PRIVACY BILL: House Panel Drops Penalties for Media

THE House on Monday dropped a controversial provision in the data privacy bill that imposes hefty fines and jail sentences on journalists  breaching confidentiality, but adopted the Senate version of other penalty clauses that press groups say will curtail the freedom of information.

“The entire Section 30 is out,” said Taguig City Rep. Sigfrido Tinga, chairman of the House contingent to the bicameral conference committee.

Echoing Senator Edgardo Angara, chairman of the Senate contingent and principal author of the bill, Tinga said the bicameral committee saw nothing wrong with Sections 28 and 29 that would penalize the source of such information.

But Vergel Santos, chairman of the editorial board of Business World and a trustee of the Philippine Press Institute, said Congress was using data privacy to narrow the scope of information freedom.

“You penalize the source and you restrict truthful reporting,” Santos said.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines agreed.

“Deleting the provision on penalties for media does not negate the fact that such a law will still prevent journalists from performing their duty of providing the public relevant information,” said Rowena Paraan, the group’s secretary general.

“This runs contrary to the avowed transparency that the Aquino administration supposedly adheres to. While laws such as these are being hatched  quietly and without consultation with stakeholders, the Freedom of Information Act remains in the dustbin of legislation.”

Melinda Quintos de Jesus, executive director of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, says Senate Bill 2965 defines “personal information” as “any information whether record in a material form or not, from which the identity of an individual is apparent or can be reasonably ascertained by the entity holding the information, or when put together with other information would identify an individual.”

“The definition would therefore include information vital to the imperatives of transparency and accountability in both government and those sectors of the private sector whose work has a bearing on public interest,” De Jesus said in a statement.

She says the bill runs counter to the freedom of information bill pending in Congress.

But Tinga defended the bill, saying American and other foreign companies using business process outsourcing services from the Philippines wanted guarantees that their data would remain confidential.

He said American and foreign companies were going to India for such services because it had a law ensuring such confidentiality.

“In short, these foreign companies wanted protection, thus the data privacy law,” Tinga said.

He said the booming IT-BPO business in the Philippines would lure more foreign investors if the data privacy law were ratified.

The bicameral conference committee report was circulated for signing Monday, but Tinga put the process on hold after press organizations balked at the bill’s provisions.

He said Congress could not scrap the other penalty clauses because these were “the meat of the bill.”

“We have to put penalty clauses because that is the only way we can protect the privacy of data,” Tinga said.

The PPI board of trustees, including the representatives from Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao, are expected to meet Tuesday to discuss what to do about the bill’s punitive clauses.

“The data privacy act would create a National Privacy Commission with the power to monitor the processing of personal information in all forms and media of communication, to halt the process in the name of privacy and national security, and to penalize violators, including private entities, government officials and agencies as well as the media, for obtaining, or causing the release or publication of personal information,” De Jesus said.

The press groups said the bill, it became law, would have a “chilling effect” on journalists by restricting their reporting.

Under the bill, a breach of confidentiality will carry the penalty of imprisonment ranging from two years and four months to five years and a fine of not less than P500,000 but no more than P2 million.

(Published in the Manila Standard Today newspaper on /2012/June/05)

Source:Manila Today June 4, 2012

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