Call or Text me…..Maybe?

            Communication is a vital element to our daily life; a way of expressing or conveying information and establishing connection with others.  It is defined as “a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior.”[1] Communication requires skills to understand the motives and values of those who create the information. It requires the skills to examine the implications of the information, for one’s self, one’s family, and one’s community. It also requires discussion with others, so that ideas presented and information gathered may be further analysed and evaluated.[2] It serves as a tool for interaction to convey to another whether it is in words, sign language or in writing. Writing, in particular, has undergone many forms from the conventional (snail mail, telegram) to the advanced (pagers/beepers, email, social media, sms). Such advancement is attributed to Information and Communications Technology more commonly known as ICT which refers to technologies that facilitate by electronic means the creation, storage, management and dissemination of ICT.  Broadly defined, it includes the use of the radio, television, telephone and cell phone.[3] Because of technology, communication is just a click, a text, a comment or a tweet away. Mobile phones (or cellphones as commonly called in the Philppines) are a must-have for every individual. SMS or Short Messaging Service, is one of those serendipitous applications that are discovered almost by accident. The capability to send some 160 or so characters of data (barely a kilobit) was included in the original specification of the GSM digital mobile standard that was developed in the 1980s and implemented from 1991 onwards.[4] During the influx of the Nokia phones during the early 2000s, it was considered a luxury to have the 3310, the newest release then of the Finnish telecommunications giant. Sms also played an important role in our history. On January 2000, during the height of the impeachment of then President and now Manila Mayor Joseph Erap Estrada, thousands of text messages were sent to gather in the historic EDSA Shrine to rally against Erap which was known as EDSA 2.  Today, having a mobile phone is a necessity since it is one of the most convenient modes of communication, not to mention its low cost. With the rise of the more sophisticated smartphones, mobile experience has never been the same. It’s like having a personal computer at the palm of your hand. Users can now listen to their favorite music, stream videos, play games, check their social networks and much more. One can tell that Apple, Samsung, HTC and other smartphone manufacturers are striving to update their products that will leave us in awe and leaving us with little choice not to update our current phones. Of course, we could not talk about mobile phones, smartphones, or cellular phones if we do not mention its primary function, that is, to call and send sms. To call or send  sms, one just simply look into his contacts which is the storage of several numbers. For instance, if you want to know the number of someone, you’ll ask, “Hey can I have the number of…? The other person will reply, “Sure i’ll send it to you. Ok, it was done without the consent of the owner of that mobile number but it seemed harmless right? Here comes Republic Act No. 10173 otherwise known as the “Data Privacy Act of 2012.”

            Privacy is defined as ‘the right to be let alone’ (Warren & Brandeis, 1890). This presupposes an individual’s ability to control information disclosure about himself and his actions (Seifert & Harold, 2004). According to Seifert & Harold, the two most pressing reasons why privacy on information is important are one, once privacy is lost it can lead to invasive intrusion to one’s privacy and two, inaccurate information can affect multitude decisions (2004).[5] Before the enactment of R.A. No. 10173, there was no law which affords protection to data privacy and the only known jurisprudence then was in the case of Ople vs. Torres[6] where the Supreme Court had the occasion to rule on the controversial National Identification System. The Court ruled that it violated the right to privacy because the data to be collected was not for a specific purpose which may lead to potential manipulation. It added that privacy is considered as the right most valued by civilized men. Thus, the concern for right to privacy is the paramount reason why the Philippine Supreme Court declared the government’s first attempt to develop a national ID system as unconstitutional. The government, for its part have been doing its fair share in institutionalizing technology within the bureaucracy through E-Government which refers to the use by government agencies of information and communication technologies (ICT) that have the ability to transform relations with citizens, businesses, government employees, and other arms of government in the delivery of services. It is also the use of electronic media in the facilitation of government processes. It covers a wide range of applications making use of multi-media broadcasting, radio networks, computer networks, mobile phone communication technologies, and other similar electronic devices.[7] With such progression, risks emerged when it comes to data protection and privacy. Highly valuable and sensitive information with regards to personal details of individuals are exposed to misuse and fraud.

