MANILA, Feb 5, 2013 (AFP) – The Philippine Supreme Court has again stopped the government from enforcing a controversial cybercrime law, officials said Tuesday, amid concern it would severely curb Internet freedoms.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said a fresh “temporary restraining order” (TRO) issued by the Supreme Court meant the law passed last year could not take effect.
“We submit to the court’s discretion and respect such decision to extend the TRO,” she told AFP in a text message. “It’s not a total defeat. It’s just a TRO pending determination of the merits of the petitions.”
President Benigno Aquino signed the law in September last year, amid huge online protests, to stamp out cybercrimes such as fraud, identity theft, spamming and child pornography.
But opponents swiftly sued over provisions that authorise heavy prison terms for online libel and give the state powers to shut down websites and monitor online activities.
The court in October issued a four-month injunction that was to have lapsed this week, as it scrutinised the law for possible violations of constitutional provisions on freedom of expression.
De Lima did not say how long the new injunction would be in force and Supreme Court officials declined to comment.
Aquino spokesman Ramon Carandang said the government acknowledged the public’s concerns.
He noted that even its chief lawyer, Solicitor-General Francis Jardeleza, had publicly acknowledged that shutting down websites may be illegal.
“As the president said, it’s not a perfect law and even (Jardeleza) had questions about the takedown provisions,” Carandang told AFP.
Jardeleza however has also said this provision was not enough reason to strike down the entire law.
Democracy.Net.PH, a Philippine online group advocating Internet freedom, in a statement applauded the court’s “responsiveness to public sentiment”.
“While we hope that the Supreme Court will settle the unconstitutionality of the (law), the ultimate resolution lies with Congress,” it said, urging parliament to pass a law promoting online rights and security.