Writ of habeas data, Bill of Rights

1. Concept

The writ of habeas data – is a remedy available to any person whose right to privacy in life, liberty or security is violated or threatened by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or of a private individual or entity engaged in the gathering, collecting or storing of data or information regarding the person, family, home and correspondence of the aggrieved party. (Section 1, A.M. No. 08-1-16-SC, Rule on the Writ of Habeas Data)

a. Purpose

The writ of habeas data is an independent and summary remedy designed to protect the image, privacy, honor, information, and freedom of information of an individual, and to provide a forum to enforce one’s right to the truth and to informational privacy. It seeks to protect a person’s right to control information regarding oneself, particularly in instances in which such information is being collected through unlawful means in order to achieve unlawful ends. It must be emphasized that in order for the privilege of the writ to be granted, there must exist a nexus between the right to privacy on the one hand, and the right to life, liberty or security on the other. (Gamboa v. Chan, En Banc, G.R. No. 193636, 24 July 2012)

The writ of habeas data is a remedy available to any person whose right to privacy in life, liberty or security is violated or threatened by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or of a private individual or entity engaged in the gathering, collecting or storing of data or information regarding the person, family, home and correspondence of the aggrieved party. (Vivares v. St. Teresa’s College, G.R. No. 202666, 29 September 2014)

1) Right to informational privacy

In developing the writ of habeas data, the Court aimed to protect an individual’s right to informational privacy, among others. A comparative law scholar has, in fact, defined habeas dataas “a procedure designed to safeguard individual freedom from abuse in the information age.” (Ibid.)

2) Nexus

The writ, however, will not issue on the basis merely of an alleged unauthorized access to information about a person. Availment of the writ requires the existence of a nexus between the right to privacy on the one hand, and the right to life, liberty or security on the other. Thus, the existence of a person’s right to informational privacy and a showing, at least by substantial evidence, of an actual or threatened violation of the right to privacy in life, liberty or security of the victim are indispensable before the privilege of the writ may be extended. (Ibid.)

Gamboa v. Chan, En Banc (July 2012)

• The collection and forwarding of information by the PNP vis-à-vis the interest of the state to dismantle private armies.

• The Constitution explicitly mandates the dismantling of private armies and other armed groups (PAG) not recognized by the duly constituted authority. It also provides for the establishment of one police force that is national in scope and civilian in character, and is controlled and administered by a national police commission.

• Taking into account these constitutional fiats, it is clear that the issuance of A.O. 275 articulates a legitimate state aim, which is to investigate the existence of PAGs with the ultimate objective of dismantling them permanently.

• Pursuant to the state interest of dismantling PAGs, as well as the foregoing powers and functions accorded to the Zeñarosa Commission and the PNP, the latter collected information on individuals suspected of maintaining PAGs, monitored them and counteracted their activities. One of those individuals is herein petitioner Gamboa.

• Following the pronouncements of the ECHR in Leander, the fact that the PNP released information to the Zeñarosa Commission without prior communication to Gamboa and without affording her the opportunity to refute the same cannot be interpreted as a violation or threat to her right to privacy since that act is an inherent and crucial component of intelligence-gathering and investigation.1âwphi1 Additionally, Gamboa herself admitted that the PNP had a validation system, which was used to update information on individuals associated with PAGs and to ensure that the data mirrored the situation on the field.66 Thus, safeguards were put in place to make sure that the information collected maintained its integrity and accuracy.

• However, to accord the right to privacy with the kind of protection established in existing law and jurisprudence, this Court nonetheless deems it necessary to caution these investigating entities that information-sharing must observe strict confidentiality. Intelligence gathered must be released exclusively to the authorities empowered to receive the relevant information. After all, inherent to the right to privacy is the freedom from “unwarranted exploitation of one’s person or from intrusion into one’s private activities in such a way as to cause humiliation to a person’s ordinary sensibilities.”

