We are now living in an Era when Privacy becomes a common concern in the society. Not that the Government lacks appropriate laws for the protection of this right, but rather the scope of privacy has been continuously expanding.
Just like the other rights guaranteed by the constitution, the right to privacy has adjusted to the demands of time. As we reach the age of information revolution, the protection to privacy extends beyond the physical world. The protection covers also those issues in the virtual world concerning information control, download and data sharing etc.
The technological advancement which leads to the creation of technological devices made the transmission of whatever type of information available anytime and anywhere. Such information may be accessed and obtained by anyone, as long as he has the device and internet to access the sites. Hence, the easy circulation of information made the word privacy more complex and diverse. Although these technologies, wires, cables, devices are not really the main subject of privacy, they however carry the information across the cyber highway where the risk of interception or being linked to other unprotected data sharing devices or sites is considerably high.
Hence, it becomes imperative both on the part of the government and every citizen to be more cautious with the use of different information mediums, for to ignore such would be to put our personal privacy at risk. It is not new to read stories of people whose credit card numbers are being used by identity thieves. It is also common for us to read email messages from our friends soliciting money for emergency’s sake. Nevertheless, many people seem unaware of the consequences of a stolen identity or
we choose to ignore the possibility that maybe tomorrow or right at this very moment, without our knowledge, we already exhausted our credit limit ,or worst, somebody-on the net- has made us their cyber beggars. The movie Identity thief is a perfect demonstration of how cruelly the identity thieves destroy someone’s life.
Identity thief, this is an American film about stolen identity of a man named Sandy Patterson. It all started with a phone call from an identity protection service asking for his name, birth date and social security number. What he didn’t know was that the person on the line is a fake caller who prints out credit cards and uses them at the expense of others. One day Sandy’s credit card was cut off in a gasoline station for insufficiency of funds. Later on, he found out from his credit card company that he has spent a lot of money using his credit card and that he has exhausted his credit limit. Few days after, he got arrested. Sandy wanted to clear his name and so he made a deal with the police officer to find the identity thief and present her before him. He got his approval and from there, the chasing adventure started.
So far, this is the new world, everything may be stolen, including our identity. This is not just a simple disguise, for all we know, the person using our identity looks breathlessly different from us. So how does this end? Of course it will always end up in the good hands of a lawyer. But is this the only way to resolve the problem?
In my point view, legal action is just a remedy. Identity thieves maybe avoided if we reduce our cyber appetite and limit the information we share or post on the cyber world. When we speak of cyber world, it is bigger than the World Wide Web- it includes telephone system- including mobile phones, online and wireless services, communication satellites, personal computers, ipad and other devices where we can store, send, receive, disclose and create information or data.
We cannot however deny the fact that in the age of information revolution, disclosure of information is almost inevitable in work, in business or even in our ordinary day encounters. For instance, if we apply for a post-paid contract with telecommunication networks, we will notice that we are asked to disclose every detail of our personal information- including our annual salary, the same is true with other service-oriented organizations. They require information to ascertain whether we can pay additional monetary obligations in exchange for the services they will provide.
So how do we reconcile the underlying issues in the preceding discussions? Well, there is still no limit as to what information we want to disclose personally or online, as the government does not prohibit but rather it encourages the free expression of every person in the ground of human activities.
This is when the Law comes in. At present, there is existing law that protects the disclosure of an individual’s personal information against organizations or persons having control over the said information or data, still, the same law admits certain exception. Fair use is the most common defense used by these information controllers. The law allows these organizations, more so the government, to gather information regarding a certain individual if said information would be used fairly and not prejudicial to the individual.
What is fair use of information and data. Fair use means that the use of information will not subject an individual to harassment, embarrassment or it will not do injustice to him. For instance, in a post-paid contract entered by an individual with a telecommunication network, the requisite of disclosing the annual salary of an applicant is necessary in order to ascertain whether he is capable of paying the monthly bills. Is the requirement fair? Yes it is fair, although some find it embarrassing; still, the disclosure is fair and reasonable.
The law also allows the collection of personal information if such shall be used for legitimate purpose only, so that after you file your income tax return to the BIR, they will assess your income tax return by looking into your record books, receipts and other relevant documents that would reflect your final return. They will also conduct an investigation to check for possible tax deficiencies. Is this a violation of privacy? Of course not, such is legitimate act of the taxing authorities in order to reflect the right amount of tax due on your annual tax return. It would be different however if the taxing authority, after you have paid your taxes, asks for the contact numbers of your family members, such is irrelevant and unnecessary..
Another circumstance would be an employer who asks for your transcript or copy of grades from your primary, secondary, tertiary up to graduate school .This is a legitimate and fair act of your employer, for some of them choose only the best and competent employees.
