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Policies, laws and circulars governing social media
Alan Antonio S. Mazo

The emergence of social media has drastically changed the atmosphere of interaction among the populace throughout the world. Citizens who were not used to buying newspapers and magazines, or have no time to watch news on television and listen to radio news, suddenly found themselves addicted to social media. I recall in my early years of law practice in 1995 when I was introduced to the “Yahoo chat room,” where I got the chance to interact with people around the world and get to know each other without any pictures or footages of sorts. We only had to rely on imagination as uploading of pictures and footages were only for the computer savvy and the moneyed.

“Hi, there, I am 26 years old, male, 5’ 10,” medium in size, and always available.”

“Hi there, I am 22 years old, single mom, lonely and available.”

These were the most common introductions that time in the chat whenever one is looking for an online friend.

To me, back then was the beginning of the social media. Then, like a Facebook status, from single to married, social media has become even more “complicated.”

We have porn and dating sites. Worse, we now have fake websites and fake news sites of all sorts. If the Cold War involved counter-intelligence among the protagonists to mislead their enemy, and which is true even up to the present, fake news or misinformation is a mass hypnosis, a new form of warfare. And war is never fair. Thus, the need to be critical in believing what the media is feeding in general.

But this is not all wrong, because it forces us to think. Truly, “dubito-cogito ergo sum” – (“I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am”).

Among the popular social media platforms are Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

But what exactly is social media? Wikipedia describes social media as computer-mediated technologies that facilitate the creation and sharing of information, ideas, career interests, and other forms of expression via virtual communities and networks. I can only wonder the complications this has created in the curriculum of Mass Communication and Journalism courses in college.

But like any form of addiction, social media is not immune from abuse. Among the most popular is hacking, which is the act of unauthorized access to a particular domain, system or program either to gather, intercept or alter data therefrom or to squat therein. Worse, the hacker can even destroy data that can breakdown corporations or governments, even prominent individuals. A hacker can also steal identity to conceal himself and/or sell patented products like software and programs.

Thus, the enactment of Republic Act 10175 or the “Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012” signed into law on Sept. 12, 2012. The declaration of policy in the said law provides that the State recognizes the vital role of information and communications industries such as content production, telecommunications, broadcasting electronic commerce, and data processing, in the nation’s overall social and economic development. The State also recognizes the importance of providing an environment conducive to the development, acceleration, and rational application and exploitation of information and communications technology (ICT) to attain free, easy, and intelligible access to exchange and/or delivery of information; and the need to protect and safeguard the integrity of computer and communications systems, networks, and databases; and the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of information and data stored therein, from all forms of misuse, abuse, and illegal access by making punishable under the law such conduct or conducts.

In this light, the State shall adopt sufficient powers to effectively prevent and combat such offenses by facilitating their detection, investigation, and prosecution at both the domestic and international levels, and by providing arrangements for fast and reliable international cooperation.

Among the offenses punishable are (a) Offenses against the confidentiality, integrity and availability of computer data and systems, which includes illegal access, interception, data and system interference, misuse of devices and cyber squatting; (b) Computer-related offenses, like computer related forgery, fraud and theft; (c) Content related offenses like cybersex, child pornography and libel in relation to the Revised Penal Code; and other offenses including aiding or abetting and attempt in the commission of cybercrime.

Penalties imposable are imprisonment ranging from prison mayor (six years and one day to 12 years) to reclusion temporal (12 years and one day to 20 years) or fines ranging from P100,000 to P1,000,000.

Under this law, the use of ICT in the commission of other crimes in the Revised Penal Code and special laws is now an aggravating circumstance increasing the penalty to one degree higher than the imposable penalty.

Among the most popular offenses we observe almost everyday is cyber libel. In fact, there are pending cases of cyber libel being tried in the courts of Baguio today. Art. 353 of the RPC defines libel as a public and malicious imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status, or circumstance tending to cause the dishonor, discredit, or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead.

Article 354 provides that every defamatory imputation is presumed to be malicious, even if it be true, if no good intention and justifiable motive for making it is shown, except in the following cases: 1. A private communication made by any person to another in the performance of any legal, moral or social duty; and 2. A fair and true report, made in good faith, without any comments or remarks, of any judicial, legislative or other official proceedings which are not of confidential nature, or of any statement, report or speech delivered in said proceedings, or of any other act performed by public officers in the exercise of their functions.