• It is clear from the foregoing discussion that the state interest of dismantling PAGs far outweighs the alleged intrusion on the private life of Gamboa, especially when the collection and forwarding by the PNP of information against her was pursuant to a lawful mandate. Therefore, the privilege of the writ of habeas data must be denied.

Lee v. Ilagan (October 2014)

• In his Petition for Issuance of the Writ of Habeas Data…, Ilagan alleged that he and petitioner Dr. Lee (Lee) were former common law partners. Sometime in July 2011, he visited Lee at the latter’s condominium, rested for a while and thereafter, proceeded to his office. Upon arrival, Ilagan noticed that his digital camera was missing. On August 23, 2011, Lee confronted Ilagan at the latter’s office regarding a purported sex video (subject video) she discovered from the aforesaid camera involving Ilagan and another woman. Ilagan denied the video and demanded Lee to return the camera, but to no avail. During the confrontation, Ilagan allegedly slammed Lee’s head against a wall inside his office and walked away. Subsequently, Lee utilized the said video as evidence in filing various complaints against Ilagan… Ilagan claimed that Lee’s acts of reproducing the subject video and threatening to distribute the same to the upper echelons of the NAPOLCOM and uploading it to the internet violated not only his right to life, liberty, security, and privacy but also that of the other woman, and thus, the issuance of a writ of habeas data in his favor is warranted.

• In this case, the Court finds that Ilagan was not able to sufficiently allege that his right to privacy in life, liberty or security was or would be violated through the supposed reproduction and threatened dissemination of the subject sex video. While Ilagan purports a privacy interest in the suppression of this video – which he fears would somehow find its way to Quiapo or be uploaded in the internet for public consumption – he failed to explain the connection between such interest and any violation of his right to life, liberty or security. Indeed, courts cannot speculate or contrive versions of possible transgressions. As the rules and existing jurisprudence on the matter evoke, alleging and eventually proving the nexus between one’s privacy right to the cogent rights to life, liberty or security are crucial in habeas data cases, so much so that a failure on either account certainly renders a habeas data petition dismissible, as in this case.

• In fact, even discounting the insufficiency of the allegations, the petition would equally be dismissible due to the inadequacy of the evidence presented. As the records show, all that Ilagan submitted in support of his petition was his self-serving testimony which hardly meets the substantial evidence requirement as prescribed by the Habeas Data Rule. This is because nothing therein would indicate that Lee actually proceeded to commit any overt act towards the end of violating Ilagan’s right to privacy in life, liberty or security. Nor would anything on record even lead a reasonable mind to conclude that Lee was going to use the subject video in order to achieve unlawful ends – say for instance, to spread it to the public so as to ruin Ilagan’ s reputation. Contrastingly, Lee even made it clear in her testimony that the only reason why she reproduced the subject video was to legitimately utilize the same as evidence in the criminal and administrative cases that she filed against Ilagan.23 Hence, due to the insufficiency of the allegations as well as the glaring absence of substantial evidence, the Court finds it proper to reverse the RTC Decision and dismiss the habeas data petition.

3) Not limited to extralegal killings and enforced disappearances

The writ of habeas data is not only confined to cases of extralegal killings and enforced disappearances. (Vivares v. St. Teresa’s College, G.R. No. 202666, 29 September 2014)

Vivares v. St. Teresa’s College (September 2014)

• Habeas data, to stress, was designed “to safeguard individual freedom from abuse in the information age.” As such, it is erroneous to limit its applicability to extralegal killings and enforced disappearances only. In fact, the annotations to the Rule preparedby the Committee on the Revision of the Rules of Court, after explaining that the Writ of Habeas Data complements the Writ of Amparo, pointed out that:

• The writ of habeas data, however, can be availed of as an independent remedy to enforce one’s right to privacy, more specifically the right to informational privacy. The remedies against the violation of such right can include the updating, rectification, suppression or destruction of the database or information or files in possession or in control of respondents.

• Clearly then, the privilege of the Writ of Habeas Data may also be availed of in cases outside of extralegal killings and enforced disappearances.

