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"Anti-selfie" bill could have chilling effect on media

'Privacy protection' bill threatens free expression

Members of activist Party List group
Members of activist Party List group "Akbayan" in Quezon city

REUTERS/Erik De Castro

A bill to protect personal privacy passed second reading in The House of Representatives on 12 August 2014. A congressman and media groups say once it becomes law, House Bill 04807 will have negative effects on press freedom and free expression.

In a statement on 28 August, party-list representative Carlos Isagani Zarate called the bill an "anti-selfie bill."

Once an informal word, "selfie" was included in the Oxford English Dictionary in November 2013 and is defined as "a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website."

"As it is, even an innocuous selfie with public figures inadvertently caught (in) the background would be liable for 'intrusion of privacy'. This is absurd and we urge our colleagues to reconsider," Zarate said.

He warned that the bill would create a chilling effect on the media, especially on citizen journalism. "It would punish with civil action (those who will take) photos, a video or even audio recording (of) anything claimed as a personal or family matter, even of public officials and personalities."

HB 04807 or the "Protection Against Personal Intrusion Act" punishes "any person who willfully intrudes into the personal privacy of another, without the consent of that person and with intent to gain or profit therefrom (sic)."

The bill specifies "intrusion into the personal privacy of another" as consisting of the following acts:

- Capturing with a camera or sound recording instrument 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 . . . of a personal 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 . . . could not have been captured without trespass if no enhancement device was used.

The bill says these acts are automatically assumed to be "committed with intent to gain or profit."

On 28 August, the Chairman of the Photojournalists' Center of the Philippines (PCP), Mike Alquinto, said their organization had apprehensions over the passage of the bill.

"Provisions of the (proposed) law can be used to target enterprising journalists," Alquinto said. "There are exceptions to the right to privacy which . . . are not specified in this bill."

In HB 04807, only "official law enforcement activities" are exempted.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), in a separate statement on 29 August, said the bill is made "even more insidious" by the provision that "the fact that no visual image, sound recording or other physical impression of a person was actually sold for gain or profit," cannot be used as a defense.

"The measure could end up stifling citizen journalism and even simply taking pictures or videos for personal pleasure," NUJP's statement said.

NUJP urged the authors of the bill to withdraw the measure and for the House of Representatives to instead focus on passing a Freedom of Information bill.

The bill is authored by representatives Rufus Rodriguez, Maximo Rodriguez, Jorge Almonte, Gwendolyn Garcia, Linabelle Ruth Villarica, Lito Atienza and Leopoldo Bataoil.

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