Improving the Magna Carta of Philippine Internet Freedom

The Internet, often referred to as “the most crucial technology of the modern world”1, has become an important part of the Filipino way of life. Almost all aspects of life are now influenced by it. With an access to the internet, whatever we need for our homes or schools, and even for our work or entertainment, can be found immediately with just few clicks, thus, making life smoother and easier.

With the use of this highly advanced technology called Internet, students can “gather information so as to do research or add to the knowledge of any sort of subject they have. Even the businessmen and professionals such as doctors use it for some information they need.”2 Also, news from around the world is updated immediately and the internet served to be “more useful in maintaining contacts with friends and relatives who work or live abroad permanently.3” Banking or money transfer and other transactions or applications are now also being done online. However, even though this technology provides a lot of convenience and widens the capability of an individual to explore areas beyond the physical reach, it seems that most of the Filipino people do not make use or take advantage of it.

According to the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB), as cited by Inquirer and The Philippine Star, only 33.6 million or 35% of the total 95 million Filipinos have access to the internet.4 But, despite the fact that the number of people who have access did not even reached half of the total population, a huge number of people if not the entire country can be affected or victimized by even a single person who would use the internet to commit cybercrimes and other prohibited acts such as trafficking, data piracy, or unauthorized access to websites or private accounts.

In order to regulate the use of the internet and to discourage the crimes which are likely to be committed in the cyberspace, our government created laws and rules that punish individuals who use this technology to put others in jeopardy. Most of the existing laws regarding the access to the cyberspace today, such as the Cybercrime Law and Anti-Child Pornography, are of “prohibitions” in nature. In connection to this, the Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom or Senate Bill 53 (SB53) was drafted. Although there are still prohibitions being stated in the SB53, it is evident that its main purpose is to develop a tighter cybersecurity and cyberdefense for the Philippines, to create an integrated system for the entire nation, and also to secure the constitutional rights of the people even in cyberspace, particularly their freedom of speech.

The Senate Bill 53 which was presented by Senator Mirriam Defensor Santiago, suggests viable ways in achieving its purpose and was able to address almost all possible concerns that one might encounter with regards the usage of the internet. Nonetheless, as they say that nothing is perfect, we now pose this question: How can the SB53 be further improved?

By just looking at the list of its contents, one can easily say that the SB 53 has a wide and diverse scope. It tackles the rights of individuals in cyberspace, the prohibited cyber acts, the liabilities and sanctions for cybercrimes, and even recommends the establishment of a department that will monitor the use of internet of the Filipino people including the tasks of the Secretary and other officers that will run such department. Also, the bill supports, encourages, and promotes the use of the internet in the country. In general, one can say that the bill is vague. It should have narrowed down its focus to the rights of the people in using the internet alone including the punishments if such rights are abused or violated.

Nonetheless, there are some aspects contained in the SB 53 that stands out and seems to have a greater degree of importance than the rest. These seemingly main aspects shall be briefly discussed in this paper and each will be provided with suggestions which, as the author believes, will further enhance them.

 

Tighter Cybersecurity/Cyberdefense and Integrated Internet Systems for the Nation

            Nowadays, unauthorized use and/or sabotage of government websites are being done by individuals or group of individuals who have grievances to the administration. Also, people from outside of the country are able to illegally access important government websites and use them to express their disapproval to the Philippines. Even the disputes in South China Sea 5 and also the claims over Sabah6 reached the cyberspace wherein nationals of each country try to deface vital websites owned by the other State. These are critical matters that show the need for tighter cybersecurity and cyberdefense which the national government must address.

The SB53 contains a section suggesting the establishment of a Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) which will serve as the central office that will be the overseer of the use of internet of Filipinos. For a stronger and integrated function of this department, it should also ensure that the local government websites must be programmed to be connected to the central data base operated by the said department, and each must also be created by Filipino internet engineers and not by just any local government officer who will most likely create a site by availing services of website-creating programs that can be found in the internet. If such local sites were directly created or provided by the National Government and by the proposed department, equipped with the latest cybersecurity programs and codes similar to what our Military use, the chances of getting illegally hacked by outsiders shall greatly be minimized, if not avoided completely.

Also, if sites used by the local government units or by government owned or operated agencies and corporations are tailored to a central data base which is being monitored by DICT, it should be also added to the department’s task to monitor that these sites are always being updated in order to ensure up-to-date announcements and materials that caters the needs of the people. If some sites are not being updated regularly, the DICT should be given the power to send reminders or warning to proper local authorities who handles such websites. Furthermore, there must also be a uniform format for all government sites that will illustrate the Filipino Culture but will highlight the specialties of each region. With this, we can show or promote not only in the local arena but also in the international stage that the Philippines has a diverse culture but with a strongly united Filipino community.

