SY 2011-2012, First Semester
- Should the media be banned from promoting Facebook or Twitter?
- Can we create our own version of wikileaks.org and post therein anomalies of the government or corporations?
- Is posting of jurisprudence on the internet repository of laws violates the right to privacy of persons whose names are mentioned therein?
The popularity of social networking websites has grown sharply among Filipinos or even people around the world. People are now connecting and interacting with friends and family through online social networks. The proliferation of cheap access to social networks makes it an “in thing”. To maintain an active social life, one must have an account to atleast one of these social networking sites. Also, more Filipinos, especially the younger ones, are favoring the internet more than television and print. In an article entitled “Top 10 online social networks” posted on Philippine Daily Inquirer last February 21, 2009, it named Facebook as the top 1 online social network and ranked Twitter as the third. Indeed, Facebook and Twitter’s popularity is inevitable.
Companies encourage participation in such sites and with good reason mostly to know what’s hot and what’s not and how it could work for their best interest particularly in their marketing strategies. Companies can be able seed information through these popular social networking sites. Even in media broadcasting, you cannot miss to hear “access us on Facebook or Twitter.” The goal of broadcasting companies is to send information to its viewers or listeners. The use of these top social networking sites is a venue for expanding their message to the public. It keeps the information fresh, relevant, and interactive. Facebook and Twitter have been the image of success of information technology, but the problem is, would their popularity kill the healthy competition among other social networking sites? Would the media’s encouragement with words such as “like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter” be considered a form of advertising which is detrimental to the not-so-famous social networking sites? Is there really unfair competition for this matter which justifies the need for the banning of promoting Facebook and Twitter?
France has already taken side, should Philippines also ban the media from mentioning Facebook and Twitter outside news? No, I am not in favor of such move. To address the issue on distortion of competition, one must consider the goal of the media in the mentioning of Facebook and Twitter. It is not for the promotion of these two popular networking sites to the prejudice of other social networks struggling for competition. Rather, the objective is to create an informed and conscious public. The problem on unfair competition is only just one of the issues incidental to its popularity. Taking it positively, the mentioning of Facebook and Twitter even promises healthy competition. It challenges the not-so-famous social networking sites to strive hard and formulate effective marketing strategies to enter into the market of social network addicts. They are free to create their own names as well and fight back to gain recognition. With due fairness to Facebook and Twitter, they also started from the ranks. Almost a decade ago, it was Friendster’s domination, Facebook or Twitter was nothing. But through both of the latter’s effort, their names have become associated with the social network. It is just like buying in the grocery a Colgate with a Closeup brand, making a Xerox copy out of the Fujitsu photocopier, or putting a Band- Aid with the use of Nexcare adhesive bandage. Facebook and Twitter are trademarks which are now being used as a common or generic language of the media for easy understanding and association of the audience – not for the purpose of unjust promotion.
There is no law in our country prohibiting the media’s mentioning of Facebook and Twitter outside news. The act does not constitute unfair competition as provided for under Article 189 of the Revised Penal Code. Nor does the act violate Intellectual Property Law. There may not have a prohibition of such act but there must atleast be a regulation. But this regulation should not amount to a total prohibition of the media mentioning of Facebook and Twitter. There may be legal implications but through proper regulation, the same can be avoided. These social networking sites though very popular, are not too invasive of the other social networks’ right to advertising. There is no preferential treatment contrary to fair practices. Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter are channels of communication so that the media can better reach the public. The Philippines even recognizes the vital role of communication and information in nation building. It must be upheld rather than advocate a rule which has a weak legal explanation.
Today, we place so much value on the freedom of expression. With the advancement of information technology, it is very convenient and accessible for us to exercise this right. But coupled with this freedom is the ethical responsibility to uphold the other’s right to privacy and balance such right to public interest.
Is Wikileaks.org the right venue to exercise our right to freedom of expression and the right of the people to public information?
Yes, like any other form of media, Wikileaks is useful for an informed public. Anomalies in the government such as graft and corruption, dirty politics, and the like deserve much attention from the public. We just cannot turn blind eye to these anomalies which worsen the economic and political condition of our country. Public officials involved in these wrongdoings should have to be accountable for their actions. Strict enforcement of privacy laws against Wikileaks is detrimental to democracy and transparency. By exposing the anomalies therein, we are making the people concerned to pay for their acts and omissions. As social networking sites have become more popular to the public, Wikileaks would more so be a useful tool to help the public become more assertive and aware of their rights. There is a material public interest in knowing these anomalies and transparency demands it. The use of Wikileaks will reveal how our government officials have been dishonest in the public affairs. The people have the right to know and to take action. We cannot go back to the colonial or dictatorial times when people who make negative reports of persons in power are punished. The democracy we regained should be exercised and enjoyed rather than remain to be an ideal. By publication in the Wikileaks, we are serving the public interest not just the public curiosity. The people involved in these anomalies cannot use as shield privacy laws in order to evade the consequences of their acts. We should not give them the right to manipulate their power in the government and raise the privilege of confidentiality or invoke the right to privacy when they are called to answer for their wrong doings.
