Thursday, January 21, 2010

Cybercrime Bill threatens freedom of expression online, encroaches on our privacy

I am extremely concerned with the passage of HB 6794 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2009. This bill is a serious threat to our fundamental right to privacy as well as the freedom of expression online.

Many of us do not realize that this bill does not only affect the estimated 24 million internet users in the country but also the more than 70 million mobile phone subscribers. This bill not only penalizes cybercrimes committed using computers but also those acts using mobile phones as defined in Section 3 of the bill.

While I agree with the critique on the vague definition of some of the terms of the bill (i.e., computer data', 'recording of private acts'), I am more worried on the provisions of the bill on data collection and retention. Under Section 10, law enforcement agencies are authorized to collect or record 'traffic data.' Meanwhile, Section 11 states that services providers are ordered to preserve data for six months or up to 1 year if so ordered by law enforcement authorities.

This is dangerous and unacceptable. I believe that the collection and preservation of what this bill calls as traffic or computer data will pave the way for the government to do mass surveillance. It gives the government the power to not only monitor alleged cybercrime perpetrators but also political opponents such as the opposition and political and human rights activists.

Retaining data creates risk of abuse by the State and law enforcement agencies. These data will be a very powerful tool to intimidate and silence critics and activists. We all know how skilled some of our security agencies and other government organizations in manipulating and twisting information. Just remember martial law.

Data retention prevents open communication and the free flow of information as it creates an atmosphere of fear and put pressure on the users to 'behave' as exchanging critical information might incriminate them later. Some will even resort to not communicating at all as it puts them at risk. It is like being under the martial law regime where one needs to be careful about what he says or expresses. This is not good for a democracy like ours which encourages active participation of citizens in every aspect of the society.

Collecting and storing of data for a certain period of time also encourage identity thefts. How can we be sure that our most private data are secured from hackers and identity thieves. And who will pay for data storage? Is it the service provider or the government? If it is the latter then it is another unnecessary burden to us, the taxpayers, considering the potentially high cost of data storage given the narrow definition of traffic data in the bill.

I urge the lawmakers to pause and carefully consider the issues raised against the bill.


/iambrew said...

i couldn't agree more. this bill obviously is a threat to whatever is left of our freedom. argh!

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