Saturday, October 13, 2012

Hackers and Democracy

I was taken aback by President Aquino's clear support of the new Cybercrime Law, even its libel provisions. His point was that freedom must have bounds; it is not unlimited.

I agree. The question is, where are the bounds, who enforces them and how are they enforced? I rather think Jose Rizal and Thomas Jefferson had different ideas about that than President Aquino.

The removal of the courts from the "un plug'em" provision errs on the side of thuggish National Behavior. And the doubling of penalties for online crimes reflects a standing bias, as if being online were a core sin requiring doubling up on penalties.

I rather think these laws are brought to us by a bunch of old farts who don't use the internet, don't understand it, and believe that young people only go there to do bad things. Interestingly enough, I rather suspect the first place the old farts would go if they could figure out how a computer works is porn sites.

The unbalanced way that libel laws can be used by the powerful (those who have attorneys) to attack those who are not powerful (those without attorneys) is thuggish.  Filing the charge is as good as declering someone "guilty". The lack of balance, which favors the powerful, is thuggish.

We might as well swap for the Chinese government if thuggish is the national passion. You know, just outsource to that authoritarian committee and be done with the hallucination that Filipinos can do democracy. Where ordinary people count.

But I also agree that there ought to be limits of expression. Hacking is way beyond the bounds of reasonable acts. The hackers who are maliciously interfering with government processes have replaced their brains with ideals. They are baby tossers, you know, the ones who toss the babies out with the bath water.

To represent an ideal of free speech they take away citizen rights to certain government services. The hackers' right to be angry is deemed more important than the rights of others. They are just thugs of a different cloth, emulating the official National Thugs.

But I want to cut at this subject from an entirely different starting point.

It is my opinion that the Philippines is rapidly moving into the modern world. This modernization is characterized by a more mature attitude about what government's job is, about crime and corruption, about economic fundamentals, and about social values.

The Cybercrime Law is a step backward, but it is a bump that will be smoothed out in time.

A couple of blogs ago, I took a shot at re-writing a couple of sections of the 1987 Philippine Constitution. It was instructional from two standpoints:

  1. I learned that crafting high-minded words is difficult. The expressions need to be both fluid and meaningful.

  1. The content has to be correct. That is, the laws must reflect agreed-upon  values of the nation. No capital punishment, for instance. Or no foreign bases on Philippine soil.  Or foreign ownership of businesses capped at 40 percent.

Sometimes that agreement on values is hard to arrive at.

The content issue I was dealing with pertained to the president's right to declare martial law, and subordinate to that, his right to deny due process and trial to some arrestees during martial law.

In my redraft I eliminated declaration of martial law as a power given to the Philippine president. Furthermore, I changed the perspective to guarantee the right of trial to anyone arrested on Philippine soil. Even soldiers of attacking armies.


The president is empowered to use the military and the police in any manner he sees fit for 48 hours or more. After 48 hours, the legislature can step in and countermand his orders if legislators deem the president's acts harmful. The president has a lot of latitude to put down riots and coups and other violent deeds.

The main benefit of martial law is that people can be arrested and jailed without due process or trial. And the President presumably has special latitude to be less than polite in going after those he deems opponents.

That makes sense if the nation is characteristically unstable and disorderly. The threat of a powerful response to unrest suppresses unrest.

That is the big deciding factor for me. I think the Philippines is no longer a banana republic. It is no longer one general short of a coup. Indeed there are thugs and hotheads about, like Senators Sotto and Trillanes, respectively, or the hackers who are off on their destructive bent, or the NPA extortionists who still wrap their gangster activities in the cloak of political protest. But the WEIGHT of powerful people has swung toward legitimate acts rather than end runs.

Gloria Arroyo made the final end run when she tried to get the Constitution re-written to extend her term in office. At least that is what people suspect was her goal. She failed.

A few old generals got bent out of shape when President Aquino started hunting down the corrupt thieves amongst their crowd and "coup" solicitations evidently were issued. But the younger officers were having none of that.

The Mindanao peace agreement is a big stride toward stability. It is a reflection that even extreme groups have come to the realization that violence builds nothing.

It is my contention that the Philippines is no longer a hot-tempered, ego-bound, knee-jerk banana republic.

Dropping martial law from the constitution makes a vivid statement on that point to investors. It is a huge stride away from the dark days of Marcos and a step toward confidence in the character of Philippine democracy. The president still has plenty of firepower to fight violence. He just has to do it without abridging anyone's right to judicial review of charges.

In this same vein, we can see that there are two ways to look at the current flare-up about the new cybercrime law:

  • It is a disaster, showing that Philippine social values and governance are still anchored in middle age values associated with aristocratic rule and suppression of public expression.