            The Data Privacy Act, which was authored by then Senator Edgardo J. Angara, Chairman of the Committee on Science and Technology, seems to address the need in instituting reforms in data privacy protection. The law aims to protect the fundamental right of privacy, of communication while ensuring free flow of information to promote and growth.[8] The protection of personal information is a significant part in ensuring economic stability. RA 10173 also provides for the creation of a body known as the National Privacy Commission which is mandated to monitor and ensure compliance of the law and with the global standards with regards to data protection. The Commission also has the power to recommend to the Department of Justice the prosecution of violators of this law. In this modern world where technology seems to impress us again and again, this law is of paramount importance. One of the things that the law aims to protect is the personal information of the data subject or an individual whose personal information is processed.[9] Personal information is any information whether recorded in a material form, or not, from which the identity of an individual is apparent or can be reasonably and directly ascertained by the entity holding the information, or when put together with other information would directly and certainly identify an individual.[10]

            Going back to mobile phones, the personal information which may determine an individual’s identity is his mobile number. One of the methods in processing such personal information is by sending or giving it to another. A dilemma may arise with regards to this action. Section 12 of the Data Privacy Act lays down the criteria for lawful processing of personal information that is if not prohibited by law AND when at least one of criteria under the said provision exists. These two requisites must be present to be able to process personal information lawfully. One of the conditions according to the law is that the data subject must have given his consent. It must be freely-given so that there is good faith attendant to the relaying of personal information to be processed. In our scenario, it seems that giving someone else’s mobile number without the person’s consent is a violation of the Data Privacy Act. However, that would not be the case if the processing is necessary for the purposes of the legitimate interests.[11] The law only requires consent when the personal information to be processed is sensitive like a person’s race, ethnic origin, age, etc. [12] It may be noted that Chapter IV provides for the rights of the data subject which is to be informed of personal information pertaining to him is going to be processed. Such right may be unnecessary on instances of requesting a person’s mobile number from another since the primary reason for such request is to contact that person and the law did not intend to be obstructive with regards to exchanging numbers and hindering the communication among individuals. Most of the time, this is done when the person requesting is known to the one who owns the mobile number, thus such data process is legitimate. Nevertheless, what if the purpose of the request is for ill-purpose such as sending threatening messages, or getting the mobile number of your crush, will it be covered by the Data Privacy law? It is my opinion that reliance on the Data Privacy Law regarding that matter is misplaced. Such threats may be prosecuted under the Revised Penal Code for grave threats or light threats as the case may be and the malicious text message may be admitted under the Rules on Electronic Evidence. The law’s primary purpose is for the protection and providing a stable environment for information technology-related businesses, particularly the BPOs or the Business Process Outsourcing. As may be inferred from the proponent of the law, “None other than the Information Technology and Business Process Outsourcing (IT-BPO) industry has been clamoring for such a framework.”[13]

            Although a mobile number is personal information, it is probably not one of the information or data that is intended to be extended utmost protection by the law unlike those in the business sector which is at risk and if compromised may lead to irreparable damage to the economy. The enactment of the law is a commitment by the Philippine government to the global standards as mentioned in the sponsorship speech of Senator Angara, “Our proposed privacy regulations will keep our information systems safe without unnecessarily restricting our IT-BPO industry and other ICT-driven sectors. This is why we have chosen to follow the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Privacy Framework over other privacy regulations as it provides ample flexibility in implementation.” To think that such measure will apply to mobile numbers is an absurd situation; a capricious and whimsical exercise. The legislators who toiled in the legislative mill did not want this law to be a detractor of communication. Mobile numbers must be disseminated without any hindrance as to consent for a legitimate and lawful purpose. Besides, mobile numbers are expendable because it can be easily be replaced in case it is exposed to exposed to misuse. Such is not the case when it comes to information in the possession of companies which is comprise of a system that must be maintained and properly protected to ensure that each and every data is secured and away from external threats. Today, mobile phones are powered by subscriber identity module cards or simply known as sim cards. It serves as a key which allows users to activate the mobile function of a mobile phone such as call and text. Telcos, which consists of Smart, Globe and Sun Cellular provide for the sim cards that may either be postpaid or prepaid. An individual can have a many sim cards as he wishes especially the prepaid ones because its actually cheap. A decade ago, one sim card costs around three hundred pesos but today one can buy a ten-peso sim card peddled in the streets. You can just imagine how easily you can change your mobile numbers by replacing your sim cards. That’s not the case with subscribers of postpaid plans since you are enrolled in a plan and is billed monthly unlike their prepaid counterparts. It is also very unlikely that a postpaid subscriber will be willing to change his mobile numbers due to the fact that such number may be known by his colleagues and it will be a tedious process of informing others for a new number. There have been proposals (e.g., Villars SB 266) to require the registration of mobile SIM cards to replicate a Singapore Government requirement. However, for numerous reasons the Philippines has refrained from adopting such requirements. Critics have pointed out that registration threatens the right to privacy of communications, as the government becomes a third party to the contracts to which consumers consent when buying or using SIM cards from telcos. There have also been concerns that SIM registration could trigger the sending of more spam texts, including prank calls and scams.[14] Such idea means that all users of sim cards (e.g. mobile phones, broadband and other mobile device) have to register and give a proof of identification like any other government issued Ids. Such registration will be an added burden to whom the costs will be attributed to may it be to the government, telcos or worse us, consumers, ouch.

