Nowadays, in every click of the button and in every scroll of the mouse, technology defines who individuals are. It bridges relationships. It provides communication. It provides information. Actually, too much information. Thus, comes the conflict between the right to privacy and the right to public information.

The 1987 Philippine Constitution recognizes both these rights. Article III, Section 2 provides that “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures of whatever nature and for any purpose shall be inviolable, and no search warrant or warrant of arrest shall issue except upon probable cause to be determined personally by the judge after examination under oath or affirmation of the complainant and the witnesses he may produce, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.” The Constitution further provides that  the “privacy of communication and correspondence shall be inviolable except upon lawful order of the court, or when public safety or order requires otherwise, as prescribed by law.” Article III, Section 7 also provides that “The right of the people to information on matters of public concern shall be recognized. Access to official records, and to documents, and papers pertaining to official acts, transactions or decisions, as well as to government research data used as basis for policy development, shall be afforded the citizen, subject to limitations as may be provided for by law.”

These rights are considered fundamental rights in our country. However, in times of conflict, it may be difficult to choose between these two. May a private individual compel private repositories of Philippine jurisprudence to remove his name on the claim of right to privacy? This scenario may arise in case one, by using technology, searches on a person’s name only to find out that the latter have been involved in a sensitive case or trial which may affect his privacy as an individual. Thus, the only way to protect it is for his name to be removed from the case. But how can this be done if the decision in the case is or had been a basis for rendering decisions in other cases? Wouldn’t it deprive those simple individuals the right to know about a certain ruling which may help them to better understand the law? How about those law practitioners and students who use past decisions to serve as a basis for a cause of action or for defending suits? If there is a way of upholding the right to privacy than the right to public information, how can it be done?

Under Article 26 of the New Civil Code provides under Article 26: “Every person shall respect the dignity, personality, privacy and peace of mind of his neighbors and other persons.” Is it disrespect if a case involving a private individual be placed in repositories of Philippine jurisprudence? I don’t think so. For me, once an individual subjected himself to the Philippine courts, any information about himself which may be obtained through the proceedings is considered public information and thus, may be readily accessible to the public. Hence, the Supreme Court is correct when it stated that while all laws invasive of privacy would be subject to “strict scrutiny”, “the right to privacy does not bar all incursions to privacy.” So, while the right to privacy may be considered a fundamental right, it cannot be upheld at all times because to do so may deprive the right of the people to public information.

A private individual may invite the idea that the right of the public to access information about decided cases must be limited to certain individuals, like those individuals involved in the study of law as well as in its practice. However, it is important to note that there are also individuals outside this group who may be interested to know more about the law without being a student or practitioner of this field of expertise. A private individual may invite the idea that the use of technology helped in compiling Philippine laws and jurisprudence in the internet, why not provide registration/log in details before one can readily access such laws and cases? However, to do this may violate the constitutional mandate about the right to speedy disposition of cases and may clog the courts. Thus, in applying right to privacy, each case must be judged in its peculiar circumstances.

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