I have a girlfriend of two years. I went to Singapore as an OFW and met somebody else there. I know I’m wrong, but I also started dating this other girl. Anyway, when I came back, my girlfriend in the Philippines broke up with me and filed a criminal complaint for VAWC against me due to my cheating. I did not know how she found out but she threw printouts of my pictures with my girlfriend in Singapore, which I posted on my Facebook account. I felt that my privacy has been violated, as I made the photos viewable only to my Facebook friends. After asking around, I found out that one of our common friends, also a Facebook friend, showed the photos to her. Can I sue her for violating my right to privacy? I seriously believe that she violated my right to privacy when she printed out those photos. Thank you.
Before we begin, several key points must be highlighted in your problem. First, you posted photos of you and your new girlfriend on Facebook. Second, your Facebook account is Friends Only. Third, it appears that your Filipina girlfriend is not one of your friends on Facebook. Lastly, your Filipina girlfriend was able to obtain a copy of your photos with your new girlfriend in Singapore, through a common friend whom you are friends with on Facebook.
On your question on whether your girlfriend violated your right to privacy, the Supreme Court in Vivares vs. St. Theresa’s College (G.R. No. 202666, September 29, 2014) recently ruled that “setting a post’s or profile detail’s privacy to “Friends” is no assurance that it can no longer be viewed by another user who is not Facebook friends with the source of the content.” According to the court, “[T]he user’s own Facebook friend can share said content or tag his or her own Facebook friend thereto, regardless of whether the user tagged by the latter is Facebook friends or not with the former. Likewise, when the post is shared or when a person is tagged, the respective Facebook friends of the person who shared the post or who was tagged can view the post, the privacy setting of which was set at ‘Friends.’ “
As in the Vivares case, where several students showed photos of other students on Facebook to their teacher, the Supreme Court ruled that neither the teacher nor the school violated the student’s privacy. Like the teacher and school in the Vivares case, your girlfriend was merely a recipient of what were posted. Your girlfriend, like the teacher, “did not resort to any unlawful means of gathering the information as it was voluntarily given to them by persons who had legitimate access to the said posts.”
Since according to you, your post was Friends Only, it was viewed by others such as your common friend. Since it did not appear that your girlfriend used unlawful means to access your post, it appears that your privacy was not violated.
The Philippine Constitution guarantees a person’s right to privacy in life, liberty or security (Section 3, Article III, 1987 Constitution). Anyone who violates this right may seek protection from the courts. In our current day and age, however, privacy continues to be redefined and challenged, especially with the prevalence of online social networking sites such as Facebook. Again, the Supreme Court warns that, “Users of online social networks must be aware of the risks that they expose themselves to whenever they engage in cyberspace activities. Accordingly, they should be cautious enough to control their privacy and to exercise sound discretion regarding how much information about themselves they are willing to give up. xxx Furthermore, and more importantly, information, otherwise private, voluntarily surrendered by them can be opened, read, or copied by third parties who may or may not be allowed access to such.”
We hope that we were able to enlighten you on the matter. Please be reminded that this advice is based solely on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. Our opinion may vary when other facts are changed or elaborated.
Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org