The president of the Philippines signed a cyber crime bill into law on Tuesday that, much to the chagrin of Internet freedom activists, outlaws “cybersex,” bans “unsolicited commercial communications” online and imposes criminal penalties on people convicted of libel.
Activists with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), an Internet policy group in the U.S., said they are “gravely concerned” that the law infringes upon free expression by even criminalizing consensual sex acts that are recorded by a computer
The law defines “cybersex” as: “The willful engagement, maintenance, control, or operation, directly or indirectly, of any lascivious exhibition of sexual organs or sexual activity, with the aid of a computer system, for favor or consideration.”
The Philippines is a well known haven for human trafficking by prostitution rings that force women and girls to perform sex acts for audiences over the Internet. The law’s prohibition of “cybersex” appears to be a legislative attempt to either stamp that industry out entirely or drive it further underground.
With regards to “unsolicited commercial communications,” the law requires that all online advertisements let users clearly see who sent it and opt-out if they wish. It also prohibits “misleading information” in ads that “induce the recipients to read the message.”
It also imposed severe penalties for the commission of more traditional cyber crimes like hacking secured computer systems and obtaining private or otherwise secret information.
The EFF also warned that the new law threatens criminal sanctions against people accused of libel, which was previously a civil crime. Similarly, “cybersquatting” is also illegal under the law, especially in cases where the owner of a web domain has acquired it “in bad faith to profit, mislead, destroy reputation, and deprive others from registering the same.”
The law prescribes prison time or “a fine of at least two hundred thousand pesos” (about $4,806 U.S. dollars) for listed offenses. Individuals working full time in the Philippines averaged about 29,460 pesos (about $707 U.S. dollars) per year in 2003, according to Philippine government census figures.
The penalties are “at least double” if a corporation is found to be liable of crimes covered by the law, with a maximum fine of 10 million pesos (about $240,298 U.S. dollars).