and yet fails utterly to do what it should set out to do: protect us. In fact, the bill is so draconian that all it will do is follow in the footsteps of every other Philippine law— prone to abuse. The National Cybercrime bill defines existing Philippine law for Cyberspace. This bill has some good intention, namely fighting child pornography. Which is good. Which I think everyone agrees we ought to be doing anyway. In fact, what is stopping Congress from amending existing Anti-Child Pornography laws to fight against it? But this bill is so overreaching, so vague and draconian that it overshadows that pressing need to protect our Children. It is that bad.
I urge Congress— Senator Angara in particular to lead the rewriting of this bill with the intent of being more than about legislating morality. To do it right. And I urge President Aquino to veto this bill, should the House pass it! Send it back to Congress and let them rewrite this bill so that it actually does good. So that a Cybercrime bill protects us, rather than be inept, and rather than turning the nation into our version of the Taliban.
There is without doubt that we need to adopt anti-child pornography laws to exist on Cyberspace. There is no doubt that those who deliberately engage in denial of service attacks ought to be punished. There is no doubt in my mind that we should be hunting people who make viruses, and who turn computers into bot-nets. There is no doubt in my mind that when people video us without our consent, ought to be punished, and most especially people who upload video of us, without our consent, especially one that is private and sexual in nature ought to be punished. There is no doubt in my mind that cybercrime is a transnational crime, and that working in concert with our friends from around the world to bring criminals to justice. There is also no doubt in my mind that we should have laws that prevent people from being sexually abused over SMS, email and others, and that we should define exactly what that is.
The national cybercrime bill treats all Filipinos as criminals first rather than innocent until proven otherwise. The national cybercrime bill simply brings to cyberspace every other Filipino law— like libel with all its known abuses. The national cybercrime bill brings to cyberspace bureaucracy that does not answer the need of today, much less the undefinable needs of tomorrow, except to give government the ability to turn off the Internet when it becomes inconvenient. That’s how vaguely written this proposed law is.
Dear President Aquino, please veto this bill
There is no doubt in my mind that We have Internet Freedom— the Freedom to Connect— to express ourselves online, and that a nation such as ours that say, “We are a democracy” should define what that Freedom means for Millions of Filipinos before we define what crimes are punishable because we have abused that Freedom and this absolute gift and power that We call, “Internet” gives us. I urge you reading this, let us ask President Aquino to veto the National Cybercrime Bill, and ask him to send it back to Congress that they may rewrite this bill to make it equal, fair, and more importantly, Just.
Image credit: XKCD, some rights reserved.