Philippine National Committee for IFAP sponsors forum on writ of habeas data
Filipinos can now cite a new legal tool to protect their right to informational privacy with the recent promulgation of the writ of habeas data by the Philippine Supreme Court. The writ took effect on 2 February 2008.
The Philippine Supreme Court Chief Justice, Reynato S. Puno, explained the rules of the writ in a recent public forum convened by the Supreme Court in cooperation with the Philippine National Committee for Information for All Programme (IFAP) and the Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication (AIJC). The forum was attended by top media executives, journalists, IT specialists, human rights activists and lawyers. According to Reynato S. Puno, an individual may now use the writ as a remedy against violations of the right to privacy and demand an updating, rectification, suppression or destruction of the database or information files in possession or control of respondents.
Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "no one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family and home or correspondence, or to attacks upon his honor and reputation…" The Philippine Supreme Court resolution adopting the writ of habeas data quoted American jurist Thomas M. Cooley who described the right to privacy as the inalienable right of an individual "to be let alone."
The advent of information and communication technology (ICT) has exacerbated the threat to the right to privacy with the almost unlimited capacity of ICT to accumulate, store, process, retrieve and transmit data and information. The Supreme Court resolution adopting the writ also quoted a comparative law scholar, Enrique Falcon, who had earlier described habeas data as "a procedure designed to safeguard individual freedom from abuse in the information age."
In addition to protecting privacy, Chief Justice Puno also cited the value of the writ in enabling families of disappeared persons or the so-called desaparecidos to know the totality of circumstances surrounding the fates of their missing relatives.
Several countries have already adopted privacy laws, such as the United Kingdom's Data Protection Act of 1998, Australia's Privacy Act of 1988 and EU Directive 95/46 which requires all Member States to legislate a law that would ensure that every citizen has a right to privacy.
The forum recognized the need for a multi-sectoral discussion on other related issues, such as freedom of (access to) information and public domain information. Therefore, similar fora may be convened in the future by the Philippine National Committee for IFAP.