Lawyer says PNP can’t stalk people on social media for quarantine violations
MANILA, Philippines — A plan by the Philippine National Police to monitor social media activity for potential quarantine violations is alarming as it may intrude on people’s privacy, a lawyer said on Sunday.
National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) president Edre Olalia said the police could not just start stalking people without being authorized by the courts, as there are laws preventing this kind of surveillance.
“The police cannot just stalk people’s social media posts and messages — especially those with various privacy options — absent legal authority from the courts without violating the constitutional rights to privacy of communications and the Data Privacy Law and other laws and principles,” Olalia said in a statement.
According to the lawyer, while the idea of monitoring possible breach of health protocols using social networking apps is a good idea, it becomes worrisome when placed in the context of the military’s previous bid to regulate social media use.
He also noted that the government has been maintaining a wrong premise that people are hard-headed, hence the need to almost constantly being watched over possible wrongdoings.
“In the abstract and on its face, this sounds like a valid and well-intentioned idea. But in the context of the draconian Anti-Terror Law; the reckless proposal by the military to “regulate” social media supposedly to go after terrorists, […] this may yet prove to be the latest in a procession of rash responses to otherwise legitimate problems and issues,” Olalia explained.
“To start with, the premise is wrong. The hardheaded (“pasaway”) narrative is inaccurate and blown out of proportion. Independent scientific data based on facts and algorithms have debunked this anecdotal demagoguery,” he added.
Recently, Joint Task Force COVID Shield commander Police Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar warned the public that the police will now monitor social media for possible quarantine violations, especially those doing mass gatherings.
Eleazar’s warning came after several photos of alleged mass gatherings and celebrations were ‘inadvertently’ posted online. Since the government placed parts of the country under quarantine statuses, it has maintained limitations on public gatherings to avoid coronavirus transmissions — but that has not stopped people from doing meetings.
One controversial case came from the police force itself when a mañanita was held for National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) chief Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas. After the photos were uploaded on NCRPO’s Facebook page, netizens were quick to point out the alleged disregard for quarantine protocols in the photos.
Just recently, officers from the Batangas City Fire Department were also relieved for supposedly not minding a ban on mass gatherings when they held a ‘get-together’ for outgoing fire department chief C/Insp. Elaine Evangelista.
Another case of mass gatherings was reported last May, when people — including police officers — supposedly attended the birthday celebration of a Pangasinan town mayor.
These activities involving government officials were not lost on Olalia, who noted that the government too has its share of hard-headed individuals.
“An overwhelming percentage of Filipinos have stayed home and the country even placed among the top in following basic protocols like wearing masks,” Olalia said.
“So if there are ‘pasaways’ – and surely there are even from within the very corridors of privilege and power themselves – these are relatively few, far between and insignificant enough not to justify the disproportionate shotgun approach,” he added.
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