Privacy under siege

Posted on 2018/07/04

In 2017, the country’s main financial hub, Makati City, made headlines after it was adjudged the selfie capital of the world, according to TIME. And why not? This country prides itself in having more phone subscribers than its population of a little over 100 million. Uplifted by the power of digital technology, mobile phone users now have every reason to document their every interaction, either for self-preservation or for posterity. Mobile phone is so powerful that it can destroy communities by a few characters posted in social media. In an era where free expression is increasingly channeled through social media, mobile phone becomes complicit in the waning legal luster of our fundamental right to privacy. The unprecedented influence of mobile phone on Filipinos raises fundamental question whether the vintage Anti-WireTapping Law or Republic Act 4200 that underpins our right to privacy has become outmoded.

Enacted prior to the advent of internet, R.A. 4200 makes it unlawful to “tap any wire or cable, or by using any other device or arrangement to secretly overhear, intercept, or record such communication or spoken word using a device known as dictaphone or dictagraph or detectaphone or walkie talkie or tape recorder.” With the advances of technology, said devices are rendered obsolete. The 53-year-old law insulates private conversation of individuals from seeping into the mainstream discourse without explicit consent from parties involved. Note that the country’s right to privacy is an American construct. The U.S. counterpart of privacy right, according to most scholars and jurists, was spurred by the seminal article, “The Right to Privacy,” written by Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis and published in Harvard Law Review in 1890. Warren and Brandeis, both classmates at Harvard law school, wrote the article amid the surge of snap camera that had been arbitrarily used by journalists to take photos of individuals for gossip pages of tabloids. Mr. Brandies went on to become a U.S. Supreme Court Justice.

Understanding the import of R.A. 4200 requires closer examination of our jurisprudence. In convicting the petitioner, the Court in People vs Navarro, G.R. No. 121087, August 26, 1999, admitted a recorded conversation between him and the victim at a police station since the exchange was not private in nature. Whether a telephone extension is a prohibited device under R.A. 4200 was the main issue in Edgardo Gaanan vs IAC and People of the Philippines, G.R. No. L-69809, October 16, 1986. In that case, the parties involved were all lawyers; petitioner, a lawyer himself, and his own lawyer to a case, Edgardo Gaanan, had been accused by respondent, another lawyer for violating R.A. 4200. In convicting petitioner and Edgardo, the trial court gave credence to prosecution’s argument that the use of party line to listen a private conversation is a criminal act. On appeal, the High Court reversed trial court’s decision holding that telephone extension line is not one of the devices prohibited in R.A. 4200. In both cases, the devices belonged to the vintage pre-internet era.

The absence of jurisprudence that explains whether digital gadgets, which include mobile phone, are considered “devices” under RA. 4200 exacerbates a legal conundrum. Absent any clear guidance, the defenders of civil liberties and traditionalists will continue to exchange venomous barbs through platforms that they know will draw in significant attention. By its nature, a court can take action only when there is an actual case or controversy; it cannot cannot initiate a case on its own nor render advisory opinion to fill in the legal vacuum. Bewildered by the antiquity of R.A. 4200, Senator Lacson filed a bill in 2017 that seeks to expand the definition and coverage of the present law. The bill is still pending amid the rapid evolution of digital technology. Remember the text messages of former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre inadvertently captured by photographers, and used by Senator Risa Hontiveros in her privilege speech as proof of smear campaign against her. Mr. Aguirre filed a string of cases under RA 4200 against Senator Hontiveros, a move that was doomed to fail because existing law is deficient to address it, according to some legal experts.

Digital technology is unprecedented. Unimpeded virtual messages and images passing through social media platforms have introduced netizens to the richness of diverse global culture. Information once accessible to the moneyed only is now available to anyone with a mobile phone connected to internet. Thus, mobile phone has become a great equalizer. The siren song of digital technology and its insidious influence on users, however, has brought large chunk of the latter in a state of perpetual stupor. Through the unbridled use of digital phone, mankind has unleashed Frankenstein’s monster to spread the tentacles of voyeurism and threaten to tear down the walls of privacy completely. Obviously, there is an urgent need to curb the excesses of mobile phone use that have already eroded our core values as civilized individuals and community, and R.A. 4200 is undoubtedly ill-equipped to address them. The glaring absence of national legislation to entrench our right to privacy amid advancement of technology is symptomatic of the country’s anemic treatment to fundamental rights. Allowing a mobile phone, a mere object, to take control of our lives is the gravest folly ever created by modern civilization.


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Liceo Legal Aid Center (LiLAC) doing business under the name and style of Center for Alternative Lawyering of Liceo is the legal aid center of Liceo de Cagayan University, a privately owned university based in Cagayan de oro City. The group is composed of law students, alumni of the College of Law of the University, and lawyers who are passionate in the practice of alternative lawyering. LiLAC is guided by its vision of a holistic formation of law students committed to the transformation of society by promoting justice, empowerment, unity and peace, through helping the marginalized sector of the depressed areas here in Mindanao, in the Philippines and in the world. While the group was registered only this year with the Securities and Exchange Commission, it has been providing services to marginalized communities in partnership with NGOs for more than 8 years now. LiLAC has more than 50 members, 15 of whom are taking the active role of running the groups activities.

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The Mindanao State University Legal Aid Clinic or Mindanao SULAC for brevity, is the Legal Aid Clinic of Mindanao State University College of law. It is the first and currently the only one of its kind to be established in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). It strives to cater the legal needs of the underprivileged and/or indigent clients of the Region and to help promote the proper administration of justice as a key to lasting peace in the region and in the country as a whole.

Office Address: 1F MSU College of Law Bldg.,
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The Notre Dame university is a Catholic Institution in Cotabato City run by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and member of the Notre Dame Educational Association Philippines.The Notre Dame University Legal Aid Center started sometime in 2009. Its members are the officially enrolled students of NDU-College of Law.

The following are the official pages and e-mail address of the group:
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The Palawan Cradle of Rights is a unified composition of law students from Palawan State university school of Law, established last August 26, 2013 after the culminating activity of the Basic Orientation Seminar by the US Embassy in partnership with the MYVC.

Through our linkages and with the help of the different Government and Non-government organizations we aim to provide free access to people who need legal assistance.


The University of Mindanao Legal Aid Network (ULAN) is a non-stock, non-profit, and service institution of the University of Mindanao. As a service institution, it provides legal assistance, advocates human rights and social justice, and facilitates the formation of law students for alternative lawyering. It consists of law students and alumni of the College of Legal Education of the University of Mindanao committed to provide an adequate and greater access to justice of the community through its programs.


The CENTRO ADVOCACIA LEGAL is organized exclusively for charitable, socio-cultural and educational purposes, more specifically to serve the needs of the marginalized communities specifically children and youth and the minorities in Zamboanga City through Legal Aid Assistance and Human Rights Based Advocacies.