MANILA: A new cybercrime law in the Philippines that could see people jailed for 12 years for posting defamatory comments on Facebook or Twitter is generating outrage among netizens and rights groups.
The stated aim of the wide-ranging law is to tackle a multiplicity of online crimes, including pornography, hacking, identity theft and spamming, following police complaints that they lacked the legal tools to combat them.
However, the act also includes a provision that puts the country's criminal libel law into force in cyberspace -- but with far tougher penalties for Internet defamation than in traditional print media.
Anyone posting a libellous comment online, be it on Facebook, Twitter or anywhere else, faces a maximum prison sentence of 12 years and a fine of one million pesos ($24,000).
Meanwhile, newspaper editors and other trained professionals working in traditional media face prison terms of just four years and fines of 6,000 pesos for defamation.
The Cybercrime Act also allows authorities to collect data from personal user accounts on social media and listen in on voice/video applications, such as Skype, without a warrant.
Prominent Manila blogger Noemi Dado, who edits a citizen media site called Blog Watch, said unwary teenagers retweeting or re-posting libellous material could find themselves facing the full force of the law.
"Not everyone is an expert on what constitutes libel. Imagine a mother like me, or teenagers and kids who love to rant. It really hits our freedoms," Dado told.
While harsh criminal libel remains in force in other parts of Asia, Dado said the new law sent the wrong signal in a country that overthrew the military-backed Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship just 26 years ago.