ARE we moving forward or backward?
On March 29, 1994, the Philippine Network Foundation (PHNet) used a 64-Kbp leased line connection to connect its member institutions to partners in the United States.
For the first time, the country was linked to the Internet and the so-called Information Superhighway.
By this count, this coming March will be our 20th year of being “wired,” which, along with “online,” “hooked up,” “connected,” “web-enabled” and other synonyms simply means that we are using “computers to transfer or receive information, especially by means of the Internet.”
Those of us born at a time when information was first acquired only at great cost and delay—which often meant that when it was available, the information was useless—see the Internet as a godsend.
Would it have taken us 20 years to oust the dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his minions if we had the Internet to boost the opposition and make activism a less bloody, protracted struggle?
According to the 2009 “Philippines – Public Access Landscape Study” conducted by a team from the University of Washington Center for Information and Society, the growth of the Internet in the country was hindered by the lack of Internet infrastructure, its cost and corruption in the government.
Twenty years later, where are we? We have an untold number of smalltime businessmen renting out laptops and USB Internet connections to local families who cannot afford to buy their own.
These families are learning to go online so foreigners can pay in foreign currency to watch Filipino children pose nude or simulate sex or self-abuse before webcams.
According to BBC News, an Angeles City raid in 2012 arrested Timothy Ford of Kettering, Northamptonshire for paying Filipino parents that got five of their children to “perform” before a webcam.
Ford paid the parents 13 British pound sterling, equivalent to P970.71 today, for the entire “show”.
Last Feb. 18, I received an SMS breaking news alert from Rappler that the Supreme Court (SC) upheld as constitutional most of the provisions of Republic Act No. 101751, also known as the Cybercrime Law. Included in the approved provisions is the controversial provision on online libel.
As of this writing, word is spreading online and through the old but still reliable word of mouth that Internet users are meeting for a #notocybercrimelaw assembly on Feb. 22, 1 p.m. at the College of Law grounds of the University of the Philippines Diliman campus to discuss the next strategies for opposing the Cybercrime Law.
A Manila Times online report quoted a group called the Bloggers and Netizens for Democracy (BAND) as “lamenting” the Supreme Court decision to uphold a law that curtails freedom of expression even as the country will commemorate its 20th anniversary of being wired and a year before the Asean integration.
The Band spokespersons said laws exist to combat cybersex and cybertrafficking. They argued that the Cybercrime Law threatens five principles of Internet freedom: expression, access, openness, innovation and privacy.
As we find ourselves with actual roads and highways, we are at a crossing in the Information Superhighway.
In 1993, the PHNet was born after the Department of Science and Technology partnered with colleges and universities, including the University of San Carlos in Cebu City. The vision was to connect the country to the Information Superhighway, specially schools, for the growth of learning and global competitiveness.
A day before the SC upheld the Cybercrime Law, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) raided a private school in Muntinlupa that also served as a center for child and adult cyberporn operations.
The president of the academy denied that she knew the illegal nature of the enterprise that rented two of their “computer labs”. She denied that she benefited from the operations where young men posed as young women and conducted sex chats with foreigners. She said that the rooms’ rental subsidized their scholars.
In Internet slang, a “glitch” is a sudden, temporary break in the system. Is there a term when the fault becomes permanent and widespread?
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* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Feb. 23, 2014 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”