SC: You can go to jail for online libel

The Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday has ruled that online libel is a crime in the Philippines, along with other approved provisions in the controversial Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.

Republic Act No. 10175 was signed into law in September 2012 to fight fraudulent online activity like cybersex and child pornography.

However, it also gives the government power to take down content or block access to sites for suspected violations even without a court order, among other hotly debated provisions in the law.

Amid public criticism that it infringed on Internet freedom, the SC issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) on October 2012 to review 15 petitions questioning its constitutionality. The verdict was due on 18 February this year.

SC spokesman Theodore Te confirmed that punishing online libel was declared constitutional by the high court but clarified that only the original author of the libelous material will be held liable and not those who received or reacted to it.

It is not clear, however, if sharing in websites like Facebook or retweeting the said material could be considered a crime under the law.

In addition to online libel, the SC ruled that RA10175 can penalize anyone who aids, abets or attempts committing cybercrimes (Section 5) involving illegal interception, data interference, system interference, misuse of devices, cybersquatting, computer-related fraud, computer-related identity theft and cybersex.

Penalties set for crimes like online libel and commercial communications and child pornography was deemed by the court unconstitutional. In total, of the 19 questioned provisions, the court declared four unconstitutional:

  • Sections 4(c)(3), which penalizes the posting of unsolicited commercial communications (or spam);
  • Section 12, which authorizes the collection or recording of traffic data in real time
  • Section 19, which authorizes the DOJ to restrict or block access to suspected computer data
  • Section 7 “as far as it authorizes the prosecution of an offender under online libel and libel under the Revised Penal Code (RPC) and also where it pertains to child pornography for being in violation of the prohibition against double jeopardy.”


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