4) Engaged in the gathering, collecting, storing of data or information

To “engage” in something is different from undertaking a business endeavour. To “engage” means “to do or take part in something.” It does not necessarily mean that the activity must be done in pursuit of a business. What matters is that the person or entity must be gathering, collecting or storing said data or information about the aggrieved party or his or her family. Whether such undertaking carries the element of regularity, as when one pursues a business, and is in the nature of a personal endeavour, for any other reason or even for no reason at all, is immaterial and such will not prevent the writ from getting to said person or entity. (Ibid.)

Vivares v. St. Teresa’s College (September 2014)

• Nothing in the Rule would suggest that the habeas data protection shall be available only against abuses of a person or entity engaged in the businessof gathering, storing, and collecting of data.

• Habeas data is a protection against unlawful acts or omissions of public officials and of private individuals or entities engaged in gathering, collecting, or storing data about the aggrieved party and his or her correspondences, or about his or her family. Such individual or entity need not be in the business of collecting or storing data.

Who may file:
Any aggrieved party may file a petition for the writ of habeas data. However, in cases of extralegal killings and enforced disappearances, the petition may be filed by:
1) Any member of the immediate family of the aggrieved party, namely: the spouse, children and parents; or
2) Any ascendant, descendant or collateral relative of the aggrieved party within the fourth civil degree of consanguinity or affinity, in default of those mentioned in the preceding paragraph. (Section 2, Ibid.)

5) Where to File

The petition may be filed with the Regional Trial Court where the petitioner or respondent resides, or that which has jurisdiction over the place where the data or information is gathered, collected or stored, at the option of the petitioner. (Section 3, Ibid.)

a) When before Supreme Court of the Court of Appeals

The petition may also be filed with the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeals or the Sandiganbayan when the action concerns public data files of government offices. (Paragraph 2, Section 3, Ibid.)

Where returnable or enforceable:
1) When the writ is issued by a Regional Trial Court or any judge thereof, it shall be returnable before such court or judge. (Section 4, Ibid.)
2) When issued by the Court of Appeals or the Sandiganbayan or any of its justices, it may be returnable before such court or any justice thereof, or to any Regional Trial Court of the place where the petitioner or respondent resides, or that which has jurisdiction over the place where the data or information is gathered, collected or stored. (Pargaraph 2, Section 4, Ibid.)
3) When issued by the Supreme Court or any of its justices, it may be returnable before such Court or any justice thereof, or before the Court of Appeals or the Sandiganbayan or any of its justices, or to any Regional Trial Court of the place where the petitioner or respondent resides, or that which has jurisdiction over the place where the data or information is gathered, collected or stored. (Paragraph 3, Section 4, Ibid.)
4) The writ of habeas data shall be enforceable anywhere in the Philippines. (Paragraph 5, Section 4, Ibid.)

6) Issuance of the writ

Upon the filing of the petition, the court, justice or judge shall immediately order the issuance of the writ if on its face it ought to issue. The clerk of court shall issue the writ under the seal of the court and cause it to be served within three (3) days from the issuance; or, in case of urgent necessity, the justice or judge may issue the writ under his or her own hand, and may deputize any officer or person serve it. (Section 7, Ibid.)

7) Summary hearing

The hearing on the petition shall be summary. However, the court, justice or judge may call for a preliminary conference to simplify the issues and determine the possibility of obtaining stipulations and admissions from the parties. (Section 15, Ibid.)

8) Judgment

The court shall render judgment within ten (10) days from the time the petition is submitted for decision. If the allegations in the petition are proven by substantial evidence, the court shall enjoin the act complained of, or order the deletion, destruction, or rectification of the erroneous data or information and grant other relevant reliefs as may be just and equitable; otherwise, the privilege of the writ shall be denied. (Section 16, Ibid.)

9) Enforcement

Upon its finality, the judgment shall be enforced by the sheriff or any lawful officers as may be designated by the court, justice or judge within five (5) working days. (Paragraph 2, Section 16, Ibid.)

References

Article III, 1987 Philippine Constitution

/Updated: September 22, 2023

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