Dear President Aquino, and Filipinos everywhere,
I do not speak for my fellow bloggers who write on this space with me, nor for the countless others across the Internet. I am an ordinary citizen, Mr. President. I am a small guy in a big pond. I run a web host business leasing infrastructure for a couple of dozen clients. So, the Internet is quite important for me. It is bread and cheese. That— and I believe in the daan na matuwid. I believe in what your government hopes to achieve, Mr. President. I recognize the constant uphill battle for real change. I am writing this because Congress recently passed the Cybercrime Bill. And with your signature, it becomes law.
Mr. President, I believe the Cybercrime Bill that Congress passed is a mistake. Not because we don’t need a cybercrime bill, but because I believe this bill does not do what it is suppose to do: protect women and children from abuse; empower law enforcement so they can capture the bad guys.
It does, however create a chilling effect. A real, clear and present danger to civil liberties. Even now, even before you sign this bill into law, Senator Tito Sotto is sending a clear message to his critics to beware of the cybercrime bill. Senator Sotto is being accused of plagiarism in his spirited defense of the Reproductive Health Bill. The accusation has gone worldwide, and no less than both the Washington Post and the New York Times have written articles against him.
Ordinary people such myself have come to rely on the Internet to give voice to our grievances to government. We have also come to use it to lend government a hand. People responded to bayanihan in a whole new level especially during the recent habagat crisis that sank the capital and nearby provinces. People turn to social media for help when relatives need blood or what some other need. And the community, has when the call to unite comes, have.
Yes, Mr. President those of us who live and breathe social media is just a small percentage of people. Many more of our people— the real ones in need are there in the far flung provinces of our nation. There are, parts that I’m sure you know have hardly anything at all. And yet, it was through in some small measure to social media that people rallied behind a lowly MMDA officer who was being abused, and disrespected by an ordinary citizen. People have such a fair sense of right and wrong. It was the first time that I know of, ordinary citizens defending an officer of the government.
The Internet is a place where scandals appear day in and day out. Misinformation by well meaning citizens, are but an example. And yes, certainly you for example have been victimized by baseless attacks online. In a nation such as ours, what is the defense of the ordinary citizen from reprisal?
If a Senator of the Republic threatens his critics with libel– what is our defense, Mr. President when he goes behind the podium in the Senate to give a speech that for many of us is wrong, and seek to debunk his story? Are we no longer allowed to think for ourselves? What is the defense Mr. President if he goes on television and cries that all his critics are funded by drug lords, and then comes around to threaten his critics, “just you wait for the cybercrime law.”
The Iraq war started out because no one sought to go for reason, and timely debate. No one sought to debunk, and to give proof with facts, about what was right. America set aside its sanity, and reasoning ability. How then, Mr. President are we to have a real democracy, with proper checks, balances, and real spirited discussion, based on issues, and not an attack? Where then Mr. President can we the people seek refuge from meanness, truthiness? How then can we have a nation that thinks for itself if our leaders hide behind the cloak of protection by being an official of the land?
Mr. President, we need a timely debate on what is our citizen’s rights online. United States Secretary of State Hilary Clinton gave remarks on Internet Freedom. It is, she said, about Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Expression, Freedom of Assembly, but instead of marching in the streets, it is on the virtual space we call The Internet. We need the right to connect, guaranteed first. It does a great disservice to democracy when Senator Sotto threatens ordinary citizens that we can not voice our disagreement with our elected officials, when we think they screw up.
The Internet is a beautiful place, Mr. President. It can do so much good, and as the Blackberry riots of London proved could be a mechanism for mayhem. There is a clear and present need Mr. President for a serious discussion amongst government, the business sector, and the citizenry about our Rights, and Limitations online. I believe, as well as many of my friends that it all starts with the Bill of Rights, of which we are all protected. There is also a sense of responsibility that we must exercise.
I urge anyone reading this to ask the President to reconsider signing this bill. To ask him to ask Congress to rethink this. I urge everyone to sit-down, hash things. We need a Magna Carta or a Bill of Rights online. What is our right as Netizens? What is the role of the telcos? What rights should we accord copyright holders? How do we cite sources, when is it permit-able to copy, and paste? And when is it lawful to file libel suits? And so many other questions. What is our responsibility as citizens while online? And how can we provide the government with the right tools to do the right job: hunt the bad guys.
Mr. President, I urge you to reconsider signing the Cybercrime bill. Yes, we need to protect our people. yes, we need to empower our police, and government, but we need a law that balances the incredible power of the Internet against its shortcomings. We need a cybercrime bill that actually fights, cybercrime, for the people.
President Barack Obama on popular site Reddit wrote: “Internet freedom is something I know you all care passionately about; I do too. We will fight hard to make sure that the internet remains the open forum for everybody – from those who are expressing an idea to those to want to start a business.”
It is my wish, Mr. President, and to Filipinos everywhere, that we all hold this truth to be self-evident:
“We stand for a free and open Internet.
We support transparent and participatory processes for making Internet policy and the establishment of five basic principles:
Expression: Don’t censor the Internet.
Access: Promote universal access to fast and affordable networks.
Openness: Keep the Internet an open network where everyone is free to connect, communicate, write, read, watch, speak, listen, learn, create and innovate.
Innovation: Protect the freedom to innovate and create without permission. Don’t block new technologies, and don’t punish innovators for their users’ actions.
Privacy: Protect privacy and defend everyone’s ability to control how their data and devices are used”
It is my hope that you veto the cybercrime bill, Mr. President and make a new one. A Cybercrime bill that actually balances everyone’s interest. A cybercrime bill that actually protects people, and empower law enforcement. I urge you Mr. President, and everyone who has taken the time to read this to come together and discuss Internet Freedom, and what it means for all of us first, before we talk about punishing people with cybercrime, and what it really means to empower not just government but citizenry. We don’t need threats. We need for both Government and the Citizenry to work hand in hand towards a more equitable society, and in your watch, Mr. President we’ve seen the first step towards that illusive dream. I believe the Internet is a useful, equalizing tool. The Internet is drive economic growth, so powerful, the The Organization for Economic Growth and Development calculated in 2009 that “12% of the value added of the non-financial business sector in the United States could be attributed to Internet-related activities.” This could equalize our standing with our neighbors in Asia, should we choose to properly use it.
The Internet is a great place for good, and a great place to do business or a place for great evil to thrive. It is in The Internet’s openness that makes it a great place for a lot of people worldwide, and it is something Filipinos today and tomorrow, richly deserve. Please veto the cybercrime bill, and ensure expression, openness, access, innovation and privacy for Filipinos using the Internet.