            I really don’t see as an issue the sending of mobile number to someone without his/her consent. It is already a known practice for mobile phone users. Maybe for some, it may be an etiquette issue as they do not want their numbers circulated outside their business, social and personal circle and they advise those who have their digits to exercise consent in divulging their numbers to other people. They have this fear that if someone will be able to hold on to their numbers, they might be harassed, black mailed or bullied so they limited the number of people who have their contacts on their mobile phones. I think those kind of people value their privacy. So the simple solution to this problem is to give your mobile number to people whom you trust.  Another privacy issues that involve cellular phone information is the release of private information, such as phone numbers, addresses, and phone records, among other personal details. However, obtaining this information is not always considered illegal or a breach of privacy, such as in the case of a reverse phone lookup. When a person performs a reverse phone lookup they already know the phone number, but usually not the identity of the number’s owner. In most cases reverse cell phone searches are used to trace an unknown caller, and the results that are provided typically only include the city and state, and phone company associated with the number.[15]

            Recently, while writing this, I came upon a news article regarding a Facebook App that sends users’ phone numbers to servers without consent. To my mind, it was a very applicable to the topic since it deals with breach of data privacy negating consent. By downloading the app, the phone numbers are sent to Facebook even before the user logs in. This is really a cause for concern since Facebook acquires such vital information such as phone numbers without the owner’s consent. Having an account in Facebook or any social media site for that matter must be handled with care because it may lead to leakage of personal information that may cause you trouble in the future. With the social media sites spawning every day, web users are at high risk of being subjected to unauthorized processing of personal information. There are a lot of prying eyes that are waiting to pounce on users that may expose his personal information on the web. Because of the different avenues for browsing the web, such as mobile phones, the flood gates for possible abuse that is detrimental to users. While we concern ourselves with breach of data privacy with regards to contact numbers through third persons, we should not forget that information from our mobile gadget may be squeezed out by having them misplaced or stolen. Some of our phones may have stored passwords and thieves are granted access to sensitive information not to mention that some sex videos are spread in such manner. There are also threats that are programmed and may hide in the form of text message, image file, image file and links that will re-direct you to something that may phishing on your personal information. Phishing is the act of attempting to acquire information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details (and sometimes, indirectly, money) by masquerading as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication.[16] The unsuspecting public, who enters a website, may be lured into a malicious content. Sometimes wireless networks may also be a channel in funnelling out information especially in unsecured public networks. They are usually located in public place like malls, and other establishments that offer free but unguaranteed wireless connection. All of these add to the usual risks such as socially engineered viruses that have plagued our computer systems. As the technology grows rapidly, the hazards that accompany it substantially grows as well.

            To prevent these things from happening, there are simple ways to protect our phones and information. Mobile phones of today, such as smartphones are like computers that need updates, unlike their predecessors. These updates may be for better functions and add-ons but the most important of all updates are critical security features. One must also have a unique PIN or password which should not be anything like birthdays, names or other information that can be easily deduced. It is also imperative to remember the quote “think before you click” that is before agreeing, responding or clicking unto a link or site, always check first the veracity of the link or site. Surely, those pop ups will offer something that is tempting but remember that your disregard to your mobile security may cause serious consequences to you. Always backup your data especially your important information. Most of us store contact numbers in the mobile phone memory which makes the loss of the device disastrous and dangerous. It is possible to backup your contacts online as sites such as Google allows users of Android smartphones to backup contacts via Gmail account so it will be a hassle free-procedure. Whenever your phone got lost or got really messed up because of some glitch and you have no choice but to reformat it at least you can still retrieve your contacts from a backup file. With all these necessary guidelines on mobile data protection, the best policy is still to take care of your mobile phones. Treat your phone as your wallet; you should always keep it close and secure. In my experience, mobile phone is one of the things I always carry whenever I leave the house; the other two are wallet and hanky. When you are outside, be wary of your surroundings when using your phone. As much as possible, avoid the use of your phone in places that you are unsure of. Especially in the streets, use your mobile phone with utmost regard not only for the phone but to your own safety most importantly. When you cannot avoid using your phone, be on guard; put your phone on silent mode to avoid attraction.

