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Philippine Online Harassment Bill Could Threaten Speech

Categories: Philippines, Free Expression, Law, Women-Gender

In an effort to protect women and children against online harassment, Philippine Senator Nancy Binay has filed [1] a bill called Electronic Violence Against Women or E-VAW [2]. But some are worried that the measure, if approved, would be used to strictly regulate social media.

Binay said the bill aims to “prevent…exploitation [via] social media” by safeguarding victims of online harassment [3] from further harm against their perpetrators. She added that there is a need “to regulate the exploitative and irresponsible use of social media that has become a mode of disseminating scandals involving both television personalities and private individuals.”

A letter from a young woman asking the government to stop the spread of a sex video which featured her. Binay's measure  is intended to address a case such as this.

A letter from a young woman asking the government to stop the spread of a sex video which featured her. Image released by Philippines Department of Justice.

The bill defines “electronic violence” as:

any act involving the exploitation of data that can cause or is likely to cause mental, emotional and psychological distress or suffering to the victim.

She also enumerated common examples of ‘digital harassment’ covered in the proposed measure:

This can involve the unauthorized recording, reproduction or distribution of videos showing the victim's private areas; uploading or sharing any form of media with sensitive and indecent content without the victim's consent; harassment through text messaging, electronic or any other multimedia means; cyberstalking, including the hacking of personal accounts on social networking sites and the use of location trackers on cellular devices and the unauthorized use of the victim's identity (pictures, video, voice, name) for distribution that can harm the victim's reputation. [emphasis mine]

Under the measure, a victim of online violence can file for E-protection orders from local courts or village councils. The E-protection orders would lead to

the immediate blocking, blacklisting, removal or shut down of any upload, program or application that causes or tends to cause violence against the victim.

In its current draft, the law clearly runs to the risk of censoring online content that is perfectly legal.

Binay clarified that the measure is not for general application. Rather, in her vision, it is specific for women being abused online by people with whom they have a personal relationship such as a spouse or former boyfriend.

Being bullied or harassed by a known perpetrator, or someone close to you, has a serious emotional and psychological impact than being hassled by a stranger.

She added [4] that it is not her intention to suppress online freedom:

…this is not about me. Nakakalungkot lang kasi parang tinitira na naman ako ulit na parang I'm trying to suppress the freedom. Ito ay another protection para sa ating mga kababaihan. Nakita ninyo naman yung mga nangyari these past years, yung mga posts sa internet ng mga sex videos? So ito yung protection nila, so they can have a way na makapagreklamo.

… this is not about me. It’s just frustrating that I am being criticized again as if I'm trying to suppress the freedom. This is another protection for our women. You saw what happened in recent years, those internet sex videos? This (measure) is a protection (for women), so they can have a way to file complaint

In a radio interview, Binay’s media officer admitted [5] that she also filed the bill because of her experience during the election campaign a few months ago. Binay, the daughter of the country’s vice president, was severely criticized online for her decision to run in the senate despite having no previous experience in public service. During the campaign, Binay said she was a victim [6] of cyber-bullying.

Binay’s measure was described by local media sites as a social media regulation [7] and it is being contrasted [8] to other proposed Senate measures such as the deletion [9] of the harsh penalty against cyber libel, a crowdsourcing bill [10], and the magna carta [11] for Internet freedom.