Is PH internet safe?
Is the Philippine internet safe?
No, it isn’t.
Today, the Philippines is observing “Safer Internet Day for Children,” by virtue of Proclamation No. 417 issued by President Duterte in 2018. First introduced in 2004 by several European countries, the observance has now spread to over 100 countries, with the aim of raising awareness about online issues faced by children, and on a wider scale, about digital security.
The government’s theme for Safer Internet Day this year — “Responsableng paggamit ng Internet, sana all” — sounds quite hollow in light of the recent commotion at the Department of Information and Communications Technology. Undersecretary Eliseo Rio Jr.’s resignation was linked to a Jan. 20 Commission on Audit observation memorandum that revealed that, in three instances last year, the department advanced P300 million in cash for “confidential expenses.” The eventual issuance of a joint statement by Rio and DICT Secretary Gregorio Honasan II, noting that Rio “never mentioned any anomaly in the disbursement of the Confidential Expense of the DICT,” only stokes the fires of suspicion.
Why, in the first place, does the DICT have funds for confidential expenses? The budget books define confidential funds as the budget for surveillance activities “in civilian departments and agencies.” Is the government spying on its people over the internet? With the very department that should be at the forefront of digital security being annually appropriated hundreds of millions in confidential funds, the answer is most probably “Yes.”The DICT’s multimillion-peso allotment should also be looked into for another thing—whether it is the source of funding for the long-suspected employment of “astroturfing,” or the maintenance of online trolls by the government to sway public opinion. The government has likewise been linked to more insidious cyberattacks in previous years, including the use of distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks to silence critical independent media that mainly rely on the internet for distribution.
Beyond the anxiety-provoking thought of state forces spying on everything you type in cyberspace, we can assess the digital security landscape in the Philippines by zeroing in on how state forces are protecting — or rather, neglecting — the most vulnerable sector of society using the internet: children. According to the Child Rights Network, about one in five Filipino children are susceptible to online sexual abuse in one form or another.
While there are existing Philippine laws on protecting internet users, especially children, from online abuse, stark gaps remain. The Philippines has yet to have an all-encompassing law covering the full range of online sexual exploitation of children (Osec), greatly hindering the prosecution of perpetrators and the delivery of justice to child victims. Existing laws also do not punish Osec attempts, only successful, consummated acts. Even the policing of internet service providers and private actors, such as banks and other financial institutions where payments for online sexual services are coursed through, remains inadequate.
Such failures underline why the government’s call this day for the responsible use of the internet by everyone should, first of all, be directed at itself.
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Marjohara Tucay is a child rights advocate and is part of the national secretariat of Altermidya Network, a national alliance of alternative and community media organizations.
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