‘FB likes of libelous material punishable’

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Manila—Liking and sharing libelous material on Facebook and retweeting similarly defamatory content on Twitter would make a netizen liable under the Cybercrime Prevention Act, Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago warned  yesterday.

These are some of the punishable acts prescribed by the new law that makes Republic Act 10175 violative of the constitutional provision on free speech, said Santiago, a former trial court judge and magistrate-in-waiting to the International Court of Justice.

In addition, the law’s provisions are also “overbroad” and “vague,” which makes it unconstitutional, she said.

For these reasons, Santiago predicts that the Supreme Court will strike down the Cybercrime Act as unconstitutional.

“Otherwise, it will be a black, black day for freedom of speech,” Santiago said in a speech yesterday  before business and economics students at the Adamson University.

As an example, the senator said Section 5 cited aiding and abetting cybercrimes as one of the acts punishable under the new law. Ordinary Facebook and Twitter activities such as liking, sharing and retweeting could make one accountable under the law, she said.

“Simply repeating things, you made a comment, you liked, you shared, you’re already guilty. Because you’re aiding and abetting. You can interpret it that way. That’s why I’m saying it is too vague,” Santiago told her audience.

Sen. Edgardo Angara, the sponsor and one of the authors of the bill in the Senate, has sought to dismiss such fears by saying mere liking in Facebook doesn’t make one an author of material deemed libelous.

As to sharing, Angara said, conspiracy between the author and the one who  shared should be established.

This is not something that’s easy to do, he said.

According to Santiago, the constitutional provision on free speech “sounds absolute” and thus, the Cybercrime Act begins with a “presumption of unconstitutionality.”

The burden of proof is on those who support the law to prove that it is constitutional, the senator said.

She said the overbroad doctrine holds that if a law is broadly written, it deters free expression.

She expects the Supreme Court to strike down the new law “because of its chilling effect,” such that “you almost don’t want to use your computer for fear of becoming liable”.

According to Santiago, the vagueness doctrine refers to a law that provides a punishment without specifying what conduct is punishable. “[Therefore], the law is void because it violates due process,” she said.

Santiago said the overbroad and vague provisions of the Cybercrime Act are those on online libel, on aiding and abetting cybercrimes, on the adoption of the whole Revised Penal Code with punishments that are a degree higher, on making cybercrimes punishable also under the Penal Code, and on the authority of the Department of Justice to take down violative websites.

Meanwhile, the Cebu Federation of Beat Journalists (CFBJ), also called on Congress to amend the Cybercime Act.

Elias Baquero, SunStar staff reporter and CFBJ president, said the federation through a resolution would ask Congress to amend the law especially Section 19, which would  empower  the DOJ to close a website even without a court order.

Baquero said there should be due process to close a website with convincing evidence for the DOJ to secure a court order to take down a website for investigation.

Baquero said the CFBJ, however,   however wouldn’t condemn the Act because the intention of the principal sponsor Angara was to go after  cybersex criminals. /Inquirerwith a report from Correspondent Fe Marie D. Dumaboc

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