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Controversial Internet law inspires protest in Philippines

Numerous Filipino activists are protesting a recent supreme court ruling that could limit free speech online in the country.

Thousands of users use the Internet everyday to express their political opinions on various issues. Some may be more directed than others, but at the end of the day, these online outlets can act as a forum for which political dialogues can thrive.

The line between opinion and libel can be thin depending on who is enforcing it. A blogger for instance may accuse a politician of corruption,  though the truth behind this may be a bit more unclear. Now a debate is raging in the Philippines about whether or not people should have the right to publish what they believe or if this can be considered libel under a recently approved law.

Supreme Court approves legislation
The Associated Press Reported that the Philippines Supreme Court ruled that online libel is a criminal offense under the Cybercrime Prevention Act. The piece of legislation was drafted and passed in 2012, however, had not been enacted because opponents petitioned the court saying that it was unconstitutional.

The news source noted that only parts of the law have been deemed unconstitutional including the provision that allowed online surveillance, however, libel is now punishable offense that comes with a maximum 12-year imprisonment or $4,400 fine. The law was drafted with the intent of limiting cybercrime online including hacking, identity theft, cybersex and child pornography.

Protests mobilize
According to the Blouin News this has led to numerous demonstrations around the country against the libel law. Many are concerned that the government could use the law to restrict journalists and netizens from criticizing the government and generally limit internet freedom.

As a result, many protestors have expressed their dismay on the streets of Manila and in other parts of the country, both on and offline. The effects of this law could be numerous. There are millions of users in the country on the web, however, only about one third of the country is connected to the Internet. This puts the country at a cross roads when it comes to how it will govern policy going forward.

If the country is to see a truly free and open Internet, its government needs to listen to the concerns of the citizens. While outright libel is certainly illegal, there is a fine line that could very easily be crossed under this new law, which would be a detriment to the emerging country.

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