LGBT rights groups in the Philippines are concerned that a new anti-cyber crime law could in fact make trans women into cyber criminals and as a result endanger their lives.
The law, the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, which was signed into law this month by President Benigno Aquino III, is reportedly intended to prevent online extortion and other Internet-based scams.
However, the law has drawn the ire of local LGBT rights groups who say that the legislation goes much further than that and actually attempts to criminalize activity between consenting adults that should not be subject to criminal prosecution — and that this could ultimately cost people their lives.
The law, which has also raised freedom of speech concerns, would with its vague provisions stand to institute a blanket ban on so-called “cyber sex” with a penalty of six to 10 years in prison or a fine of up to half a million pesos.
Why is this relevant to the LGBT community?
Anti-LGBT hate crimes in the Philippines still go largely unpunished and unrecognized, while the country lacks any substantial nondiscrimination protections for its LGBT citizens. As such, one of the only avenues for LGBTs wanting to pursue romantic or purely sexual relationships has been online.
This new law may be particularly dangerous for the trans community, many of whom through lack of available jobs find themselves forced into sex work and by virtue of this new law may be forced to abandon the relative safety of the Internet for working on the streets.
“There are many [transgender people] who are forced by poverty into baring their bodies before a webcam just to feed their families and send their siblings to school, and they are unwilling victims of trafficking by profiteers,” Clyde Pumihic, of ProGay Baguio, said in a statement to Mindanao Examiner.
Pumihic goes on to say, “This law can potentially double the victimization of poor trans and gay persons because the terms [...] are so vague. The law can deem trafficked persons consented to work for pay.”
Pumihic also warned that this new law gives the police unprecedented powers to violate the privacy of LGBT suspects and therein opens the LGBT community up to threats of extortion and violence from members of the law enforcement agencies and individuals who may exploit the law for profit.
“Instead of protecting us from the real cybercriminals, this law is indeed unwittingly turning us into cybercriminals,” Pumihic said.
A number of individuals and rights groups have petitioned the Philippine High Court in order to prevent the National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine National Police from implementing aspects of the law.
Of particular concern to business owners and media groups is Section 4 (c) which, while criminalizing online libel, does so in a vague manner. Another concern has been Section 12, which allows for government collection of real-time data.
Concerned parties are requesting a permanent injunction to prevent the law’s stipulations from coming into effect.