The use of Wikileaks.org is not to advocate the eradication of privacy laws. This even strengthens our privacy guidelines and calls for the implementation of security and control measures. The anomalies to be exposed should have basis, is genuine and should not be hearsay. To justify publication, there must be a corresponding duty on the part of the person exposing to verify the leaked information as to its reliability in order to minimize the harm it may cause. The sensitive material should not be exposed unlimitedly so as to breach official secrets which might threaten our national security. There must be a balance between the risks and the extent of public interest served by publication. While I do subscribe to the idea that we can create our own version of Wikileaks.org and post therein anomalies of the government or corporations, this must be with careful ethical consideration. Just like any other rights and civil liberties, the use of Wikileaks as part of our freedom of expression should be controlled and regulated. The freedom of expression, right to information, and privacy laws should not override one another. There is no superiority or hierarchy as to the exercise of these rights. Instead, it should be complemented. After all, these rights have the uniform goal of serving the public.
Jurisprudence has become part of our legal system. Laws are not always absolute, so courts has to interpret their meanings and settle disputes that a lower court may have about what a law can mean with philosophy and in theory. Once the case reached the Supreme Court, the decision becomes final and is now of practical and educational value to the people. The jurisprudence posted in the internet repository of laws (e.g. Lawphil or ChanRobles) gives an opportunity for the public to bring theory and life into focus.
But no matter how important is jurisprudence in our social existence, it is still faced with issues concerning the right to privacy. Do the people whose names are mentioned in the jurisprudence posted in the internet repository of laws have the right scrape it on the ground that it violates their right to privacy?
The privacy invoked is one of informational privacy. It is the individual interest in avoiding disclosure of personal matters. Their names being part of the jurisprudence posted in the internet threatens to impair their right to non-disclosure of personal information. In Ople vs. Torres, 293 SCRA 141, Justice Romero reiterated the rhetoric of privacy, What marks offs man from a beast? …Because of his sensibilities, emotions and feelings, he likewise possesses a sense of shame. In varying degrees as dictated by diverse cultures, he erects a wall between himself and the outside world wherein he can retreat in solitude, protecting himself from prying eyes and ears and their extensions, whether form individuals, or much later, from authoritarian intrusions. The jurisprudence where their names are mentioned is a menace to their security and dignity. The persons mentioned especially the victims of crimes who were now able to seek justice thru the decision of the Supreme Court (SC) will have a hard time to recover and start a new life if their personal information and incidents in lives will continue to be revived. Time and again, the dreadful happenings in the past will be brought to life and it will be difficult for them to live peaceful lives.
The sentiments of the people whose names are mentioned in the posted jurisprudence deserve our attention. However, as mentioned, Jurisprudence is essential to the social and educational public. There is here a balancing of interests of the public’s right to know and individual’s right to privacy. While it may be true that their privacy are somewhat eroded, still, they cannot demand that the postings where their names are mentioned be scraped altogether. By entering into suits and subjecting themselves to various legal processes, they have surrendered part of their privacy rights for justice. Their personal information have become part of the public records even if the same will not be posted in the internet repository of laws such as LawPhil and ChanRobles. The enforcement, application, and interpretation of laws all require the preservation of information, much of which is personal and potentially embarrassing. The posting of SC’s decision on the internet whose names and other information of the litigants are disclosed is essential to the proper functioning of democracy because citizens rely on information about the judicial rulings on the facts in issue to form an educated and knowledgeable opinion of its functioning and to ensure quality, honesty, and respect for the legal system. The court orders and opinions including the information on the litigants are made public documents that should not be prevented from being available on the internet. The litigants are not without protection at all. For example in Rape Victim Assistance and Protection Act of 1998, the names and personal circumstances of the offended party and/or the accused and other information tending to establish their identities are not disclosed to the public. The public access of jurisprudence thru the internet repository of laws is to be favored, but such is not absolute. If the publication in exceptional circumstances tends to reveal sensitive information which will damage the persons mentioned therein and would pose a threat to the public morality or would run against public policy, it should be scraped. It is to be remembered that litigants did not give up all their rights just because they have entered into the courtroom. The posting of jurisprudence on the internet is just proper to improve the justice system. But these postings are not aimed in undermining the right to privacy of persons mentioned therein in the name of public access. With all these, there is a need to reconcile the values protected by the right to privacy of parties mentioned in the settled cases and the goals of developing the legal system to see that justice is accorded to everyone.