Published 19 July 2021, The Daily Tribune

In this modern age of technology, perpetrators of crime have certainly advanced their schemes in creatively using digital tools to further threaten the security of the State. The convenience of anonymity coupled with accessibility have raised serious concerns from the general public. Thus, in recognizing issues concerning Internet usage and online interactions in the online community, Republic Act (RA) 10175, otherwise known as the Cybercrime Prevention Act, was passed in 2012.

The Cybercrime Prevention Act provides a comprehensive list of cybercrimes, categorized as follows: offenses against the confidentiality, integrity and availability of computer data systems; computer-related offenses, content-related offenses; and other crimes.

Aside from the list of punishable acts and their corresponding penalties, the Cybercrime Prevention Act suggests different tools that law enforcement agencies can use in detecting, investigating and prosecuting cybercrimes.

In order to provide a rule of procedure for the issuance and implementation of court warrants that are technically appropriate for cybercrime offenses, the Supreme Court (SC) promulgated the Rule on Cybercrime Warrants in 2018, which enumerates the different kinds of cybercrimes warrants that law enforcement agencies can apply for with the courts which have jurisdiction, and thereafter, utilize in their investigations and prosecutions.

The Rule on Cybercrime Warrants includes four types of warrants:

a. The Warrant to Disclose Computer Data (WDCD) authorizes law enforcers to disclose or submit subscriber’s information, traffic data, or relevant data in the possession or control of a person or service provider.

The Rule allows the authorized law officer to retain a copy of the disclosed data or subscriber’s information, provided that the details are kept strictly confidential and the retained copy shall be labelled.

b. The Warrant to Intercept Computer Data (WICD) authorizes law enforcers to listen, record, monitor, or surveil the content of the communications through electronic eavesdropping or tapping devices, while the communication is occurring.

The Rule provides that the authorized law officer must immediately notify the person whose communications or computer data have been intercepted of the activities conducted pursuant to the WICD.

c. The Warrant to Search, Seize, and Examine Computer Data (WSSECD) authorizes law enforcers to search the particular place for items to be seized and/or examined.

The Rule allows the authorized law enforcer to initially make a forensic image of the computer on-site, as well as limit their search to the place specified in the warrant. Otherwise, an off-site search, where the law enforcer searches the computer outside the place to be searched, may be conducted.

d. The Warrant to Examine Computer Data (WECD) authorizes law enforcers to search a computer device or computer seized during a lawful warrantless arrest or by any other lawful method.

The Rule allows interception of communications and computer data to be conducted during the implementation of the said WECD.

The warrants shall only be effective for the length of time as determined by the court, which shall not exceed 10 days from its issuance. The court issuing the warrant may, upon motion, extend its effectivity based only on justifiable reasons for a period not exceeding 10 days from the expiration of the original period.

Failure to timely file the returns for any of the issued warrants under this Rule or to duly turn over to the court’s custody any of the items disclosed, intercepted, searched, seized, and/or examined as prescribed hereunder shall subject the responsible law enforcement authorities to an action for contempt.

Moreover, failure to comply with the orders from law enforcement authorities shall be punished for obstruction of justice, which shall be filed before the designated cybercrime court that has jurisdiction over the place where the non-compliance was committed.

For persons or service providers situated outside of the Philippines, service of warrants and/or other court processes shall be coursed through the Department of Justice-Office of Cybercrime, in line with all relevant international instruments and/or agreements on the matter.

The procurement of a search warrant is a vital part of the criminal prosecution process. By means of the warrant, law enforcement officers can secure material pieces of evidence that can be used for prosecuting a crime. Without such prior authorization, persons can invoke their constitutional right against unreasonable searches and seizures, and consequently refuse to reveal the location of personal properties that could later be used as evidence.

Thus, this above-cited list of warrants under the Cybercrime Prevention Act recognizes the unique nature of cybercrimes, which an ordinary search warrant cannot be enforced.

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