“No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress grievances.” (Sec. 4, Article III, 1987 Philippine Constitution)
Cyberspace Pros and Cons
Communication shapes the way societies are built and every person should have the right to express his or her ideas, feelings, emotions as well as hopes for the future. The protection of an individual’s right to freedom of expression is an integral part of a free and democratic society where the rights are essential human rights.1
However, while it is true that the Constitution accords it citizens with the freedom is speech and expression, these rights are not absolute. The non-limited character of this so-called freedom is manifested by the State’s regulation of one’s conduct once it becomes prejudicial to the rights of another. A person is given the prerogative on how to exercise his rights but these personal privileges are subject to limitations to prevent abuse and other illicit advancements for the benefit of oneself. The imposition of corresponding penalties for any unlawful disregard of one’s right is a concrete showing that there is no such thing as absolute right and outright freedom.
The advent of modern times and the introduction to the society of various technological advancements paved way to a better communication. The emergence of computers enhanced how one’s freedom of expression can be wielded, which is apparent through numerous websites. The internet plays a crucial role in our daily lives especially when in comes to an easier information dissemination, business and government transactions, and a channel for economic growth And for centuries, it has served as an avenue in the conveyance of one’s sentiments and a forum for ideas. Access to global internet has been an open platform on which one can innovate, learn, organize, and express himself free from undue interference and censorship.2
Open access to information is a universal right. The impacts of information and communication technology are evident to be immense and life-changer. The society’s massive transition from geriatric equipment to highly-advanced and sophisticated devices result to unimaginable innovations and revamps the society into a place where everything seems to be accessible and convenient.
When things get easier to use, abuses can take place. Nowadays, people’s facile access to the internet opened the gateway to unlawful advancements through the commission of acts with the intent to gain at the expense of the others. Cyber bullying poses a serious predicament since the cyberspace is so vast and open to all that it would seem to be impossible to control.
Government’s Attempt to Resolve
“Cyberspace is an alien world for many. Many are afraid; many more only grasp its fringes. Cyberspace exists as a domain of the mind, of zeroes and ones, of abstract concepts. It is not surprising, therefore, that the view of the Internet is one of the widest disconnect between a government and its people. Neither has walked in each other’s shoes.”3
In trying to resolve the threats antecedent to the abuse and misuse of information and communication technologies, the Congress enacted Republic Act 10175, otherwise known as the Cybercrime law. However, the public considered it as one which is fundamentally flawed as it restricts some human rights including the right to free speech and expression. Indeed, there is a clear showing from the provisions of such law as to the Lawmakers’ insufficiency of knowledge on how vast the cyberspace domain — that a chary application of laws for cyberspace conflict resolution would still create a more grave threats in the exercise of the Constitutional and basic human rights. In an editorial of one newspaper, it pointed out that;
“The new Cybercrime Prevention Act, signed into law by President Aquino on Sept. 12, takes the dangerously outmoded provisions on libel in the Revised Penal Code—and dumps them online. Without any legislative debate, without any public hearing, indeed with hardly anyone looking, these libel provisions have been unthinkingly extended to all online content. While the extension itself is only a small part of the new law, it now threatens every citizen who has access to a computer device with unconscionable restrictions on our hard-earned right to free speech.” 4
Modifying the CyberCrime Law
In the midst of the controversies facing the enactment of the Cybercrime Law, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago introduces Senate Bill 53, otherwise known as the Magna Carta for Internet Freedom. Authorities regard such bill as one which has a preferable approach in matters of cyberspace conflict resolution and provides for a more legally effective and coherent provisions which is wanting from the Cybercrime law. Its provisions of seemingly impressive and effectual mechanisms gain affirmations of the authorities particularly the advocates of civil rights and of the Constitution.
SB 53: Magna Carta for Internet Freedom
“The State, as the primary duty-bearer, shall uphold constitutional rights, privileges, guarantees, and obligations in the development and implementation of policies related to the Internet and information and communication technology.”5
Among the rights and benefits incorporated in the Bill are protection of the Internet as an open network, promotion of network neutrality, promotion of universal access to the internet, right to privilege access to devices, right to freedom of speech and expression on the internet, protection of the freedom to innovate and create without permission, right to privacy of data, right to security of data, protection of intellectual property, and promotion of development of internet, network and information and communications infrastructure. Withthe introduction of the Magna Carta for Internet freedom, many believe that it will provide for a comprehensive framework for the administration and development of Information and communication technology in the Philippines. Some argue that it can be a perfect replacement to the contentious Cybercrime Law for it such is not vague, unjust and discriminatory.
