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To be let alone

Dominador Awiten .

“THE right to be let alone is the underlying theme of the whole Bill of Rights,” asserts Anna Katherine Navarette in Unsolicited Notoriety, her Juris Doctor thesis (62 Ateneo Law. Journal. 534 [2017]).  She adds that the right to privacy is constitutive of a person’s dignity and is a beginning of all freedoms.

Before it was expressly highlighted in United States jurisprudence, such as in the still controversial but celebrated (by many women) ruling in Roe v. Wade (410 US 113, 1973), the right to privacy is already provided in Philippine legislation.

Our Constitution, in Section 3 of Article 3 (Bill of Rights), provides: “The privacy of communication and correspondence shall be inviolable except upon lawful order of the court, or when public safety or order requires otherwise as prescribed by law.”

Such legal limitations are the laws that punish libel or certain crimes against national security or public order.

In Article 26 of the Civil Code, the law on violation of one’s privacy as a ground for tort action is clearly set out, as follows: “Every person shall respect the dignity, personality, privacy and peace of mind of his neighbors and other persons. The following and similar acts, though they may not constitute a criminal offense, shall produce a cause of action for damages, prevention and other relief:

(1) Prying into the privacy of another’s residence;

(2) Meddling with or disturbing the private life or family relations of another;

(3) Intriguing to cause another to be alienated from his friends;

(4) Vexing or humiliating another on account of his religious beliefs, lowly station in life, place of birth, physical defect, or other personal condition.”

In the case of Blas F. Ople v. Ruben D. Torres, GR No. 127685 (1998) the Supreme Court held that the right to privacy is under threat from the executive branch when it issued Administrative Order No. 308 providing for a national computerized identification reference system. 

According to the court, the administrative order pressures the people to surrender their privacy by giving information about themselves on the pretext that it will facilitate delivery of basic services.

“Given the record-keeping power of the computer, only the indifferent will fail to perceive the danger that AO No. 308 gives the government the power to compile a devastating dossier against unsuspecting citizens.”

In  the case of Ayer v. Capulong G.R. No. 82380 (1988), Makati RTC Judge Ignacio Capulong  ordered the producer of the film entitled “The Four Day Revolution” to desist on the basis of the petition of Juan Ponce Enrile who alleged he did not approve nor consent to the use of his name and identity. 

It was a controversy between the producer’s freedom of expression and the complainant’s right to privacy.

The court resolved the case by balancing the conflicting interests through the application of the concept of the public figure.

A public figure is a person who is considered a “public personage, a celebrity” by his accomplishment, fame or mode of living, thus giving the public a legitimate interest in his affairs or in his character.   They lose, to a certain extent, their right to privacy.

Media may, then, acquire a privilege to enlighten the public about the “public figure.”  Dissemination may not only be by news reporting, but also by information, education, or even entertainment.

At present, there is a key concept in privacy law which postulates a “reasonable expectation of privacy” in certain places or situations.

The concept evolved first from the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case of Katz v. United States (1967) that laid down the two-fold requirement for such expectation: (1) a person has exhibited an actual (subjective) expectation of privacy; and (2) that such expectation is generally recognized by society (objective).

Applying the concept, the court held that there is a reasonable expectation of privacy even in a public phone booth. For that consideration, an electronic eavesdropping device inside the booth constitutes a violation of the user’s privacy.

However, in the case of Vivares v. St. Theresa’s College (2014) the Supreme Court ruled that an account on Facebook, that has “friends only” as its privacy setting does not enjoy an expectation of privacy.

Given the millions of users of social networking sites, privacy there “is no longer grounded in reasonable expectation, but rather, in some theoretical protocol better known as wishful thinking.”

Thus, the remedy of the writ of habeas data is unavailing in that case.  Otherwise, the writ could have protected a person’s right to control information regarding themselves.


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TREND MAKER. Mindanao Gold Star Daily was established in 1989 to set ablaze a new meaning & flame to the local newspaper business. Throughout the years it continued its focus and interest in the rural areas & pioneered the growth of countryside journalism.

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