Certainly governments have a role in fighting online crime. Indeed, here in the United States federal authorities are becoming more and more aggressive in using the Internet to monitor citizens and non-citizens alike when they fall under suspicion, though there’s plenty of debate around when exactly such cyber tools are used to prove criminal activity or monitor people.
What online security measures governments should take is an especially dicey question in countries with a history of oppression or don’t embrace the kinds of rights that Americans take for granted.
For example, the Philippines recently passed the Cybercrime Prevention Act, which the Electronic Freedom Foundation describes as “troubling.” Among other things, it cites a libel provision that criminalizes anonymous online criticism. Another section allows the country’s Department of Justice to block access to “computer data” that it finds to be in violation of the act. In other words, the group says, the department could shut down, without a court order, a website it feels is hosting libelous speech. It brings to mind the way Argentinian strongman Juan Peron dealt with criticism in the 1940s: He burned down newspaper offices.
Ironically, activists used text messaging to help organize the mass demonstrations that ultimately led to the removal of President Joseph Estrada in 2001.
Whether the act is unconstitutional is an issue for the Filipino courts. But its wording raises a compelling question: What would cyber martial law look like? What would happen if a government felt threatened enough to flip the big red switch that would cut off its citizens from the Internet? China does just this in fits and starts. When it sees search terms it doesn’t like, it blocks them.
The EFF contends that the Filipino act “will set back decades of struggle against the darkness of ‘constitutional dictatorship’ and replace it with ‘cyber authoritarianism.” Filipino groups fighting for repeal say the law “unduly restricts the rights and freedoms of netizens and impacts adversely on an entire generation’s way of living, studying, understanding and relating.”
It’s a dramatic debate in a country that knows what a lack of freedom feels like and has learned how to fight for it. Where in the world will this fight take place next?
Could it happen here? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
Image: za Geex