Article 355 states that a libel committed by means of writing, printing, lithography, engraving, radio, phonography, painting, theatrical exhibition, cinematographic exhibition, or any similar means, shall be punished by prison correctional in its minimum and medium periods (six months and one day to four years and two months) or a fine ranging from P200 to P6,000, or both, in addition to the civil action which may be brought by the offended party.

Applying the aggravating circumstance of the use of ICT in the commission of cyber libel, the penalty imposable shall be one degree higher, which is prison mayor (six years and one day to 10 years).

Prior to the enactment of RA 10175 is RA 10173 or the Data Privacy Act of 2012 signed into law on Aug. 15, 2012, barely a month before the Cyber Crime Prevention Act of 2012. The law applies to the processing of all types of personal information and to any natural and juridical person involved in personal information processing including those personal information controllers and processors who, although not found or established in the Philippines, use equipment that are located in the Philippines, or those who maintain an office, branch or agency in the Philippines. The law does not repeal R.A. 53, which affords the publishers, editors or duly accredited reporters of any newspaper, magazine or periodical of general circulation protection from being compelled to reveal the source of any news report or information appearing in said publication which was related in confidence to such publisher, editor, or reporter.

Under this Act, the processing of personal information shall be permitted only if not otherwise prohibited by law, and when at least one of the following conditions exists: (a) The data subject has given his or her consent; (b) The processing of personal information is necessary and is related to the fulfillment of a contract with the data subject or in order to take steps at the request of the data subject prior to entering into a contract; (c) The processing is necessary for compliance with a legal obligation to which the personal information controller is subject; (d) The processing is necessary to protect vitally important interests of the data subject, including life and health; (e) The processing is necessary in order to respond to national emergency, to comply with the requirements of public order and safety, or to fulfill functions of public authority which necessarily includes the processing of personal data for the fulfillment of its mandate; or (f) The processing is necessary for the purposes of the legitimate interests pursued by the personal information controller or by a third party or parties to whom the data is disclosed, except where such interests are overridden by fundamental rights and freedoms of the data subject which require protection under the 1987 Constitution.

Moreover, the processing of sensitive personal information and privileged information shall be prohibited, except in the following cases: (a) The data subject has given his or her consent, specific to the purpose prior to the processing, or in the case of privileged information, all parties to the exchange have given their consent prior to processing; (b) The processing of the same is provided for by existing laws and regulations provided that such regulatory enactments guarantee the protection of the sensitive personal information and the privileged information.

 Provided further, that the consent of the data subjects are not required by law or regulation permitting the processing of the sensitive personal information or the privileged information; (c) The processing is necessary to protect the life and health of the data subject or another person, and the data subject is not legally or physically able to express his or her consent prior to the processing; (d) The processing is necessary to achieve the lawful and noncommercial objectives of public organizations and their associations: Provided, that such processing is only confined and related to the bona fide members of these organizations or their associations: Provided, further, that the sensitive personal information are not transferred to third parties: Provided, finally, that consent of the data subject was obtained prior to processing; (e) The processing is necessary for purposes of medical treatment, is carried out by a medical practitioner or a medical treatment institution, and an adequate level of protection of personal information is ensured; or (f) The processing concerns such personal information as is necessary for the protection of lawful rights and interests of natural or legal persons in court proceedings, or the establishment, exercise or defense of legal claims, or when provided to government or public authority.

Under Office of Court Administrator Circular (OCA) 173-2017 on proper use of social media, judges and court personnel who participate in social media are enjoined to be cautious and circumspect in posting photographs, liking posts, and making comments in public on social networking sites, for public confidence in the judiciary may be eroded by their irresponsible or improper conduct.

The OCA has observed that judges and court personnel have been taking active time in social networking sites by sharing personal photographs and updates, and posting their views and comments on certain issues and current events. The OCA reminded judges and court personnel that the standard of conduct expected from members of the judiciary is much higher than ordinary man.

The Department of Communications and Information Technology has concluded the final consultation in drafting the policy on government’s social media use. The draft can be read on the Internet.

Going back to my observations, I noticed in Facebook that some questions, answers, discussions, conduct and attitude of bloggers are very revealing, at times enlightening, sometimes disappointing, frustrating or even bizarre.

Pati utang ng kamag-anak doon sinasabi, may pangalan pa. Truly, we are extremely  “sosyal” many times. We love to announce everything about us but tend to abuse our own selves. I guess this is another form of addiction, the feeling of entitlement.
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