But one country has already moved ahead with similar legislation. The government of the Philippines has passed the Cybercrime Prevention Act, which on the surface, as usual, sounds perfectly well-intentioned. But when you read the actual contents of what’s been deemed “cybercrime,” SOPA’s proposed censorship sounds downright lax by comparison.
Yes, there’s the usual hacking, cracking, identity theft and spamming, which most of us can agree should be illegal. But there’s also cybersex, pornography, file-sharing (SOPA’s main target) and the most controversial provision, online libel.
Now, as someone who has been the target of many a vicious attack from commenters or forum posters, I can understand frustration with the nature of online anonymous criticism. But to actually try to make such a thing illegal? You wade into dangerous waters that anything resembling freedom of speech will likely drown in. And that’s overlooking the free speech implications trampled by banning pornography and file-sharing as well, two provisions getting less attention due to the severity of the libel section.
Via CBS, a senator who opposed the bill explains its potential ramifications:
“If you click ‘like,’ you can be sued, and if you share, you can also be sued,” said Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, one of the lawmakers who voted against the passage of the law.
“Even Mark Zuckerberg can be charged with cyber-libel,” the senator said.
The provision, according to Guingona, is so broad and vague that it’s not even clear who should be liable for a given statement online. And if you’re found guilty, get ready to spend up to 12 years in prison.
Guingona poses the question, who exactly is libel for the libel? Is it the person who made the statements? Anyone who reblogged or retweeted them? The website on which the comments were made? Anyone who commented in assent or even clicked ‘like’? The way the law is worded, the Filipino police could actually charge you with simply criticizing them or the government in a way they deem “malicious,” a word very much open to interpretation.
One of the two Senators who inserted the libel provision, Vincente Sotto III, stands by it.
“Yes, I did it. I inserted the provision on libel. Because I believe in it and I don’t think there’s any additional harm.”
Again, much like SOPA, these are lawmakers who don’t understand the true implications of the law on the technology they’re attempting to regulate. Or maybe they do, in this case. Sotto recently came under fire online for plagiarizing speeches from an American blogger and Robert F. Kennedy which he used to rail against a controversial reproductive health bill.
On social media sites like Reddit, young Filipinos are lamenting the seemingly backwards nature of their government’s recent policies, decrying that they were able to pass a law like this one heavily censoring the internet, but not the aforementioned legislation to teach sex education and give out birth control in schools.
Opponents of SOPA and PIPA should stand up to web tyranny everywhere, and when a supposedly free country institutes censorship practices like that of China and Iran, something is very wrong with that picture. Despite huge protests against the law, the government, as of yet, shows no sign of backing down.
Once again we see a mix of ignorance to technology and the desire to exert further control over a population. Neither is pretty, and neither has any place in a good government.