MANILA, Philippines – The New York-based Human Rights Watch has joined the increasing clamor against provisions in the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 that increases punishment for criminal libel and gives authorities excessive and unchecked powers to shut down websites and monitor online information.
In a statement, Human Rights Watch said the law’s criminal penalties for online libel and other restrictions are a serious threat to free expression in the Philippines.
“The cybercrime law needs to be repealed or replaced. It violates Filipinos’ rights to free expression and it is wholly incompatible with the Philippine government’s obligations under international law,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
He added: “So long as it stands, the new cybercrime law will have a chilling effect over the entire Philippine online community.”
The new law defines several new acts of cybercrime including cybersex, online child pornography, illegal access to computer systems or hacking, online identity theft, and spamming.
It also increases the penalty for libel when done online. The maximum punishment is doubled from 6 to 12 years in prison.
“Anybody using popular social networks or who publishes online is now at risk of a long prison term should a reader – including government officials – bring a libel charge,” Adams said.
The new law also grants new powers to the Department of Justice to shut down any website found violating the law even without a court order. It also authorizes police to collect computer data in real time without a court order or warrant.