When Can One Invoke the Right to Privacy in Facebook Posts?

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Is there a Right to Privacy in Social Media?

With the advancement of technology, information can readily be found by just one click on your mobile phone or laptop. Access to information becomes easier, communication gets more convenient. Nowadays, there are lots of platforms where one can share his or her information and data; a myriad of information are being shared in Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Viber, and Tiktok, among others.

With the availability of these numerous avenues for information gathering and data sharing nowadays, may one still invoke his or her right to privacy? If yes, up to what extent is this right to privacy protected?

The St. Theresa’s College Case

The Supreme Court of the Philippines has extensively discussed this particular topic in the seminal case of Rhonda Vivares and Spouses Margarita and Suzara vs. St. Theresa’s College, et. al., G.R. No. 202666, 29 September 2014.

This case involves students of a conservative institution who took pictures of themselves clad in their brassieres and showing that they are drinking liquors and smoking cigarettes, which were then uploaded on Facebook. When the school saw these pictures, the students were disciplined for violating rules specified in the Student Handbook and consequently, the school barred the sanctioned students from participating in the graduation rites. Infuriated, the parents of these students questioned the actions of the school and it reached the Supreme Court.

In this case, the right to informational privacy was raised, which according to Justice Puno, one of the three strands of the right to privacy, and it is usually defined as the right of individuals to control information about themselves. 

The Right to Privacy in Facebook

The Supreme Court reached a decision and pronounced the following, to wit:

“STC did not violate petitioners’ daughters’ right to privacy.

Without these privacy settings, respondents’ contention that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in Facebook would, in context, be correct. However, such is not the case. It is through the availability of said privacy tools that many OSN users are said to have a subjective expectation that only those to whom they grant access to their profile will view the information they post or upload thereto.

This, however, does not mean that any Facebook user automatically has a protected expectation of privacy in all of his or her Facebook activities.

Before one can have an expectation of privacy in his or her OSN activity, it is first necessary that said user, in this case the children of petitioners, manifest the intention to keep certain posts private, through the employment of measures to prevent access thereto or to limit its visibility. And this intention can materialize in cyberspace through the utilization of the OSN’s privacy tools. In other words, utilization of these privacy tools is the manifestation, in cyber world, of the user’s invocation of his or her right to informational privacy.

Therefore, a Facebook user who opts to make use of a privacy tool to grant or deny access to his or her post or profile detail should not be denied the informational privacy right which necessarily accompanies said choice. Otherwise, using these privacy tools would be a feckless exercise, such that if, for instance, a user uploads a photo or any personal information to his or her Facebook page and sets its privacy level at “Only Me” or a custom list so that only the user or a chosen few can view it, said photo would still be deemed public by the courts as if the user never chose to limit the photo’s visibility and accessibility. Such position, if adopted, will not only strip these privacy tools of their function but it would also disregard the very intention of the user to keep said photo or information within the confines of his or her private space.” (Emphasis and underscoring supplied.)

Losing the Right to Privacy over Photographs Posted Online

Additionally, in United States of America v. Gines-Perez, 214 F. Supp. 2d 205 (D.P.R. 2002), the US Court had this to say, to wit:

“[A] person who places a photograph on the Internet precisely intends to forsake and renounce all privacy rights to such imagery, particularly under circumstances such as here, where the Defendant did not employ protective measures or devices that would have controlled access to the Web page or the photograph itself.”

Having the foregoing pronouncements, the Court ruled that St. Theresa College did not violate the right of privacy of the students when the teachers downloaded their pictures on Facebook. There were no special means to be able to view the allegedly private posts were ever resorted to by the students, and that the photos were, in reality, viewable either by (1) their Facebook friends, or (2) by the public at large.

Online Privacy and a Lesson on Cyber Responsibility

Finally, the Court concluded by giving a lesson about Cyber Responsibility, to wit:

“It has been said that “the best filter is the one between your children’s ears.” This means that self-regulation on the part of OSN users and internet consumers in general is the best means of avoiding privacy rights violations. As a cyberspace community member, one has to be proactive in protecting his or her own privacy. It is in this regard that many OSN users, especially minors, fail. Responsible social networking or observance of the “netiquettes” on the part of teenagers has been the concern of many due to the widespread notion that teenagers can sometimes go too far since they generally lack the people skills or general wisdom to conduct themselves sensibly in a public forum.” (Emphasis and underscoring supplied.)

About Nicolas and De Vega Law Offices

If you need assistance in cybercrimecivil or other criminal law-related issues,  we can help you. Nicolas and de Vega Law Offices is a full-service law firm in the Philippines.  You may visit us at the 16th Flr., Suite 1607 AIC Burgundy Empire Tower, ADB Ave., Ortigas Center, 1605 Pasig City, Metro Manila, Philippines.  You may also call us at +632 84706126, +632 84706130, +632 84016392 or e-mail us at [email protected]. Visit our website https://ndvlaw.com.

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