 

Faster Dissemination and Access to Information

            We are all aware of what the internet can do but considering the 35% of the total population that represents the Filipinos who have internet access, it is evident that the Philippines is missing a huge opportunity for more development and progress. Hence, there is a need of making the internet more accessible to the people.

There are several situations or context to which the SB 53 should focus on when it comes to expanding and promoting the use of internet to the citizens in order to improve their use of and engagement to this Information and Communications Technology (ICT). One would be for Disaster Management.

“The first time social media played a massive role of information dissemination in the Philippines was when typhoon Ondoy struck the metro back in 2009.”7  Facebook and Twitter are among the social networking sites powered by the internet that were used as a tool to inform other parts of the Philippines and the entire world as well about the conditions of the places and of the people who were affected by Ondoy. Thousands of relief goods were then prepared by other cities and provinces for the victims of the said typhoon. This important role of the internet when it comes to information dissemination again became very useful when typhoon Yolanda – the strongest typhoon to be recorded in modern history – devastated many parts of the Visayas. With the use of internet, one can acquire “loads of information one can’t get from normal channels.”8 And because of the first hand reports coming from the survivors of the typhoon which were spread by other internet users, the international community was informed and was triggered to assist and give aid.

Disaster responses and status updates of a certain town or province during calamities must be made easier if the bill would suggest the creation of a program what would direct messages to nearby provinces that can extend help. We recognize the existence of National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), however, it should be included that the DICT must also serve as a helping hand for NDRRMC Regional offices to respond faster by transmitting or sending directly to them the status reports of nearby areas. This suggestion requires with it the creation of a technology that will consider and determine the geographic area or location of anyone who would use the internet to ask for help or report about their status during calamities, and transmit such report to the nearest operating NDRRMC office and other sectors that can or may help and provide services immediately.

Another way that would increase the usage of internet for information dissemination and access by Filipinos is by enhancing its accessibility for purposes of Education.

Remote parts and other provinces of the Philippines do not have access to the internet due to lack of the needed device. The DICT must be tasked to collaborate with the Department of Education (DepEd) for the establishment of a computer center with internet connection to each school in the provinces. This would be useful for learning. Also, it should be suggested that the DICT be given the power to transact or cooperate with top international universities to avail the Philippines with direct and secured access to their dissertations and other academic writings uploaded online. With this, the accessibility of internet and access to information is not only being promoted but the boundaries of education that our local schools can provide are being extended to a wider range as well.

According to Munodawafa (2008), former Executive Secretary of Southern Africa Telecommunications Association (SATA), “for ICTs to be used more effectively, a high level of co-operation, partnership and communications ability is needed from various agencies of national governments as well as provincial and local government agencies. ICT regulators, telecom suppliers, broadcasting companies and internet service providers, should also be included in the collaboration efforts.”9 Hence, there is a need for interconnected computer systems not only among the government units but also with the sectors and organizations devoted to disaster management and to enhancing the education system.

 

The Use of Internet by the Citizens

            The core purpose of Senate Bill 53 is to protect the rights of the Filipino citizens in cyberspace particularly their right to express their grievances and right to access the web. However, although this bill is the first one to be created with the use of crowdsourcing wherein the people directly participated in drafting it, it still lacks promotion or endorsement. Basing it from the surveys of the NSCB, most of the Filipino people have no access to the internet; hence, we can safely say that this bill would not interest them if not introduced to them properly. For the SB 53 to better serve its purpose, it should be required that there will be annual seminars about the responsible use of internet to all provinces and towns to be conducted by the DICT Regional offices. Provinces and towns must be targeted in this seminar because these are areas where the internet usage is immensely growing and mostly, this growth is due to the emergence of more internet café.

The “internet café was a lucrative business back in the early 2000 when broadband connectivity was scarce and unlimited dial-up service still costs 5,000 pesos a month. Today, the internet café business has expanded to online gaming.”10 It is evident that Filipino teenagers are hooked to online gaming, thus, the rise of more internet shop business. However, although the increase of this kind of business is beneficial to the economy, it brings with it several crimes arising from disputes in the internet.

