Can you be jailed for a Facebook 'Like' in the Philippines?

The country's new Cybercrime Prevention Act, which went into effect yesterday, has some very interesting provisions that might lead to very interesting results.

ABSCBN News/YouTube Screenshot: Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

I once dated a Filipina.

On her fridge were the words: "Believe in the miracle of the Blessed Virgin."

I mention this because what was written there was not quite what I experienced. There was a certain recondite, draconian, and rather unforgiving aspect to the miracle of meeting her, which undercut my initially blessed beliefs.

Naturally, not for a moment would I suggest she is representative of everyone -- or even anyone else -- in the Philippines. However, some citizens there are worried that there might be one or two difficult revelations in a miraculous new law that was enacted in the country yesterday. It is entitled the Cybercrime Prevention Act 2012.

This law has apparently fine intentions. We are all familiar with those.

However, some fear that the reality might mean that anything you happen to say online, should someone deem it "critical," might put you in jail -- even if you said it anonymously.

ABS-CBN News in the Philippines offered that it was U.S.-based human rights organizations that saw this law as rather difficult to swallow.

Indeed the Electronic Frontier Foundation described it as a "dark day for the Philippines."

The problem with laws is that no one knows how they will ultimately be interpreted. There is certainly some entertainment to be gained by examining the parsing of certain laws by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Yet those who fear that this Cybercrime Act might be a nasty piece of work suggest that under it, it's possible for even a Facebook "Like" to be construed as libel and bring on a 12-year jail penalty.

This would seem quite laughable. People sometimes press Like buttons because they're trying to be nice to someone, or they've had far too much Grenache.

And yet it would appear that this law could be interpreted as declaring that a Like might be showing support for a libelous comment and therefore be in itself libelous.

As pressure group Access defines it: "Sharing a link, clicking 'Like' on Facebook, or re-tweeting a message could land you 12 years in jail."

Access describes the law as excessively broad and "loophole-ridden." Which does seem to define quite a lot of laws, but still.

The law also includes a takedown provision, which would mean an offending site could be blocked without so much as a court-ordered warrant.

Protesters have taken to Philippine streets -- evidence embedded here, m'lud -- raging against what seems like an imperfect machine.

It's hard to imagine that the Philippines is alone in being a country where -- in practical, if not legal, terms -- Internet freedom is but a childlike notion.

Elections in the Philippines are close at hand. Perhaps they -- and the protests -- might affect the law's progress.

Criticism is a very difficult area, as the Technically Incorrect comments section often proves.

Yet some people tend to use all the evil powers at their disposal, should they feel they have been slighted -- even if many think the slight was actually fair, or even necessary.

But that's enough about my personal life. Let's see what happens with this law.

 

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