The Philippines’ Department of Justice (DoJ) has asked Facebook to take down over a hundred of dummy accounts bearing the names of students and alumni of several universities across the country, but the data must be preserved for possible prosecution of the perpetrators.
“We have informed Facebook about this so that these could be taken down, but more importantly to preserve the data, whether we are talking about subscriber data, traffic data or content data of these accounts,” Undersecretary of Justice Markk Perete said on Monday.
He said the data would be used as evidence should the affected individuals decide to file a criminal complaint against the creators of the dummy accounts.
Perete told a news briefing: “As we all know, computer-related identity theft is a crime, which is defined and punished by [Republic Act No] 10175, or the Cybercrime Prevention Act.”
It is a serious criminal violation punishable by six to 12 years imprisonment, he said. At least 112 people have complained to the DoJ that their Facebook accounts were duplicated by yet unknown hackers.
Among the schools whose students fell victim to the breach of their data are the University of the Philippines, De La Salle University, University of Santo Tomas, University of San Carlos and University of San Jose Recoletos.
The Department of National Defence and the anti-cybercrime unit of the Philippine National Police are conducting separate probes.
Secretary of Defense Delfin Lorenzana said: “It’s a cause for concern because it creates discordant voices among the people when there should not be.”
Lorenzana pointed out that people against and for the terror bill were accusing each other of perpetrating the cloning of Facebook accounts.
The proliferation of Facebook dummy accounts has engendered two competing theories – that it is meant to stoke fear and harass those opposing the terror bill, and that it is aimed at spreading disinformation against the controversial measure.
Senator Risa Hontiveros said that if the creators of the dummy accounts thought they could sow fear in the hearts of those opposing the terror bill, they were wrong. The effort will just unite the critics more, she said.
“They cannot take away our identity. They cannot take away our resistance. What they’ve done is unite us more,” said Hontiveros.
A House opposition leader said on Monday that the mushrooming of thousands of cloned or dummy accounts on Facebook could be a prelude to a crackdown on activists, who may be framed for violations of the terror bill through fake posts.
Such a strategy by state authorities would be tantamount to an “online tanim ebidensya [planting of evidence]” through identity theft, Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Isagani Zarate warned in a statement.
He said there might be a link between the sudden proliferation of cloned accounts of Filipino Facebook users, among them student activists, journalists and progressive leaders, and the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, which is awaiting President Duterte’s signature.
“If the proposed terror bill is enacted into law, real name owners of these fake accounts can be easily sent to jail for being framed by such means,” said Zarate.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said: “If he has the evidence, he should file the corresponding charge. But in a time of pandemic, he should avoid jumping to conclusions without any evidence.”
In his statement, Secretary of Communications Martin Andanar urged the public to be “conscientious and vigilant” by reporting fake accounts.
“Our office continues its programmes, such as Dismiss Disinformation and Youth for Truth, meant to quell fake news and combat misleading information,” said Andanar.
The House of Representatives last week passed on final reading House Bill No 6875 adopting Senate Bill No 1083, which would amend the Human Security Act by instituting tougher measures against suspected terrorists, raising fears it could be weaponised against government critics.
Among other provisions, the bill allows authorities to arrest and detain people on suspicion of being a terrorist for 14 days, extendible by another 10 days.
It removes the safeguard in the earlier law that penalises erring officers with a 500,000 peso ($10,000) fine for each day someone spends in wrongful detention.
Under the bill, any person who shall “threaten” to commit terrorism shall suffer the penalty of 12 years in prison. The same prison term shall be meted out against those who will “propose any terroristic acts or incite others to commit terrorism”.
The measure says terrorist acts “shall not include advocacy, protest, dissent, stoppage of work, industrial or mass action, and other similar exercises of civil and political rights”, provided that they are “not intended to cause death or serious physical harm to a person, to endanger a person’s life, or to create a serious risk to public safety”.
PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK