By: Juan L. Mercado
A LESS-THAN transparent Judicial and Bar Council emerged from the 1987 Constitution. Impeachment of the 23rd Supreme Court chief justice, however, pried open once hush-hush discussions. JBC has belatedly tapped the ongoing cyberspace revolution.
TV cameras panned on faces of aspirants – some deluded – for the short list to be considered by the President for appointment as the 24th “Chief”. Twittered questions were read out. As a result, citizens saw a parade of talent, nobility, experience – plus gall and warts.
Across town, the uproar continues over President Benigno Aquino’s scalping of TV Patrol Anchor Noli de Castro. At ABS-CBN’s 25th anniversary celebration, PNoy flayed de Castro for snide partisanship in baritone. A former vice-president, in the discredited Macapagal administration, De Castro voiced “raw opinion and speculation” in his newscasts, P-Noy groused.
P-Noy shouldn’t have slammed the newscaster on home grounds, tut-tutted some. An informal ABS-CBN survey found 32 percent circled wagons around De Castro. The President had a point,” 63 percent said. The commanding two-to-one lead indicates that substance counts more than form.
"(It) was a situation waiting to happen,” wrote Rappler’s redoubtable Chay Hofileña. This ethical sore stems from the notorious “revolving door”. Journalists bolt into politics, then bail out to their old roles, without qualms. The “anchor’s new clothes” didn’t blot out the fact that he “was too high up in the political hierarchy of the Arroyo administration.”
These clashes show “It’s more fun in the Philippines,” as the January 2012 tourism slogan claims. But these high profile clashes obscure equally significant issues. One is the almost blanket intrusion into privacy within a digital world.
Cebu Judge Raphael Yrastorza dismissed a petition for habeas data by parents of St. Theresa's College students, all under 18. School authorities found the kids, uploaded on Facebook, pictures of themselves in skimpy bras, smoking and drinking at a bar. Under RA 7610 and a Cebu City ordinance, minors are not permitted inside a bar.
In a private conference, the parents signed sanction slips that the school issued. Recommended remedial measures, including undergoing religious retreat, were mutually agreed upon. The minors were allowed to graduate. But the school said no to their marching and received their diplomas.
The parents sued. They “brought the issue outside of the four walls of the school” into the open. STC repeatedly turned down media request for copies of controversial photos. The decision agreed that STC was right in asking that a Family Court, where records are kept confidential to protect minors, hear the case.
Two later withdrew their lawsuits. The remaining complainants left asked the court to issue a writ of habeas to compel the school to reveal its downloaded Facebook photos. A writ of habeas data is a judicial remedy for those whose right to privacy in life, liberty or security is violated. It grants a chance to question the data or withdrawal.
The “libertarian writ” of habeas data was meant to address political killings, along with habeas corpus and amparo writs, the Court noted. The complainants did not show any threat to life, liberty or security. Sourcing of photos from Facebook accounts of the students, by the school was not illegal. It was done as part of enforcement of its policies and disciplinary actions.
The Court is convinced …the minors were aware of the warning, by Facebook itself, that the people they share with can always share with others who are not “friends” to the original account. In short, information uploaded to Facebook somehow loses it privacy along the way.”
Like other social network sites, Facebook is wild west. There are 83 million illegitimate accounts on the net, FB revealed Friday. Almost 9 percent fractured rules.
The Yrastorza decision sealed demise of the students’ claim of privacy violation, STC counsel Joan Largo wrote: More important, it “presents an opportunity to dwell on the all-important issue of cyber responsibility.”
Courts here and in other jurisdictions caution: “No reasonable expectation of privacy” can be expected in social networking sites.” That is the nature of the beast. It is also what complainants meant that their photos “found their way into the cyber space for everybody to see.”
“The measure of protection, granted by the reasonable expectation, diminishes as relevant technology becomes more widely accepted,” the Supreme Court here ruled back in 1998 in Ople vs. Torres (G.R. No. 127685). The measure of protection, hinges on a two-part test: (1) whether by his conduct, the individual exhibited an expectation of privacy; and (2) whether society recognizes this expectation as reasonable.
MySpace, Facebook and similar sites “are public spaces”, New York City Supreme Court found. There can be no legitimate reasonable expectation of privacy. “There are millions of Internet users, the Court noted in Kathleen Romano’s case against Steelcase Inc. “[I]n this environment, privacy is no longer grounded in reasonable expectations, but rather in some theoretical protocol better known as wishful thinking."
"Our youth is exposed to new realities of the cyber age,” Largo says. Parents may benefit from a debate on cyber citizenship.