Bardiness

"..a bardy view!"

The Philippines Cyber Crime Law

Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights
provides the right to freedom of expression. To include the freedom to hold
opinions and either to receive or impart information and ideas without
interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.

In English case law, that right is extended (see Bardiness
200
) that freedom of speech could not be limited to the inoffensive but also to
the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome,
and the provocative, as long as such speech did not tend to provoke violence.

Indeed, article 10 also accords the right to be offensive.
Being offensive is very different to being libellous, which in civil law is a
minefield to manoeuvre through. This is one of the contentious issues enacted
in the new Philippines Cyber Crime Law.

It has provoked an outcry in the Philippines and been dubbed
the e-Martial Law. It is opposed by human rights organizations, journalists,
political activists and bloggers and even implies that merely
"liking" a phrase or comment on Facebook or other social networking sites
implicates the reader by association. It goes further in that websites can be
shut down, computer data can be seized, and convictions can lead to
imprisonment of up to 12 years.

Just how serious is it, and what does it say about the
government of a free democratic society that seems to be able to implement a
law which effectively curtails freedom of speech?

Is it a flash in the pan, has it been taken out context, has
the government failed to present its case intelligently? Reading many of the
Philippines newspapers, their articles are a tedious litany of acronyms
producing gobbledegook mired in plodding dialogue.

Officials say that it is intended to prevent online child
pornography, cybersex, identity theft and spamming, and to "address
legitimate concerns" about criminal and abusive online behaviour.

However, protesters say that this legislation could be used
to target government critics, and therefore crack down on freedom of speech – something
more akin to China than a free republic.

It's argued that any person found guilty of libellous
comments online, even including comments on Facebook or Twitter, could be fined
or jailed.

As in the off-line world, freedom of speech is not a license
to defame. It is not a charter to cast aspersion. Anyone, and that includes investigative
journalists, do not have the right to carte blanche accuse or denigrate
individuals without the ability to back up their words with evidence. Otherwise
they commit libel. If they said it verbally in the streets then it would be
slander.

The issue here (and the law is surely likely to be postponed whilst clarified and hopefully modified), is the charge at the government that they could target individuals perceived
as a threat. It's the "know thine enemy" syndrome.

It could be the thin end of the wedge.

However, there is a lot of vicious vitriol on the web, and
mud sticks. Many create dissent hiding behind pseudonym and avatars. It's a phenomenon
that anyone can say whatever they like without fear of reprisal. Be they
trolls, bullies, sexual predators, or political activists with particular
agendas.

We see it often in the UK. A policeman gets murdered, and
within minutes someone has set up a Facebook page extolling and praising the
virtues of the perpetrator. A child commits suicide or gets run over by a train
and the trolls appear from the woodwork making offensive and hurtful comments
directed at the parents.

A celebrity receives online threats to keep an eye on their
family, and young people are subject to cyber-bullying causing them to self-harm
or become withdrawn and afraid to go to school. None of this was envisaged in
Article 10, and it certainly does not constitute freedom of speech.

Libel is something very different, and be it in print or
electronic ink the rules should still apply.

If I don't like a fat, arrogant politician for example, I
can call him fat. That is not libel if he actually is. If he is not, then it is
merely a figure of speech and a question of opinion. I can call him arrogant,
because that is my opinion. If he is not, then it is just an insult. I cannot
however, no matter how much I think he may be, call him fat, arrogant and
corrupt. That is libellous. He may be corrupt, but without evidence, and
without having been proven in law that he was corrupt, then I have been irresponsible,
and opened myself up to a charge of libel and I can be sued. Yet, the mud has
stuck. People have read my comment, and true or not, that man's reputation has
been tarnished.

He may then pursue me through the courts. The onus on him is
to prove that he isn't corrupt, not on me to prove that he is. If he wins then
I will have to pay substantial damages. I cannot be convicted of a criminal
offence, but my pocket could be severely damaged. It takes a brave and wealthy
individual to fight a libel case, and that's why few come to court. Invariably,
in the case of newspapers, they settle outside of it, with a small apology
tucked away in a column buried on a page somewhere.

And this is the crux of the matter. The internet has given a
voice to the hoi polloi to say whatever they want, whenever they want, without
substance, merely opinion, and get away with it.

That's not freedom of speech. That's not what the laws and
conventions were made to protect.

With freedom comes responsibility. There are too many
people, hiding incognito, stirring up trouble, being insulting, offensive, agitating
and in extreme cases causing dissent. They use the internet to further their
own cause, plant seeds of bitter fruit, designed to unstable and cause mayhem.
Some have genuine grievance, others are just downright troublemakers.

The Philippines Government, may, just may, have brought
this to global attention and caused us all to think.

How they did it, their
method of execution, their inability to explain themselves properly has caused
a backlash of immense proportion.

Some may regard the Philippines' government as brave for
meeting head on the power of the internet and it's potential destabilising
influence – others may regard their actions as a devious and sinister
manipulation of power.

It can only be hoped a sensible compromise will ensue.

 

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October 3, 2012 - Posted by | Culture, Current Affairs, Education, facebook, History, Politics, The Philippines | ,

3 Comments »

  1. Lovely, intriguing,thought provoking, and well written as always.

    Like

    Comment by spookmoor | October 3, 2012 | Reply

  2. I’ve heard a lot of complaints about this new legislation from other people from the Philippines. It is one step towards censorship. I don’t like the fact that it seems to allow room to target people unfairly.
    There are other ways to punish criminals and still protect the rights of citizens.
    You are right that there is an important distinction between libel and being offensive. The truth is sometimes an offense. However libel is something completely defined in law.

    Like

    Comment by Gwen@crashplancom | November 8, 2012 | Reply

  3. i think for it’s better to have this law because it is intended to prevent cyber sex, online child pornography, identify theft and spamming.

    Like

    Comment by BeefLoaf | July 13, 2013 | Reply


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