  • The outcry from the public demonstrates that Philippine democracy is stronger than it has ever been. The final check and balance is with the people, and, in the internet era, the people can speak in a timely, powerful way.

The correct view is out for judgment and depends on what the Supreme Court and Legislature do to remove the libel section of the law. Before the President's defense of the law, I was 85% confident the libel provisions and more severe totalitarian provisions of the law would be struck down or amended.  I dropped it to 45% after the President spoke on the matter, defending the libel provision in all its chilling splendor. But given the TRO issued the other day by the Supreme Court, maybe that 85% is still about right.

If the courts or legislators fail to correct the gross infringements on free speech and privacy  that this law represents, then I would again begin describing the Philippines as a banana republic. For effect more than anything. I still believe the trend line is good, and stability is here, now.

I think the first reaction above, (the Philippines is a democratic disaster) is the natural reaction to such offensive measures as government snooping into private social accounts without court warrant, or libel laws that carry double the penalty simply because the offense occurs on line. Such arbitrary and hostile acts appear to be the work of a very thuggish and untrustworthy government.

That the libel provision was a "stealth" insertion without debate in congress or any effort to get public comment makes the deed downright despicable. A lot of smart people missed it.

Hopefully the second statement above will prove to be profoundly true and maybe that is where we ought to go with this. Rather than anger, lets watch the system work. Or even better, work the system. Agitate and aggravate.  Write to congress-people. 

Work to throw people out of office who are determined not to represent the best interest of a free and democratic public, or who insist on remaining ignorant as to what the internet represents. I'll  write more about this in a future blog.

I'm confident the law will never be deployed in the worst imaginings with herds of cybercops roaming the net harassing and arresting bloggers or Facebook users for minor infractions. (I am struck by visions of Sylvester Stallone as "The Judge", garish neon reds and yellows flashing against the black of the night as we see the Rambo-Judge strutting in to ruthlessly erase the individual he has personally determined is guilty.)

Well, it is hard to do that in the online internet world without taking the Philippines back to the stone ages like North Korea. It is a slippery medium, this internet. It is not located in the Philippines, it travels by space and through the air, not always by hard wire. You can't snip it off, entirely.

To truly stop dissent, the government would have to start pulling plugs on internet providers and social network sites. Cutting off Twitter. Can you imagine?

Young people would riot and investors would flee the Philippines. Educated and powerful people would not stand for it.

You see, another element of the maturity of Philippine governance is the active engagement of well-educated Filipinos on line. There is no need for the people to get hot and sweaty on Edsa, where taunting of authority risks breaking into riot. The voice of the people regarding the Cybercrime Law is being heard around the world. In New York. At Human Rights Watch. By investors.

That's why the hacking is especially damaging.

Hackers are the last remnant of violent civil disobedience. They are the few people who, at a peaceful rally, would throw rocks at the police.

They represent the Philippines poorly. As a banana republic.

It is no longer necessary.

The Philippines has moved on.

They should move on, too.


  1. Agree with you and Manuel Buencamino's view on irresponsible hacktivists and collateral damage to the poor and powerless using these government agencies. The anti-cybercrime law may actually represent a strong backlash to this kind of mischief, only that law is too much counterforce. Not helpful at all.


    1. Yep. The law could be good if focused on the real abuses: stalking, scams, child porn, hacking. But outlawing cybersex is a slippery slope of moral judgment bound to offend a great many, and libel a cliff.

  2. JoeAm, one good the government can do in place of that martial law power is to enforce eminent domain. There, the government or state will be up against big business, the ones who contribute to their political kitty. Heard MMDA is retaking the esteros of Manila. Good luck to them.


    1. Interesting. The Manila metropolitan area is made up of, what, 10 separate cities? Each a fiefdom, eh? Its like the provinces with their dominant clans, only compact. It is hard to create civic order if the powers within the city don't want to be ordered. Good luck, indeed.

  3. What I see here is an effort for balance, an attempt to occupy the high middle ground.

    There is condemnation of the extremes to suppress freedom of expression and, the exact opposite, to abuse that freedom. Strangely enough, hacking as practiced lately constituted suppression of expression of governmental websites. In either direction the arguments are clear and the language of condemnation is certainly colorful.

    (Is JoeAm treading the Middle Path?)

    In any case, let the clarion call to maturity be heeded by all. The Australian government developed a slogan against terrorism after 9/11 that the netizens may well adopt: “Be alert but not alarmed.” Words are weightier than stones.

    1. JoeAm is staggering blindly through the forest, leeches in his britches and gnats in his eyes.

      "Be alert but not alarmed." That's not so easy I think. It requires the suppression of emotions and magnification of perception. It's like writing blogs during a huge electrical storm and saying "be calm, keep typing". Shrieking is more natural, or diving for under the bed.


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