THIS is actually an old rule which was promulgated by the Supreme Court on Jan. 22, 2008 or almost nine years ago.
Although it has been with us for almost a decade already, very few people understand what this rule truly is. It is then best to understand this nature of a writ.
The Writ of Habeas Data is a remedy available to any person whose right to privacy in life, liberty or security is violated or threatened by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or of a private individual or entity engaged in the gathering, collecting or storing of data or information regarding the person, family, home and correspondence of the aggrieved party.
Thus, this writ can be availed of by any private individual mostly directed at police and military officers who are engaged in gathering data that intrudes into or affect the privacy of a person or of his home or of his personal security. It is the intrusion into or violation of a person’s private life that is made the subject of this writ. In most cases, it is the privacy of communication that is the target of the writ.
And what does the writ do?
It orders the public officer or person who has the data affecting the private life or liberty of the private individual to make a written “return” or a report to the court who issued the writ informing the court of the data or information that he is holding, including the nature of such data and the purpose on why those data are being collected.
The writ also requires the person holding the data to inform the court of the steps or actions taken by him to ensure the security and confidentiality of the data or information and the accuracy of the data held.
If and when the court determines in a summary hearing that the writ prayed for is proper and justified, then the court shall order the suppression and even the destruction of the database or information or files.
The need to protect the privacy of the person, his liberty and his life and security are the very basic purposes of this writ. In fact, its urgency is so important that the rule only allows the judge three days to issue the writ, if it is justified and the respondent is given only 5 days to make the “return” to the court. Moreover, the judge is given only 10 days from the submission of the main case for decision to decide the case.
Being very rarely availed of, the public should now know that this extraordinary remedy exists and that pauper litigants are even exempted from any filing fees.
So when the cellular phone records are abusively opened and transcribed by police officers without a court order for that action, or when private data are being collected illegally by the military against an ordinary individual, or when the phones are tapped and recorded without a court order, the private person can go to court and secure this writ of habeas data.
The protection of the privacy of any person is not only protected so steadfastly by the Constitution, but also more specifically preserved by this writ. And the state and the courts shall always make sure that this right to privacy shall not be trampled upon in the name of national security or of state preservation.