The same is also valid in cases such as when a psychiatrist or psychologist reasonably asks a copy of his patient’s previous psychological examination from the school’s guidance counselor or human resource person. These records are very critical to the employment, as well as to the social relationship of the patient. Hence, it shall be kept by the doctor with utmost confidentiality and shall be used according to the purpose known to the patient. Thus, it would be different if an employer would ask for a copy of an applicant’s previous psychological exam. To allow such would be to violate his right to privilege communication.
The law also allows the gathering of personal information for litigation purposes. Said personal information may be presented as evidence before the court, and the court finding it admissible and with probative value, may admit the information gathered.
I can discuss as many circumstances regarding the use and misuses of information but before I move to my next point, let me reiterate what is mentioned in the preceding paragraph concerning Data Privacy Act. The creation of the Privacy Act is aimed to protect the personal information of an individual from those organizations or persons who might have the privilege to gain access to their personal data. The direct purpose of the government is the preservation of human privacy, as an inherent consequence of democracy. It allows each and every person to live in liberty- far from a society that is always in quest of human illegal activities.
Earlier we already talked about technology and privacy, for some people, the rush to stay online and be connected with the whole world is a type of liberty that cannot be controlled by legislation. But of course, all the liberty we enjoy has limits. When I speak of limits, it referrers to the prohibition prescribed by law or the legal action and punishment for the person who committed certain acts in violation of the law- which in this case is the Data Privacy Act or Republic Act 10173.
Technology as I mentioned above also includes mobiles or phone gadgets. We hear complaints about online issues regarding privacy, but we hear little issues regarding violation of privacy on mobile phones. So, are mobile phones protected by Republic Act 10173? The answer is yes; the law did not categorically exclude or specify which devices are covered by law. Section 4 of the said law provides for the Scope of the protection which states the following:
“This Act applies to the processing of all types of personal information and to any natural and juridical person involved in personal information processing including those personal information controllers and processors who, although not found or established in the Philippines, use equipment that are located in the Philippines, or those who maintain an office, branch or agency in the Philippines subject to the immediately succeeding paragraph: Provided, That the requirements of Section 5 are complied with”.
Hence, it is clear from the above stated law that any equipment used for the processing of information or data are covered by the protection. So why am I focusing on mobile phones? Many, especially those who remain to be traditional in their medium of communication, stick with mobile phones. One practical reason is that they find the communication in cellular phones more personal and direct. Although video call is available online, some choose the most conventional – if not personal- way of communication trough mobile calls and text. Although this is no longer the latest trend, still, there are people who give greater weight on mobile phones than online oriented devices.
Moving on to my next point, Is it acceptable to disclose someone else’s mobile number to a third person without the former’s consent? In my point of view, it depends, for we often encounter situations when we can’t say no to the person seeking for that piece of information, maybe because that person is our superior at work, or someone closely related to us like our family members. In this case, if we set aside the privacy issue we may choose to disclose the information.
If we entertain issues on privacy in relation to the question above, my answer would remain the same- it depends on the purpose of the recipient. If the third party has a fair and legitimate cause for acquiring the said information, then, the same principle would apply in this instance- there will be no violation of privacy because the information was disclosed in substantial compliance with Section 5 of Data Privacy Act, also known as Republic Act 10173.
Very briefly, the law requires that the information must be acquired for legitimate purpose or it shall be possessed fairly and legitimately, it must be accurate and relevant to the purpose for which it was collected, it shall not exceed to the purpose for which the data or information was gathered and it may be retained only within a reasonable time.
Citing as basis the above exceptions, we can infer that the law is not limiting but rather liberal. It provides us the manner and discipline of handling personal information belonging to other person. Hence, using the above criteria, if we enter into a post-paid contract with a telecommunication service provider, the later may use our number to send in their advertisement and promos. They may also disclose our mobile number to their sister companies so that they can promote their company and services directly to us. Such has been the common practice of some telecommunication networks. The law allows this kind of process because it is necessary and relevant to the business.
It is also possible for government employees to receive messages from their office regarding notices, warnings and updates in their office. It is also possible for an employee from PAG-ASA to receive weather updates, while those who are employees of Red Cross may receive first aid tips in cases of natural disasters, all of these are possibilities which if existing- would not constitute a violation of our privacy.
Unlike our facebook accounts, twitter and email address where videos and photos of us may be viewed in just one click, phone numbers on the other hand does not reflect any information other than the numbers appearing on screen. To add further, a cell number although considered part of our information- is not really the main source of our personal and confidential data; it is rather a medium to collect or gather information from the person owning the number.
Thus, moving on to my last point, cell phone numbers are just numbers anyway, if we give it to a third person, they will get nothing but numbers, no more no less. Thus, the only information disclosed are those eleven numbers which if disclosed to another person-would still depend on the fate of their call.