Room for Improvement
After reading the Bill, I can personally say that indeed, it was crafted in such manner that it can uphold the right to speech and expression, which is in consonance to what is enshrined in our Constitution. Delving deep into the contents of the bill, I maintain that it is imperative for it to become a law. There are just some petty ideas the came into my mind that and I am hoping that it will not be considered as an insult to the proponent’s unquestionably brilliant psyche.
Sec 5, par. E of the bill proposes that persons or entities offering internet service for free or for an additional free shall not limit the content that may be accessed. While this provision upholds the people’s right to information, I believe that this provision must make a distinction between an Internet access offered for free and an Internet service offered for additional fee and apply such provision to the latter but not to the former. While it is incumbent for the State to ensure Internet accessibility of the people, the State must likewise consider the right of the people offering free internet access to exercise their prerogatives in limiting the content that can be viewed by others. This discretion is not in violation of Internet freedom since the act of offering it for free is just a favor and whoever stands benefited can not complain on what he receives for free.
Access to Public Information
The right of the people to information on matters of public concern shall be recognized. Access to official records, and to documents and papers pertaining to official acts, transactions, or decisions, as well as to government research data used as basis for policy development, shall be afforded the citizen, subject to such limitations as may be provided by law.(Sec. 7, Article III, 1987 Philippine Constitution)
The bill explicitly provides for measures that will promote that use of internet and information and communications technology for the purposes of transparency in governance and freedom of information. However, the provisions on the disclosure of matters of public concern seem to be directory and not mandatory in nature. The bill does not provide for recourse or remedy on the part of the people in case of non-compliance or failure of the State to meet what is required by the bill as far as divulgence of matters of general interest is concern.
Right of End-users
The bill amended Article VII, Section 20 of The Public Telecommunications Act of the Philippines which enumerates the basic rights of the end users. The bill is clear as to the users’ rights to terminate the service of a network provider in case of non-compliance with its obligations. The users may also ask for rebates in case of failure to meet the standards set forth by the bill in the delivery of services by a network provider. However, the bill should provide for a concrete penalty as a sanction against this kind of providers.
The network service providers are gigantic companies. Their status usually put an ordinary user into a high improbability of pursuing a case against the providers since there is no easy recourse given to them. I am still hopeful that the bill will provide for easy and convenient measures and remedies that will be more favorable to the consumers especially because, more often, they are the aggrieved parties in a provider-user contract.
Suspension of Unrestricted Internet Access
The bill provides that the authority of the State to suspend one’s right to unrestricted Internet access is confined solely to the courts of competent jurisdiction and may not be exercised by any government agency.
Our justice system has always been subject to criticisms for the courts failure to render a speedy resolution of cases lodged before them. The courts dockets are clogged and to permit additional functions would inevitably hamper more the speedy administration of justice. For this reason, the bill should propose the creation of a special tribunal that will make a determination in cases of petitions to suspend the unrestricted Internet access.
Inclusion of PHARMING as one of the Punishable Acts
The bill incorporated hacking, cracking, and phishing as acts in violation of the Data Security. Including pharming among the punishable acts will extend the protection granted to by the Bill. The bill shall, therefore, prohibit the installation of a malicious code on a personal computer or server, misdirecting users to fraudulent Web sites without their knowledge or consent and likewise impose a penalty in case of violation thereof.
Public Information Dissemination
The cyberspace has been a sanctuary for people who want to voice out their opinions about anything. May it be words of condemnation for anomalies haunting our government or just a simple story in one’s daily life, the internet has been an effective tool to make these known to public. In addition, important transactions are now taking place online which would make it necessary on the part of the government to provide the public with information with regard to the proper use of the cyberspace.
Like in the case of any other laws, the public must be made aware on what this bill is all about. More importantly, the State shall conduct forums for the public purposely to enlighten them as to the advantages and disadvantages of the internet. They must be informed particularly of the prohibited acts and to educate them, to lessen the number of cyberspace victims. By doing so, the State can guarantee the full enjoyment of internet freedom without unlawful disregard to the other netizens’ rights.
With proper education and information dissemination, the public can be also made instruments to capture perpetrators of cyber crimes. Their awareness can create a great impact in the minimizing, if not to totally eradicate the cases of cyberspace crimes.
The Magna Carta for Internet freedom is indeed an improvement from the Anti-Cybercrime Law. It removes the vague and illogical provisions of the highly-censured law by providing for clear and concrete mechanisms in the administration of information and communication technology. It is a manifestation that the State recognizes technology and its significance in our society. With its proper implementation when it becomes a law, it would absolutely contribute to the society’s economic growth and the future of information and communication technology in the country.
3. Dayao, C. Twitter. https://twitter.com/cocoy/status/278369861980266497
5. Sec. 34, SB 53: Magna Carta for Internet Freedom