Filipino Supreme Court once again blocks controversial cybercrime law

In a victory for digital rights and democracy activists in the Philippines, the Filipino Supreme Court today indefinitely extended a temporary restraining order (TRO) on a controversial cybercrime law.

The Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 was signed into law by President Benigno Aquino III in September, despite widespread public protests about harmful effects to free speech and internet freedom, and critical comments from lawmakers who claimed many aspects of the law were unconstitutional. The Supreme Court stepped in shortly after in October, putting the law’s implementation on hold until the Court could review its constitutional merits.

Today’s ruling comes on the eve of the scheduled expiration of the original TRO, offering a respite for Filipino citizens. In response to today’s ruling, Filipino advocacy organization Dakila said that extension of the TRO is one step to getting back our freedoms which has been threatened and lost since the Cybercrime Law has been passed last September.”

“We continue to call for the repeal of this law which harms more than protects, which creates fear more than empowers and which tramples on more than upholds the rights of every Filipino to free speech and Internet freedom,” the group said in a statement.

The announcement comes after a series of hearings in January, where petitioners argued the law would have a chilling effect on free speech and violated due process and equal protection. The government acknowledged that some portions of the law should be removed, particularly around the ability to shut down websites set forth in Section 19, but had pushed back against the notion that the act should be scrapped in its entirety.

While the law’s future remains uncertain, its more lasting effect could be the mobilization of national organizations to defend against threats to the internet in the Philippines. The law’s passage sparked the Philippine Internet Freedom Alliance movement, which not only brought about several large protests, but the drafting of a “Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom” which was introduced to Congress shortly after the court halted the cybercrime law.

The proposed ‘Magna Carta’ act seeks to strike a balance: it would repeal the contested Cybercrime Prevention Act and guarantee certain rights and protection for internet users, while also introducing penalties for online libel and certain activities like hacking and phishing. While Access does not endorse this proposal, it certainly offers a better direction for protecting the rights of users while addressing the real threats of cybercrime.

Access applauds the court’s decision. Although we believe that protecting against cybercrime is important, the Cybercrime Prevention Act was vague, overreaching, and could have been used justify the silencing of government criticism and political opposition in the Philippines.