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Filipino hackers protest against cybercrime act

Filipino hackers have attacked websites in protest against a new cyber act. Officials say the law will help tackle online crime. But many of the country's citizens fear it could be misused for political ends.

Officials in the Philippines on Wednesday said that several websites in the country had been hacked overnight by a group in protest against a new cybercrime law.

The targeted websites included those belonging to government agencies and private firms such as the central bank, the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines and the health department.

"For a few hours, our website was inaccessible to those who needed to get real-time information," central bank Deputy Governor Juan De Zuniga Junior said.

The Cybercrime Prevention Act came into effect in the Philippines on Tuesday despite petitions against the new law being presented to the Supreme Court. Legislators argue that it will help in the fight against online offenses such as hacking, spamming, online child pornography and identity theft.

However, activists fear the legislation could breach civil freedoms enshrined in the constitution. Some groups warn that it could be used as a political weapon to crack down on the government's critics.

Many social network users have uploaded an image of a black screen as their profile picture on Facebook in protest.

Fears over libel crackdown

In accordance with the law, the authorities will be able to destroy computer data it considers to be libellous. Libel is also considered by the legislation to be a cybercrime that can result in cumulative penalties amounting to prison sentences of up to 14 years.

Critics have pointed out that the sentence is longer than those applicable for traditional libel crimes, which are not committed online - the maximum sentence for offenses coming under the latter category is four years.

The statute also enforces no limitations on liability for libel, said Senator Teofisto Guingona III, a critic of the legislation.

"If any of my thoughts or the thoughts expressed by people on [Facebook or Twitter] accounts that I own happens to offend someone, I can now be charged for libel," he said. "Suddenly, I can be punished for expressing critical thought online or allowing my Facebook friends to do the same on my own page.”

"With this law, even Mark Zuckerberg, the owner of Facebook, can be charged with cyber-libel," Guingona III added.

sej/tj (AP, dpa)