Tag Archive | "cybercime"

Our Government was Hacked: Cyber Martial Law and the Sottovirus

Definitely not a government web page.

The true test of any system is its ability to respond to problems. A system can work most of the time, but you can’t measure its true capacity unless you subject it to stress.

This is what happened to several government websites recently when Anonymous Philippines hacked them to display a message protesting the Cybercrime Prevention Act. While proving their skill as hackers, they also proved another thing: the security system of these government sites has failed. There have been a range of criticisms to this hacking: from petty and ineffective on one end to ultimately counterproductive on the other.

Whatever the case, this serves as a good analog to the larger narrative. The government is designed to self-correct internal problems through a system of checks and balances. There’s a reason there are three branches of government, two houses of Congress, 24 senators, and so on. These bureaucracies make it hard for any single element to make the entire system fail, similar to a computer’s using several layers of protection, such as firewalls and anti-virus software.

So what does the passage of the Cybercrime bill say about our government? Our legislative system has been hacked; its many layers of security have failed. A malicious virus was uploaded, undetected, and resulted in the system behaving contrary to its intended design.

Let me explain the analogy. As part of a democratic government, our legislation was designed to create democratic laws. In contrast, the laws crafted by a dictatorial government would be undemocratic. By now it’s obvious to any intelligent person who has a basic understanding of democracy that the Cybercrime Law is undemocratic. I have yet to encounter someone who thinks otherwise. Despite their responsibility for the law, even our politicians agree, but it will take some explaining.

Most probably, the implications of the Cybercrime Law — particularly on the right to free speech and privacy — weren’t fully understood by most legislators when they first encountered it. I don’t think that any intelligent legislator would think that someone who simply tweets an unflattering sentence about someone should be at risk of government surveillance or spending a decade behind bars. This is just one of the Cybercrime Law’s implications that weren’t so obvious at first. These concerns possibilities may be absurd, but they’re legitimate ones, at least according to every lawyer I’ve read and spoken to so far.

Senator Escudero: Better late than never?

I believe that if you take a poll of our lawmakers, asking them whether they would have passed the bill knowing these implications, the results would show how much each lawmaker understands and values democracy. Only the undemocratic or incredibly stupid would still have passed it.

In spite of everything, I still think majority of our lawmakers are basically democratic. Yet the Cybercrime Law shows that a mostly-democratic legislative branch has created an extremely undemocratic law. The executive branch, which is lead by someone who would especially want to avoid any association with dictatorship, would have vetoed the bill had he known its dictatorial implications.

Sadly, most of them will never admit this. Senator Escudero has been the first and only one so far to have admitted his mistake, but only because he has good reason to. He is the author of a bill that decriminalizes libel. There could be nothing more embarrassing than his having passed a bill that not only perpetuates libel’s criminal status but broadens it as well. An error of this magnitude is better corrected sooner than later.

Which makes me wonder why Senator Angara, who has also authored a bill removing the prison penalty for libel, has yet to admit his mistake. It probably has to do with the fact that he is a principal author of the Cybercrime Law. Admitting that you shouldn’t have passed your own law is understandably more embarrassing. Two more senators, Sen. Honasan and Sen. Estrada, also have pending bills that decriminalize libel. Yet both have voted for a bill that makes libel an even graver crime, and both have yet to admit their grave mistake.

The other senators are not as hard-pressed to admit their error, and it will be interesting to listen to their excuses when (or if) they do. But I highly doubt that many will. Because if more Senators admit that they’ve made a mistake, then the integrity of the entire legislative institution will be jeopardized. Better to perpetuate the story that the Cybercrime Law, flawed as it is, is still the product of a working legislative branch.

P-Noy thoroughly examining something.

Which is precisely the story that the executive one has been telling so far. His spokespersons have said that he endorsed the Cybercrime Law only after studying it thoroughly. Which is a good political move considering the alternative: admitting that he and the people who work for him weren’t doing their jobs (or as his critics love to call it, Noynoying).

Our government may not admit it, but the integrity of the legislative and executive branches has been tested, and it has failed badly. Like the handful of government websites hacked by Anonymous PH, our democratic system has been hacked — the Cybercrime Law is the malicious web page to prove it.

But there is hope. The third branch of government has yet to fail, and it is now being tested. Several citizens have separately filed motions asking the Supreme Court to issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) on implementing the law’s undemocratic provisions. Some have even asked that the entire law be repealed. But it will be hard for the Supreme Court to do either. Whichever they choose, it will mean the failure of the executive and legislative branches. Understandably, Chief Justice Sereno would think twice before painting P-noy and his administration as less than competent.

And if there’s any branch who understands how undemocratic and unconstitutional the Cybercrime Law is, it’s the Supreme Court. Regardless of what the SC decides, it’s up to us citizens, the programmers and owners of this system, to make sure that the error is corrected. We deserve some of the blame, having installed these faulty components. But it’s a good sign that unlike the incompetent government we’ve elected, we’ve detected the virus.

CJ Sereno and the SC: The Last Bastion?

What’s left is to deal with it — telling our anti-virus software to put the virus in quarantine (issue a TRO), delete it (repeal the law), and of course, uninstalling those responsible for it (not re-electing them). The Cybercrime Law is testing our country — whether we’re truly a democracy or just a democracy on paper. It is then fitting that some have dubbed it “cyber martial law.” Forty years ago, when Marcos declared martial law, we faced a similar test. I hope it doesn’t take us as many years — or casualties — to pass this one.