One shocking incident was reported by journalist Reinier Padua. It is when a 17-year old boy killed his own grandmother when the latter scolded him while he was playing an online game.11 Another issue connected to this that went viral is when a child was killed by a minor when the former hacked the latter’s online gaming account. One probable reason why these events and other cases occurred is because of the lack of guidance and regulation when it comes to the use of the internet. Roy Espiritu of the science department IT section, as cited by journalist Agence France-Presse, also confirmed that in 2013, “the websites of at least five government agencies, including the anti-graft office of the government Ombudsman, have been hacked by a group called “Anonymous Philippines.”12

Having the DICT as monitor or supervisor is not enough if the citizens themselves will not be aware of the boundaries of their rights in using the internet. Also, the issuance of licences for internet shops is not enough to prove that they are operating legally and responsibly. Therefore, the bill should also include that internet shops should be inspected regularly and that online gaming must have time limits per day. This can be useful in insuring that teenagers who use the internet to play online at home or in internet cafes would be compelled to still study and do other activities essential to their personal growth. With this, their mental state shall be conditioned better, thus, reducing the chances of having juvenile offenses.

If the above mentioned suggestion will be taken into consideration, peace and order in the communities are secured. And if such is followed, there will be no reason for the citizens to commit cybercrimes such as libel and hacking other person’s accounts. If seminars are also conducted, the citizens will be aware of the limit of their right to express their grievances against the government and would be discourage to illegally hack any government websites because they can be tracked by DICT and be held liable. Also, if there would be a regular inspection, physically and in the cyberspace, to computer shops and other operators who use large units of computers with internet, we can avoid the existence of cybersex dens, stop human trafficking with the use of the internet, and other crimes which involves the use of the computer and the internet technology. Thus, the abuse of the right to access the internet by the citizens would be reduced, if not totally avoided.

 

Conclusion:

            The Senate Bill 53 is desirable and necessary to our developing country. We all know that the growing use of the internet is an essential element that contributes to the progress of the Philippines, however, we must consider that usually, progress brings with it chaos. Nonetheless, with this bill, any possible disorder which involves the use of the internet can be regulated and the right of the citizens can also be protected.

The SB 53 is somehow vague but those areas which are tackled herein are of great importance, hence, completely removing them or separating them from each other would make the bill incomplete. Therefore, to make this bill clearer, it must establish connections of all the portions or sections it contains, and such is only possible if it would cooperate with existing government agencies such as the NDRRMC for disaster management, DepEd for the extension and introduction of the use of internet to remote areas, and the local government units for a better monitoring team that will supervise internet café or computer shops operations in the provinces. Also, collaboration with private sectors will be essential.

Some loopholes can still be found in the bill and, basing it from the rate of internet users of the Philippines as of 2013, only less than half of the population will benefit from it. However, since the usage and accessibility of internet is spreading quickly in our country, it will soon be greatly needed by the people. As of now, the gaps in the bill must be corrected quickly to fit the current needs and situation of our society. Nonetheless, if it will be signed into law, and given the rapidly changing environment in cyberspace and in real life, the bill must also be progressive in nature that can recognize and can adapt to future changes.

 

 

Notes:

1 Advantages and Disadvantages of Internet. http://www.yourmaindomain.com/web-articles/Advantages-and-Disadvantages-of-Internet.asp

2 Ibid.

3 Benefits of Internet Use. http://www.cyberethics.info/cyethics1/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=186&Itemid=83&lang=en Benefits of the Internet

4 Remo, Michelle. PH Internet Penetration. Inquirer. October 2013. http://technology.inquirer.net/30571/nscb-says-ph-internet-penetration-rate-up-36

5 Filipino Hackers Fight Back. Inquirer. http://technology.inquirer.net/10235/filipino-hackers-fight-back-deface-chinese-sites

6 Battle for Sabah moves to Cyberspace. The Philippine Star. http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2013/03/05/915958/battle-sabah-moves-cyberspace

7 Garcia, Jing., “The crucial role of the Internet and social media,” 2013, The Manila Times., http://www.manilatimes.net/the-crucial-role-of-the-internet-and-social-media/53651/

8 Garcia., “The crucial role of the Internet and social media,”2013.

9 Munodawafa , Jacob. 2008. Role of Telecommunications and ICTs in Disaster Management. http://www.itu.int/ITU-D/emergencytelecoms/events/Zambia/presentations/sata_%20role_%20of_telecommunications_and_ics_in_%20disaster_management.pdf

10 Olandres, Abe., “The Internet Café Business in the Philippines”. GMA News online., 2008. http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/97877/opinion/blogs/the-internet-caf-business-in-the-philippines

11 Padua, Reinier. The Philippine Star. 2014. http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/nation/metro-manila/03/09/14/teen-kills-grandma-interrupting-game

12 France-Presse, Agence. “Hackers deface Philippine websites in call for protests against pork barrel scam.” Interaksyon. 2013. http://www.interaksyon.com/article/74048/hackers-deface-philippine-websites-in-call-for-protests-against-pork-barrel-scam

 

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