            Technology is critical in the world we live in; its current state is shaping our future as we continue to traverse this journey called life. We do expect many more amazing discoveries pioneered by companies that are eager to introduce more trending innovations. Still, privacy must still be regarded and protected. No less than the fundamental law of the land has provided that the right to privacy is the right to be left alone. It is also the right of a person to be free from undesired publicity or disclosure and as the right to live without unwarranted interference by the public in matters with which the public is not necessarily concerned.[17] It is one of the rights belonging to the class of rights which is possessed by every individual. Every person has the right to enjoy his private life by his own choice free from intervention from external forces. It cannot be denied without violating the principles of justice and liberty. There are also Supreme Court issuances regarding the matter. The Supreme Court in January 2008 issued regulations on “Habeas Data” that give individuals the right to demand access and protection of personal information held by any party (A.M. No. 08-1-16-SC).  It is available to “any person whose right to privacy in life, liberty or security is violated or threatened by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or of a private individual or entity engaged in the gathering, collecting or storing of data or information regarding the person, family, home and correspondence of the aggrieved party.” There have been a number of recent cases where it has been used including relating to illegal wiretapping.[18] The right to privacy is also subject to limitations in instances when interference is made upon lawful order of the court or when public safety or order requires otherwise as prescribed by law. Violation of privacy laws may be enforced only against the government. Against private individuals, it is actionable only under a claim for damages under the Civil Code. Notwithstanding, privacy should be respected by everyone. Information that should be held off in public should be treated as such and inquiry about personal details must be done in a lawful course of action. One must not exploit using technology in breaching this cardinal right. Technology is a gift; it must be harnessed for practical and desirable purposes. The law has adapted through the course of time, demonstrating its rigidness as demonstrated by the emerging waves of change. Everything we do, everything we say is now anchored on the fact that this digital era has engulfed us in a never ending quest for new concepts. Even so, man still values his isolation, the experiences that are personal to him. He cannot surrender it to others. He is a master of himself.


[1] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/communication

[2] http://www.stgeorgecollege.sa.edu.au/pdf/parent-handbooks/mobilephonepolicyforwebpage.pdf

[3] A Preliminary Report on Mapping ICT4D Projects in the Philippines

[4] Pinoy Internet: Philippines Case Study, March 2002

[5] Unified Multipurpose Identification (ID) System: A Closer Look Through The ICT Perspective by: Mariecon B. Aranda

[6] G.R. No. 127685, July 23, 1998

[7] e-Government in the Philippines: Benchmarking Against Global Best Practices

[8] Section 2, R.A. No. 10173

[9] Subparagraph (c) Section 3 R.A. No. 10173

[10] Subparagraph (g) Section 3 R.A. No. 10173

[11] Section 12. Criteria for Lawful Processing of Personal Information (f) The processing is necessary for the purposes of the legitimate interests pursued by the personal information controller or by third party or parties to whom the data is disclosed, except where such interests are overridden by fundamental rights and freedoms of the data subject which require protection under the Philippine Constitution.

[12]  Section 13 (a) The data subject has given his or her consent, specific to the purpose prior to the processing, or in the case of privileged information, all parties to the exchange have given their consent prior to processing.

[13] Senator Angara’s Sponsorship Speech on Committee Report No. 56, September 21, 2011

[14] https://www.privacyinternational.org/reports/philippines/iii-privacy-issues

[15] http://privacy-software.topchoicereviews.com/privacy-issues-cell-phone-over-internet_152.html

[16] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phishing

[17] http://salongacenter.org/2011/07/right-to-privacy/

[18] https://www.privacyinternational.org/reports/state-of-legal-protections-in-asia/the-philippines

1 Comment

Filed under Privacy

One response to “Call or Text me…..Maybe?

  1. Pingback: Students’ Take: Contacts viz RA 10173 | Berne Guerrero

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s