Thursday, October 4, 2012

De Lima orders NBI: Hunt down hackers

MANILA, Philippines - The real punch of the newly enacted law against so-called cyber crimes would be put to the test as Justice Secretary Leila de Lima ordered the arrest yesterday of hackers of government websites. De Lima gave the orders to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) on the same day thet controversial Republic Act 10175 or Cybercrime Prevention Act took effect yesterday. Hackers have attacked key government websites as protest against the new law. Attacked by hackers before dawn yesterday were the websites of the Official Gazette, the NBI, and both chambers of Congress, among others. The targeted websites became inaccessible to the public for a few hours. “They will trace who the hackers are and apprehend them. For this purpose, they need to coordinate with the intelligence units of other investigative bodies,” De Lima told reporters. She said the hackers should be arrested and prosecuted for illegal access to computer system as defined under section 4 (a) of the anti-cybercrime act. The still unidentified suspects in the hacking incidents face imprisonment of six to 12 years or a fine of at least P200,000, or both, if arrested and found guilty. “The purpose of the law is to protect our citizens from unscrupulous and abusive actions of misfits and the wicked in society… Disagreeing with certain sections of the law or questioning legislative intent is no excuse to commit crimes – defacing websites whether government or not, disrupting essential operations and services and causing damage to scare resources,” De Lima pointed out. The justice chief said the NBI already has a computer crimes unit and that its technical capabilities would be enhanced once the Department of Justice (DOJ) sets up its cybercrime office to be headed by Assistant Secretary Geronimo Sy. Several groups, including Anonymous Philippines and PrivateX, had earlier owned up to attacks on government websites. “The number of incidents and the ease of hacking government websites only shows the vulnerability of our country’s ICT (information and communication technology) framework and proves the necessity of a cybercrime law to protect us against criminal syndicates and transnational organized crimes,” Sy said in a statement. He assured critics of the law that their objections and fears would be addressed through the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) being drafted and through a multi-sectoral dialogue set on Oct. 9 at the DOJ. At the NBI, special investigator Joey Narciso denied the agency’s website had been hacked but said there had been attempts to penetrate it. “Several users tried to penetrate or access the website all at the same time which slowed down the response time of the system to a point that we had to shut it down,” Narciso said. “We have several ways to run after these hackers, through technical and intelligence gathering. The hackers said the authorities would have difficulty in finding or arresting them. But it is possible to catch them through technical capabilities of the NBI and intelligence sharing between law enforcement agencies,” Narciso said. “We do not need high tech software or system. All are available in the Internet and could be used (to locate the hackers).” De Lima said that they intend to gather inputs from stakeholders and come up with an IRR that will “clarify and harmonize the so-called objectionable portions in the law.” Various groups have questioned RA 10175 before the Supreme Court (SC), citing vagueness of some provisions, for instance the issue on double jeopardy since some provisions allow filing of separate charges under the new law and under the Revised Penal Code for the same offense. The DOJ will work with the Department of the Interior and Local Government and the Department of Science and Technology in coming up with the IRR within 90 days or three months after the approval of the law last Sept. 12. “We will gradually handle this matter and very prudently because of the objections being raised and pending petitions. So even without TRO (temporary restraining order from the SC), perhaps our implementation will not be immediately full-blown,” she told reporters. “The law requires an IRR for an effective implementation but it doesn’t mean it will not take effect without the IRR. Still, prudence dictates that it’s better to take it slowly at this point. Maybe it should be only in cases of palpable criminal acts committed that should be addressed by law enforcement authorities for now,” she added. She said they would also prioritize organized crimes, which are clear threats to national interest. She also explained that the law does not appear to be inconsistent with the Constitution. “In my reading of the law, I can’t see any unconstitutional provision. Some sectors have questioned libel provision but we should remember that it is already a criminal offense under existing law,” she said. “The only issue is the propriety or imposition of higher degree of penalty, which is not a constitutional issue.” Legal challenge But questions on the new law’s constitutionality continued to flood the SC yesterday. Two groups yesterday filed separate petitions seeking to stop the implementation of some provisions in the new law. This brought to nine the number of petitions against RA 10175. The SC is expected to tackle the petitions in its next session on Tuesday. Lawyers of the Ateneo Human Rights Center (AHRC) and journalists led by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines have argued that the law violates constitutional rights to due process, speech, expression, free press and academic freedom. For instance, they said section 19 – which gives the DOJ secretary the power to block or restrict access to any content upon prima facie finding of violation of the law even without trial – is tantamount to prior restraint which is not allowed by Article III Section 4 of the Constitution. They said this provision also violates constitutional rights to privacy of communication and against unreasonable searches and seizures. “It is, in effect, a gag law potentially capable of shaping people’s mind and way of thinking. Under the threat of government intrusion, users will be forced to toe the government’s line if only to make use of or access their computers,” AHRC said in its 40-page