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Hanging wash on cyberspace

/ 11:08 PM August 03, 2012

A less than transparent Judicial and Bar Council emerged from the 1987 Constitution. The impeachment of the 23rd Chief Justice, however, pried open once hush-hush discussions. The JBC has belatedly tapped the ongoing cyberspace revolution.

TV cameras panned on the faces of the aspirants—some deluded—for the short list to be considered by President Aquino for his appointment of the 24th “Chief.” Tweeted 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 the President’s scalping of “TV Patrol” anchor Noli de Castro. At  ABS-CBN’s 25th-anniversary celebration, P-Noy flayed De Castro for snide partisanship in baritone. A former vice president, in the discredited Macapagal-Arroyo 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 that 32 percent circled the 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 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 that the kids had uploaded on Facebook pictures of themselves in skimpy clothing and smoking and drinking in a bar. Under Republic Act 7610 and a Cebu City ordinance, minors are not permitted in a bar.

In a private conference, the parents signed sanction slips that the school had issued. Recommended remedial measures, including undergoing a religious retreat, were mutually agreed upon. The minors were allowed to graduate. But the school said no to their marching and receiving their diplomas.

The parents sued. They “brought the issue outside of the four walls of the school” and into the open. STC repeatedly turned down media requests for copies of the controversial photos. The Yrastorza 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 asked the court to issue a writ of habeas data 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 writs of habeas corpus and of amparo, the court noted. It said that the complainants did not show any threat to life, liberty or security, that the school’s sourcing of photos from Facebook accounts of the students was not illegal, and that it was done as part of enforcement of the school’s policies and disciplinary actions.


The court was convinced that 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” of the original account. In short, information uploaded to Facebook somehow “loses its privacy along the way.”

Like other social network sites, Facebook is the Wild West. There are 83 million illegitimate accounts on the Net, FB revealed Friday. Almost 9 percent fractured rules.

The Yrastorza decision sealed the 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 the complainants meant when their photos “found their way into cyberspace 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 (GR No. 127685). The measure of protection hinges on a 2-part test: whether by his conduct, the individual exhibited an expectation of privacy, and whether society recognizes this expectation as reasonable.

MySpace, Facebook and similar sites “are public spaces,” the New York City Supreme Court found. There can be no legitimate reasonable expectation of privacy. “There are millions of Internet users,” that 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 said. Parents may benefit from a debate on cyber citizenship.

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TAGS: chief justice nominees, cyberspace revolution, Juan L. Mercado, judicial and bar council, privacy, Supreme Court
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