Photos, messages from FB Messenger admissible as evidence: Supreme Court

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 18 2022 08:24 AM

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MANILA—The Supreme Court on Friday said it has ruled that photos and messages obtained from Facebook Messenger accounts are admissible as evidence in court.

Based on a 31-page decision penned by Justice Jhosep Lopez, the top court sustained the conviction of a petitioner, Christian Cadajas, for violation of the Anti-Child Pornography Act through the new ruling.

Cadajas reportedly claimed that a chat thread presented as proof against him "should be excluded since the same was obtained in violation of his right to privacy."

"In 2016, petitioner, then 24 years old, started a romantic relationship with AAA, a 14-year-old girl. AAA, using her mother's cellphone, BBB, would converse with petitioner on Facebook Messenger. In one of their conversations, petitioner coaxed AAA to send photos of her private parts, to which AAA relented. BBB later discovered this conversation when AAA forgot to log out of her Facebook account on her mother's phone, prompting AAA to delete the messages on her account," the decision narrated.

"However, BBB forced AAA to open the petitioner's Facebook messenger account to get a copy of their conversation."

The tribunal ruled that "the Bill of Rights under the Constitution, which includes the right to privacy, was intended to protect citizens from government intrusions, the right to privacy and its consequent effects on the rules on admissibility of evidence cannot be invoked against private individuals."

"In the case of petitioner, the Facebook Messenger chat thread was not obtained through the efforts of police officers or any State agent but by AAA, a private individual who had access to the photos and conversations in the chat thread," the decision read.

"Neither can AAA be said to have violated the petitioner's privacy, ruled the Court, since by giving AAA the password to his Facebook Messenger account, the petitioner lost a reasonable expectation of privacy over the contents of his account. 

"Thus, even if AAA was only forced by her mother to obtain the photos and messages, there is still no violation of the petitioner's privacy, since by allowing another person access to his account, the petitioner made its contents available not only to AAA but to other persons AAA might show the account to, whether she be forced or not to do so," it said.

The High Court also held that the restrictions under the Data Privacy Act do not apply to Cadejas since it grants the "processing of personal information related to the determination of criminal liability of a data subject."

"The Court also ruled that the crime of child pornography, while defined and penalized under a special law, should be classified as mala in se, or acts that are inherently immoral and thus require proof of criminal intent by the accused, as opposed to mala prohibita, or those acts which are prohibited only because the law says so, making the intent of the accused irrelevant," it said.

"The Court held that consistent with legislative deliberations on the Anti-Child Pornography Act, it is clear that the illegal acts under the law are not mere prohibitions but serious, depraved acts."

The tribunal emphasized "criminal intent of the accused must be proven" in child pornography cases.

"In the petitioner's case, it was established that he had intended to induce AAA, a minor, to exhibit AAA's private parts, since it was petitioner's prodding that led AAA to take and share the intimate photos," the decision read.

In 2020, a report said the Philippines has become the world's largest known source of online child sexual exploitation, with endemic poverty helping drive a surge in abuse.

Outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte has directed the National Telecommunications Commission to sanction telcos and providers for failure to comply with the country's Anti-Child Pornography Act of 2009.

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