There's an 'anti-selfie' bill in Congress

Posted at 08/28/2014 10:51 AM | Updated as of 08/29/2014 3:21 AM

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MANILA - If you're the type of person who enjoys taking random snapshots of people, places, things and even the ubiquitous selfies and groupies and then posting them on social media, better be careful.

According to Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate, there's a bill in Congress that seeks to bar 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.

It 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 said.

"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 added.

According to HB 4807, the following acts are considered an intrusion into the personal privacy of another and shall be presumed to have been committed with the intent to gain or profit.

-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.

Section 4 of the bill says any person whose personal privacy was intruded as defined 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.

Any person obtaining relief may be either the person whose visual or auditory impression has been captured or the owner of the private property trespassed to capture the visual image, sound recording or other physical impression of another.

"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 explained.

The only exemption from this act are legitimate law enforcement activities.

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

NO MORE SELFIES, PAPARAZZI?

Critics said the bill has wide ranging implications on press freedom and even social media.

Jose Torres Jr., board member of the Photojournalists’ Center of the Philippines (PCP), Inc., said the bill needs to define what "intent to gain or profit therefrom" means.

"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?

"It must be clearly defined what can be classified for 'gain' or 'profit.' News outfits - newspapers, magazines, television, online publications, radio, and news wire agencies - are basically for profit organizations. There must be clear provisions that specify that news gathering must be exempted from this section," he added.

The group said it wants media to be exempted from the coverage of the proposed law.

"We suggest to add the qualification 'unless this is done in the practice of a media professional in the interest of public interest.' If we limit Sec 3 a, Sec 3 c will then apply only to the protection of privacy clause."

The group is also pushing for a definition of "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?"

On the matter of capturing any type of visual image, the group said this provision can affect journalists who use modern legitimate tools of news gathering like drones with cameras or telephoto lenses.

The group proposed that news and visual storytelling that fall into educating, warning, exposing incidents and events that will benefit the majority of society must be exempted because interest groups can use provisions of the law to put enterprising journalists in tough situations.

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.

"Our apprehension is based on the premise that the act being made punishable by this proposed measure is not clearly defined to the point that many acts can be considered 'malum prohibitum' or conducts that constitute an unlawful act only by virtue of statute as opposed to conduct evil in and of itself."

"We worry that this proposed measure can become a tool that 'unwilling public figures' will use to suppress press freedom."