Highly-questioned ‘Anti-Selfie’ bill promulgated by PH lawmakers

By , on August 30, 2014

Shutterstock photo
Shutterstock photo

MANILA – The “selfie”-craze is under threat by a bill in Congress that aims to ban taking photos of people without their permission. House Bill 4807 or the Protection against Personal Intrusion Act is now up for 3rd reading in plenary.

But not everyone is on board with the proposed bill.  In fact, a big sector of society is decrying the law-in-the-making, which is aimed at putting an end to seemingly haphazard snaps of oneself (hence, the term) in random contexts, involving a diversity of people, places, situations, and things. The craze, bordering on phenomenon, has found a home on social media; becoming second nature, almost, to netizens the world over. It has also largely mutated to know include “groupsies”- or self-taken group shots – in its definition.

According to Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate, who has expressed adamant opposition to the bill, the proposed “Personal Intrusion Act” defines “intrusion of personal privacy” as “any person who willfully intrudes into the personal privacy of another, without the consent of that person and with the intent to gain or profit therefrom, shall be civilly liable to the offended party.”

“HB 4807 will create a chilling effect on media and would especially affect citizen journalism. It would punish with civil suit taking photos video or even audio recording anything claimed as a personal/ family matter even of public officials and personalities,” Zarate stated.

“Even an innocuous selfie with public figures at the background would be liable for ‘intrusion of privacy’. This is absurd and we urge our colleagues to reconsider,” he stressed.

“At first glance, the terms used in these provisions may seem harmless and well meaning. Yet, a deeper look at how they will impact in everyday lives is truly worrisome. It affects not only those in the media profession but everyone,” Zarate added.

The promulgators of the bill are Congressmen Rufus Rodriguez, Maximo Rodriguez, Jorge Almonte, Gwendolyn Garcia, Linabelle Ruth Villarica, Lito Atienza and Leopoldo Bataoil.

The following acts are defined as an “intrusion into personal privacy” and shall be “presumed to have been committed with the intent to gain or profit” under the inclusions of HB 4807:

• capturing by a camera or sound recording instrument of any type of visual image, sound recording or other physical impression of the person.
• trespassing on private property in order to capture any type of visual image, sound recording or other physical impression of any person
• capturing any type of visual image, sound recording or other physical impression of a person or family activity through the use of a visual or auditory enhancement device even when no physical trespass has occurred, when the visual image, sound recording or other physical impression could not have been captured without a trespass if no enhancement device was used.

The bill stipulates in Section 4 that any person whose personal privacy was intruded upon, as delineated in the aforementioned guidelines, “may in a civil action against the person who committed the intrusion, obtain any appropriate relief, including compensatory damages, punitive damages, and injunctive and declaratory relief.”

“The fact that no visual image, sound recording or other physical impression of a person was actually sold for gain or profit shall not be available as a defense in any civil action or proceeding for the enforcement of the provisions of this act,” the bill expounded.

Furthermore, the bill stipulates that the only “legitimate law enforcement activities” are exempt from these promulgations.

Already, the bill is receiving much criticism, primarily because it is seen as an infringement on the freedom of the press and social media.

“It would seem that people from the media and journalists can be targets of the proposed measure. Worthy of being emphasized is the phrase ‘with intent to gain or profit therefrom.’ In case a complaint is filed in court against a photojournalist, can lack of intent to gain be used as defense?” questioned Jose Torres Jr., board member of the Photojournalists’ Center of the Philippines (PCP), Incorporated.

Many other aspects of the bill need further clarification, such as what qualifies as “gain or profit” and “private property.”

“Private property must be spelled out and defined. Public places, cars, public transport, public buildings, among others, and individuals, who by nature of their position or profession are classified as public figures, cannot claim violation of privacy. Does ‘personal privacy’ extend to public domain or public places in private spaces, for instance malls, shopping centers, events venues, a luxurious resort, among others?” Torres further queried.

Likewise, the portion pertaining to “capturing any type of visual image” can also have heavy ramifications upon journalists and photographers who use sophisticated legal information gathering devices, such as drones equipped with cameras. The group also wants a corresponding provision of penalty for grave use of authority and clear use of provisions of the law for harassment of journalists.

“We worry that this proposed measure can become a tool that ‘unwilling public figures’ will use to suppress press freedom,” Torres stressed.

Meanwhile, Zarate called upon his fellow lawmakers to rethink the bill.

“We welcome the openness of the bill’s authors to bring HB 4807 back to the committee level so that we can carefully review and scrutinize the bill, for its possible amendments or revision,” Zarate said.