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Wednesday, 28 January, 2004

US urges Philippines to implement cybercrime law

Geoffrey P. Ramos, MANILA

Cybercrime experts from the United States last week urged the Philippine government to hasten the enactment of a law against electronic crimes to help prevent the cybercrime situation from getting worse.

Representatives from the US Department of Justice (DoJ) told local journalists in a press briefing that delaying the enactment of legislation against cybercrimes will likely lead to more crimes.

"If you delay (enacting a law against cybercrimes), it will only embolden those who commit these electronic crimes," said Richard Downing, senior legal counsel of the US DoJ's Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section.

Downing and Joel Michael Schwarz, a trial attorney of the US DoJ, conducted a workshop on the US cybercrime law for the Information Technology and E-Commerce Council (ITECC) in Tagaytay early this month. The workshop was intended to help local legislators and policy-makers improve the current draft of the cybercrime prevention bill that is still pending in Congress.

The proposed law has already been approved at the House of Representatives but still has to be taken up in the Senate. Senator Francis Pangilinan, the newly designated majority floor leader, is reportedly leading efforts to have the bill approved in the Senate. However, as Congress is set to adjourn next month to pave the way for the holding of national elections in May, chances of the bill being passed any time soon is very slim.

Claro Parlade, who heads the ITECC's legal cluster, said it would also take more time to integrate the recommendations of the US experts in the draft law. "Incorporating the lessons that we've learned from other countries so that the law can be made more effective will take some time," he said.

Downing said enacting a law against cybercrimes will not only serve as a deterrent to electronic crimes, it would likewise improve the country's image and serve to attract foreign investors. "Countries that can protect intellectual property and punish cybercrimes will attract new capital as opposed to countries where they don't have the laws in place," he said.

The workshop that the US DoJ representatives conducted was part of a larger program initiated by the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) to promote the development of cybercrime legislation across the region.

APEC member-countries in 2002 agreed to each put in place a comprehensive legal framework for combatting crybercrimes. A program that would support this goal is being implemented in two phases. The first phase involved a regional conference in July last year where various countries shared their experiences to help Asian governments develop their own cybercrime legislation. The second phase involves one-on-one meetings with the US and Canada, where cybercrime laws have been consistently amended to fight existing and emerging forms of computer crimes.

Downing said the local conference conducted for ITECC was requested by the Philippine government to allow the US to share its experiences with local policy-makers. Although the American cybercrime law is not perfect, Downing said the US has had plenty of experiences that the Philippines can learn from.

One lesson, for example, that Downing gave was the use of the word "virus" in the cybercrime law. This word is very technology specific and the use of it could limit the law's capability in the future. Instead of specifically tackling viruses, the US cybercrime law has been amended to talk about the concept of communications and the state's capability to protect it. Doing this also avoided limiting the scope of the law to just email, the most popular form of electronic communications today.

Downing said the APEC program aimed at fighting cybercrimes does not end with the development of a legal infrastructure for each country. Another important element is ensuring that each country has law enforcement people who are properly trained and equipped to handle and solve cybercrimes.

To help the Philippines in this aspect, the US Department of State will give a grant to the country specifically to help train officers of the Philippine National Police and the National Bureau of Investigation, said Downing.

Another important element in the fight against cybercrimes is to have a process where countries can cooperate quickly in the case of an attack. "It is very important for countries to be able to move quickly. The trail of an electronic crime quickly becomes cold," said Downing.

To pave the way for this type of cooperation, a 24x7 response network has already been set up. The Philippines is already a member of this emergency response network, which is being led by the G8 Alliance of First World countries, he added.

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