SC: 'Friends' FB setting not absolutely private

by Ira Pedrasa,

Posted at Oct 23 2014 07:45 PM | Updated as of Oct 24 2014 03:50 AM

MANILA - The Supreme Court warned social media users to be careful with what they post online since privacy settings do not ensure absolute privacy.

In a decision penned by Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr., the third division of the high court said images shown to “friends" only still “remain to be outside the confines of the zones of privacy" since "a good number of Facebook users 'befriend' other users who are total stranger and a user's Facebook can share the former's post or tag others who are not Facebook friends with the former despite it being visible only to his or her own Facebook friends.”

The high court junked the writ of habeas data filed by the parents of some students who failed to attend the graduation rites in St. Theresa’s College in Cebu in 2012.

The students were barred from marching for posting photos on Facebook where they were seen in their bikinis, smoking, etc. The school called the photos “lewd” and showed “immoral” behavior.

A separate case proceeded at the trial courts, while a petition for a writ of habeas data – meant to destroy or rectify data in the possession of another – was filed at the high court.

Of the five who were barred from attending the graduation rites, four decided to pursue the case.

Eventually, the families of two students reached an amicable settlement with STC officials, leaving only two complainants.

The families of the two students said the school and computer teacher Mylene Rheza Escudero violated their rights to privacy when they accessed their Facebook accounts and downloaded the photos.

The students said their accounts were “very private” since these were set for the viewing of “friends” only.

The high court said, however, “without proof that they placed the photographs subject of this case within the ambit of their protected zone of privacy, they cannot now insist that they have an expectation of privacy with respect to the photographs in question.”

It also gave credence to Escudero’s testimony that it was the students’ classmates and friends who showed her the pictures of the girls.

"Also, 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'," the SC said.

It said social media users should be aware of their cyberspace activities.

"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," it said.