Miyerkules, Setyembre 14, 2011

Is posting of jurisprudence on the internet repository of laws violates the right to privacy of persons whose names are mentioned therein?

        Jurisprudence has become part of our legal system. Laws are not always absolute, so courts has to interpret their meanings and settle disputes that a lower court may have about what a law can mean with philosophy and in theory. Once the case reached the Supreme Court, the decision becomes final and is now of practical and educational value to the people. The jurisprudence posted in the internet repository of laws (e.g. Lawphil or ChanRobles) gives an opportunity for the public to bring theory and life into focus.

          But no matter how important is jurisprudence in our social existence, it is still faced with issues concerning the right to privacy. Do the people whose names are mentioned in the jurisprudence posted in the internet repository of laws have the right scrape it on the ground that it violates their right to privacy?

           The privacy invoked is one of informational privacy. It is the individual interest in avoiding disclosure of personal matters. Their names being part of the jurisprudence posted in the internet threatens to impair their right to non-disclosure of personal information. In Ople vs. Torres, 293 SCRA 141, Justice Romero reiterated the rhetoric of privacy, What marks offs man from a beast? …Because of his sensibilities, emotions and feelings, he likewise possesses a sense of shame. In varying degrees as dictated by diverse cultures, he erects a wall between himself and the outside world wherein he can retreat in solitude, protecting himself from prying eyes and ears and their extensions, whether form individuals, or much later, from authoritarian intrusions. The jurisprudence where their names are mentioned is a menace to their security and dignity.  The persons mentioned especially the victims of crimes who were now able to seek justice thru the decision of the Supreme Court (SC) will have a hard time to recover and start a new life if their personal information and incidents in lives will continue to be revived.  Time and again, the dreadful happenings in the past will be brought to life and it will be difficult for them to live peaceful lives.

The sentiments of the people whose names are mentioned in the posted jurisprudence deserve our attention. However, as mentioned, Jurisprudence is essential to the social and educational public. There is here a balancing of interests of the public’s right to know and individual’s right to privacy. While it may be true that their privacy are somewhat eroded, still, they cannot demand that the postings where their names are mentioned be scraped altogether. By entering into suits and subjecting themselves to various legal processes, they have surrendered part of their privacy rights for justice. Their personal information have become part of the public records even if the same will not be posted in the internet repository of laws such as LawPhil and ChanRobles. The enforcement, application, and interpretation of laws all require the preservation of information, much of which is personal and potentially embarrassing. The posting of SC’s decision on the internet whose names and other information of the litigants are disclosed is essential to the proper functioning of democracy because citizens rely on information about the judicial rulings on the facts in issue to form an educated and knowledgeable opinion of its functioning and to ensure quality, honesty, and respect for the legal system. The court orders and opinions including the information on the litigants are made public documents that should not be prevented from being available on the internet. The litigants are not without protection at all. For example in Rape Victim Assistance and Protection Act of 1998, the names and personal circumstances of the offended party and/or the accused and other information tending to establish their identities are not disclosed to the public.  The public access of jurisprudence thru the internet repository of laws is to be favored, but such is not absolute. If the publication in exceptional circumstances tends to reveal sensitive information which will damage the persons mentioned therein and would pose a threat to the public morality or would run against public policy, it should be scraped. It is to be remembered that litigants did not give up all their rights just because they have entered into the courtroom. The posting of jurisprudence on the internet is just proper to improve the justice system. But these postings are not aimed in undermining the right to privacy of persons mentioned therein in the name of public access. With all these, there is a need to reconcile the values protected by the right to privacy of parties mentioned in the settled cases and the goals of developing the legal system to see that justice is accorded to everyone.

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