VIVARES vs. ST. THERESA’S COLLEGE G.R. No. 202666 September 29, 2014

Facts:

Julia and Julienne , both minors, were, during the period material, graduating high school students at STC. Sometime in January 2012, while changing into their swimsuits for a beach party they were about to attend, Julia and Julienne, along with several others, took digital pictures of themselves clad only in their undergarments. These pictures were then uploaded by Angela on her Facebook profile. Escudero, a computer teacher at STC’s high school department, learned from her students that some seniors at STC posted pictures online, depicting themselves from the waist up, dressed only in brassieres. Upon discovery, Escudero reported the matter and, through one of her student’s Facebook page, showed the photosto Kristine Rose Tigol (Tigol), STC’s Discipline-in-Charge, for appropriate action. Thereafter, following an investigation, STC found the identified students to have deported themselves in a manner proscribed by the school’s Student Handbook. On March 1, 2012, Julia, Julienne, Angela, and the other students in the pictures in question, reported, as required, to the office Sr. Purisima, STC’s high school principal and. They claimed that during the meeting, they were castigated and informed their parents the following day that, as part of their penalty, they are barred from joining the commencement exercises scheduled on March 30, 2012. A week before graduation, or on March 23, 2012, Angela’s mother, Dr. Armenia M. Tan (Tan), filed a Petition for Injunction and Damages before the RTC and command the respondent not to implement the said sanction which the RTC issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) allowing the students to attend the graduation ceremony, to which STC filed a motion for reconsideration. Despite the issuance of the TRO,STC, nevertheless, barred the sanctioned students from participating in the graduation rites, arguing that, on the date of the commencement exercises, its adverted motion for reconsideration on the issuance ofthe TRO remained unresolved.

Thereafter, petitioners filed before the RTC a Petition for the Issuance of a Writ of Habeas Data, Finding the petition sufficient in form and substance, the RTC  issued the writ of habeas data. Through the same Order, herein respondents were directed to file their verified written return, together with the supporting affidavits, within five (5) working days from service of the writ. In time, respondents complied with the RTC’s directive and filed their verified written return, laying down the following grounds for the denial of the petition. the RTC rendered a Decision dismissing the petition for habeas data. Hence the petition. adrianantazo.wordpress.com

Issues:

1.) Whether a writ of habeas data should be issued given the factual milieu?

2.) Whether the Respondents violated the right to privacy in the life, liberty, or security of the minors involved in this case.

Held:

1.) NO,  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. The provision, when taken in its proper context, as a whole, irresistibly conveys the idea that 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. To “engage” in something is different from undertaking a business endeavor. 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. to agree with the argument of the petitioners, would mean unduly limiting the reach of the writ to a very small group, i.e., private persons and entities whose business is data gathering and storage, and in the process decreasing the effectiveness of the writ as an instrument designed to protect a right which is easily violated in view of rapid advancements in the information and communications technology––a right which a great majority of the users of technology themselves are not capable of protecting. adrianantazo.wordpress.com

2.) No, the respondents failed to established that the uploading or showing the photos to Tigol constitute a violation of their privacy. the showing of the said photo to Tigol disproves their allegation that the photos were viewable only by the five of them. Without any evidence to corroborate their statement that the images were visible only to the five of them, and without their challenging Escudero’s claim that the other students were able to view the photos, their statements are, at best, self-serving, thus deserving scant consideration. adrianantazo.wordpress.com

It is well to note that not one of petitioners disputed Escudero’s sworn account that her students, who are the minors’ Facebook “friends,” showed her the photos using their own Facebook accounts. This only goes to show that no special means to be able to viewthe allegedly private posts were ever resorted to by Escudero’s students, and that it is reasonable to assume, therefore, that the photos were, in reality, viewable either by (1) their Facebook friends, or (2) by the public at large. Considering that the default setting for Facebook posts is “Public,” it can be surmised that the photographs in question were viewable to everyone on Facebook, absent any proof that petitioners’ children positively limited the disclosure of the photograph. If such were the case, they cannot invoke the protection attached to the right to informational privacy. That the photos are viewable by “friends only” does not necessarily bolster the petitioners’ contention. It is well to emphasize at this point that setting a post’s or profile detail’s privacy to “Friends” is no assurance that it can no longer be viewed by another user who is not Facebook friends with the source of the content. The user’s own Facebook friend can share said content or tag his or her own Facebook friend thereto, regardless of whether the user tagged by the latter is Facebook friends or not with the former. Also, when the post is shared or when a person is tagged, the respective Facebook friends of the person who shared the post or who was tagged can view the post, the privacy setting of which was set at “Friends.” adrianantazo.wordpress.com

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