For updates on the fight to junk the Cybercrime Prevention Act (Cyber Martial Law), join the Philippine Internet Freedom Alliance (PIFA) on Facebook. Filipino Freethinkers is a proud member of PIFA.

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On the Cybercrime Law: How Sotto Violated the Democratic Process to Violate Our Democratic Freedoms

When Senator Sotto plagiarized Sarah Pope in his recent turno en contra speech, it wasn’t discovered by traditional media. Sotto’s plagiarism was first pointed out in a post on our website at FilipinoFreethinkers.org.

From there other bloggers spread the word, and some even discovered that Pope wasn’t the only one Sotto plagiarized. By then, traditional media had picked up the story, and Sotto’s plagiarism became national news. Soon, it even went international.

Sotto’s critics were those who, unlike the Senator, understood that plagiarism was a serious offense, especially for a public servant. It was surprising that Sotto’s colleagues in both houses of Congress were mostly silent on the issue. Was it because they were guilty of plagiarism themselves? Were they simply looking out for one of their own out of professional courtesy? Whatever the case, one thing became clear: If someone was going to call Sotto out for his erroneous views on plagiarism, it wouldn’t be his fellow legislators.

Fortunately, Filipino netizens took the responsibility. To the extent that public officials kept quiet, Filipino netizens made noise — writing blogs, creating posters, spreading memes — exposing, criticizing, and even mocking Sotto for his plagiarism and how little he understood its seriousness.

This was democracy in action: Ordinary citizens were fearlessly criticizing a representative they had elected. They didn’t have regular columns in which to publish their thoughts. They couldn’t interpellate or give privilege speeches to denounce Sotto. But now, they could have their say, and they were heard. Sotto heard. To a small degree, the playing field was leveled. And this was thanks to the internet.

But instead of listening to netizens, Sotto claimed that he was being bullied. He said that his alleged bullies would one day be held accountable. A few weeks later, the cybercrime law was passed, and it contained a section that made e-libel a worse crime than defamation in print. It’s not a mystery who we have to thank for this.

Much can and has been said about e-libel, but one thing is clear: anyone who uses the internet to criticize public figures has good reason to be afraid. The possibility of spending more than a decade in prison tends to have that effect. As a result, people will think twice before criticizing people like Sotto online. Or as Sotto would like to call it, “cyberbullying.”

But bullying is defined as “the use of superior strength or influence to intimidate or force someone to do what one wants.” Sotto has used his position as a Senator to intimidate and force others to keep silent or think twice before criticizing people like him. Who’s the bully now?

With the Cybercrime law, how will ordinary citizens criticize elected officials without fear of being sued and fined, or worse, put in jail? Should we all join traditional media to receive the same protections journalists receive? Should we all run for public office to receive the same privileges politicians enjoy? These are unrealistic expectations. And if only a few have the freedom to criticize public servants, what does that say about the democratic process? As President Obama said at a recent speech in the UN–a statement I will gladly and properly attribute to him–true democracy “depends on the freedom of citizens to speak their minds and assemble without fear; on the rule of law and due process that guarantees the rights of all people.”

Speaking of democracy and the democratic process, we could have used more of that while the Cybercrime Law was still a bill in legislation. The most controversial section of the bill was the section on e-libel. But it seems that it was the least discussed and debated. That is, it didn’t get any time for discussion and debate at all. No one even got an opportunity to interpellate. Why? Because the e-libel section was a last-minute addition by Sen. Sotto during the period of amendments. Note that there wasn’t even an e-libel section to amend — it was an entirely new addition.

Why no one objected to this is a mystery to me. I refuse to believe that so many senators failed to understand the negative implications this has on freedom of speech. Whatever the case, I’m sure that one of the main reasons for this was the very short time they had to review and discuss it. I heard that Sotto, as majority floor leader, immediately closed the period of amendments after introducing the new e-libel section.

As an advocate of the RH Bill, I find this disturbing. Where is the meticulousness that led to the pointlessly long discussions on the meaning of certain words? In the RH Bill, it was “life.” Couldn’t the same attention to detail be applied to words such as “defamation,” “malicious intent,” “justifiable ends,” and “libel” itself? Why is it that in discussing the RH Bill every detail of implementation is carefully questioned, while in the Cybercrime bill, implementation details were left for later?

This lack of discussion and due process has surely lead to the vagueness of the current Cybercrime Law, and I’m sure that had our legislators realized its implications, they wouldn’t have passed it so haphazardly.

This is why we fully support the various motions to amend, replace, and even repeal the Cybercrime law, especially the section on e-libel. At the very least, we want the SC to issue a TRO on the said law. This law has implications on our most basic freedoms, but most of our legislators seem to have overlooked this because the democratic process was hurried, if not entirely violated. And as citizens who are guaranteed free speech by our democratic constitution, we deserve better.

Filipino Freethinkers is part of the Filipino Internet Freedom Alliance, a newly formed coalition that seeks to repeal the current version of the Cybercrime Law and replace it with something more democratic. We invite allied individuals and organizations to join us. Together, let’s ensure that democratic freedoms like freedom of expression and information, both online and off, are preserved and protected.

Image from pineswire.net

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