petition signed by Ateneo law dean Sedfrey Candelaria and professors Melencio Sta. Maria, Amparita Sta. Maria, Ray Paolo Santiago, Gilbert Sembrado and Ryan Jeremiah Quan. The other petition was signed online by at least 211 individuals and 12 different media outfits and watchdogs, including Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility and Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism. More protests The House minority bloc is also calling for the removal of contentious provisions in the law. “We would also like to express our concern over the chilling effect that the Cybercrime Prevention Act may have over freedom of speech,” House Minority Leader and Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez said in a statement. “While we agree that there are some abuses to this right, we should err on its liberal side,” he said. “After all, a robust media and opinionated citizenry is one of the bastions of a real democracy,” he added. On Tuesday, two of Suarez’s colleagues – Kabataan party-list Rep. Raymond Palatino and Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Teodoro Casiño – filed House Bill 6613 seeking to repeal several contentious provisions of RA 10175. “The passage of Republic Act No. 10175, or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, poses serious threats to Internet freedom, the right to privacy and other essential civil liberties including the freedom of speech, expression, and the press,” Palatino said in the explanatory note on HB 6613. Former senator Ernesto Maceda also called the new law unconstitutional. “I have taken a stand in the past supporting the decriminalization of libel. This law that criminalizes libel online is a step backward in our democracy,” Maceda said. “Were the legislators sleeping when the Cybercrime Law was on the Senate floor? Why did they let it pass without amending it?” Maceda wrote on Twitter. Connie Bragas-Regalado, Migrante sectoral party-list president, said the new law would have an adverse effect on the access to information of 15 million Filipinos abroad. “Social media, through social networking sites, help greatly in ‘connecting’ Filipinos abroad to the homeland and to other Filipino communities around the world because it is ‘real-time’ and accessible to them. Imposing e-martial law is tantamount to the curtailment of the access of information of overseas Filipinos,” Regalado said in a statement. She cited the case of OFW Agnes Tenorio from Hong Kong who was able to record the verbal abuse she endured from labor attaché Romulo Salud in 2010. Tenorio disseminated the conversation through the Internet, causing a public uproar that led to Salud’s eventual recall. Overreaction? For Sen. Gregorio Honasan, opposition to some provisions of the law may be an overreaction and that some political spin doctors are using the issue in preparation for the 2013 midterm elections. “This is a simple case of overreaction. I understand this though, because we Filipinos tend to be overprotective of our rights. But sometimes we forget about being responsible,” Honasan said over Radio 5. Honasan admitted that he supported the approval of the law, particularly the provision on libel, saying he was a victim of trial by publicity himself. “They will destroy your reputation and even the future of your family. So I am very passionate about the balancing of rights and freedoms with responsibility,” Honasan said. “I signed it and I will sign it again if necessary. But in the meantime, be calm because the law will not yet be implemented,” he added. Honasan chairs the Senate committee on public information and mass media, one of the committees that took up the bill. Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, meanwhile, defended the inclusion of libel in the law. He pointed out that there were no objections when the amendment was introduced, and when it was put to a vote and finally ratified in June by the bicameral conference committee. “What insertion are they talking about? They are making it appear as if there was something sinister about it. I am not the author and the sponsor of the bill. They just want to crucify me,” Sotto said. “They have to put it in their thick skulls that the Senate ratified the bicam (report) on June 4. There was nothing we could do about it anymore. The libel (provision) was there already,” he added. Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, the lone senator who cast a dissenting vote on the bill, said that the best way to remedy the situation is for the SC to declare as unconstitutional certain provisions of the law, including Internet libel. “The law itself has provisions that are unconstitutional and they cannot be corrected by IRR. They should first be declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court and then we can make amendments,” Guingona said. Senators Francis Escudero and Pia Cayetano have signified their intention to file their respective bills to amend and repeal some provisions of the law when Congress resumes session next week. “I welcome moves to immediately revise some contentious provisions of the Cybercrime Law while we implement provisions to deter alarming types of cybercrimes – child pornography, cybersex and computer-related fraud,” Sen. Loren Legarda said. Sen. Edgardo Angara, for his part, said, “I think we are much better off with a law like the cybercrime law in operation than one cyberspace without one. We will be operating in one cyber-universe without rules, like the wild west without laws.” Meanwhile, an expert in website solutions said the government should brace for more attacks from hackers as “there is no such thing as 100 percent safe or hack-proof websites.” “Internet was not designed for that or it has never been anticipated when Internet was first introduced to the public,” Agnes Degamo, Philippine branch manager of Emerge, told The STAR yesterday. “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes,” she said, paraphrasing Benjamin Franklin. “Most website owners wouldn’t know that they have been hacked. Nowadays, since website is essential to any business, website owners should be very careful in choosing the right website hosting provider that can give the best protection for their investment,” she warned. – With Michael Punongbayan, Paolo Romero, Marvin Sy, Mayen Jaymalin, Sandy Araneta, Jose Rodel Clapano - By Edu Punay