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EFF criticizes controversial Philippines cybercrime law

The law, which came into effect on Wednesday, could allow the government to shut down a website without a court order

The U.S.-based Electronic Frontier Foundation criticized new cybercrime legislation that went into effect Wednesday in the Philippines, which has sparked protests over its heavy-handed approach to speech on the internet.

Of most concern in the Cybercrime Prevention Act is a libel provision that can be applied to anonymous criticism on websites and the government's ability to shut down sites containing libelous speech without a court order, the group wrote in a blog post on Wednesday.

"EFF stands with the many local activists in opposing this egregious violation of freedom of expression," it said.

The act was signed into law Sept. 12 by President Benigno S. Aquino III. It has been noted for other striking provisions, such as banning cybersex, which is defined 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 act also defines other offenses related to cybercrime, such as spam, and increases penalties for child pornography.

On Wednesday, Aquino's office issued a statement saying that the government was committed to upholding civil liberties and encourages a dialogue with stakeholders and the Philippines' Department of Justice (DOJ) over how the law will be enforced.

Questions have been raised about the constitutionality of certain provisions of the act," according to spokesman Edwin Lacierda[cq]. "We recognize and respect efforts not only to raise these issues in court, but to propose amendments to the law in accordance with constitutional processes."

On Monday, the Philippines' DOJ distanced itself from act, saying it had opposed the sections that deal with libel, cyber defamation and cyberthreats.

"The main purpose of the legislation was to cover acts committed with new technologies that were not included or could not have been anticipated by the Revised Penal Code or special penal laws," according to a statement from the agency.

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