Gov’t can peek into airline manifests – National Privacy Commission
MANILA, Philippines – The government can access the passenger manifests of airline companies to ensure public health in the face of the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019 nCoV) threat, the National Privacy Commission (NPC) said on Tuesday.
This clarification from NPC Commissioner Raymund Enriquez Liboro came after the Health Secretary Francisco Duque III told senators that airlines had been invoking confidentiality, saying that passenger manifests are deemed confidential under the Data Privacy Act of 2012 (Republic Act No. 10173).
According to Liboro, the right to data privacy is not absolute, as Section 12 (d)(e) of that law says that processing personal information would be valid if “vitally important interests of the data subject, including life and health” are concerned, and if it is “necessary in order to respond to national emergency.”
“While data privacy is a right, it is not an absolute right. The same should always be harmonized vis-à-vis the requirements of public order and safety, and to protect the life and health of the data subject or another person,” he said in a statement.
“If a government agency pursuant to its constitutional or statutory mandate, requests airlines to release passenger manifest, the same is allowed under the Data Privacy Act of 2012,” he said.
During the Senate hearing on the country’s preparedness and actions on the 2019 nCoV, Duque said that only 17% of the two infected Chinese nationals’ co-passengers had been contacted. He said the airline companies who ferried the two — one of whom has already died — had invoked confidentiality clauses.
Duque’s statement earned the ire of Sen. Nancy Binay, who said that they should have finished contacting the co-passengers because it had been days since the cases were confirmed.
The case of the female Chinese national receiving treatment at the San Lazaro Hospital was announced last Thursday, while her male companion’s case was announced on Sunday — a day after he died.
“In responding to a critical public health issue like nCoV, the DOH has the mandate, purpose and the necessity to collect and process personal data to uphold the public welfare. Therefore, nothing should prevent airline companies from releasing relevant passenger data to competent and mandated authorities like the (DOH),” Liboro said.
“The Data Privacy Act of 2012 is not meant to prevent the government from processing personal and sensitive personal information when necessary to fulfill their mandates. Rather, it aims to protect the right to data privacy while ensuring free flow of information,” he added.
Duque did not mention which airlines withheld the information of the Chinese nationals, but previous reports quoting DOH spokesperson Undersecretary Eric Domingo said that both arrived in Cebu from Hong Kong on a Cebu Pacific flight.
They later took a Cebgo flight to Dumaguete, and then flew to Manila via a Philippine Airlines flight.
Both Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific claimed to have worked with DOH and the Bureau of Quarantine in tracking the passengers, even saying that the passenger manifest had been provided already.
As of now, DOH said that they are monitoring 80 patients under investigation for showing signs of the 2019-nCoV, which originated in Wuhan, China. At least 20,000 individuals have been infected, with 425 dead.