Have you ever taken a picture of someone without asking their permission? What about people who accidentally stumbled into your vacation photos? Under a new draft law in the Philippines, these kinds of often-innocent behaviors would become illegal.
A proposed law that seeks to criminalize the taking of photos of private persons without permission has been criticized by activists and media groups in the Philippines for being a threat to free speech. Because of its vague provisions, some have called it an “anti-selfie bill.”
But according to the proponents of House Bill 4807 or “Protection Against Personal Intrusion Act”, the measure simply aims to “promote and protect the personal privacy of every person.” They clarified that only acts of trespassing and other intrusions with intent to gain or profit are prohibited. They also denied that selfies will be outlawed.
Under the bill, the prohibited acts include the following:
-capturing by a camera or sound recording instrument of any type of visual image, sound recording or other physical impression of the person;
-trespassing on private property in order to capture any type of visual image, sound recording or other physical impression of any person;
-capturing any type of visual image, sound recording or other physical impression of a person or family activity through the use of a visual or auditory enhancement device even when no physical trespass has occurred, when the visual image, sound recording or other physical impression could not have been captured without a trespass if no enhancement device was used.
The proposed bill could be used to harass journalists, as it could prevent them from reporting on the actions of public officials. More broadly, it could be used to discourage citizens from freely expressing their views about public policies. Under the bill, a crime has been committed even if a photo or audio has not been sold to anyone as long as there is proof that it was taken with the intent to profit.
Activist legislator Carlos Isagani Zarate was the first to express reservation about the worrying impact of the measure:
At first glance, the terms used in these provisions may seem harmless and well meaning. Yet, a deeper look at how they will impact in everyday lives is truly worrisome. It affects not only those in the media profession but everyone.
Law scholar Mel Sta. Maria called the measure an “anti-happiness bill” and explained why the vague provisions of the measure could target even the innocuous popular selfies:
The law is so broad that it can include doing a “selfie” which, in turn, might include someone who accidentally might have been in the picture. It may also involve merely taking pictures of happy people, young and old alike, anywhere. In short, the proposed law practically says that taking photographs of other people, intentionally or accidentally, without their consent, will be considered an illegal intrusion.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines warned that the bill can be a “weapon of suppression and repression”:
We agree that people are entitled to privacy and, in fact, the Constitution guarantees as much, in all matters that are personal and have nothing to do with the public interest.
But the measure’s intent is so broad it is likely to be used as another weapon for the criminal and the corrupt to escape accountability should it become law.
…the measure could end up stifling citizen journalism and even simply taking pictures or videos for personal pleasure.
In an era where technology is quickly breaking down the obstacles that hamper the flow of information and expression, which are the bedrock of democracy, HB 4807 could return us to the dark ages and worse, be used as a weapon of suppression and repression.
For Marc Lino Abila, leader of the College Editors Guild, the bill is impractical to implement aside from being a serious threat to press freedom:
The bill is very impractical at all levels. In the face of serious and growing concerns of the country, this bill has no space for legislative attention. Not only that it is a waste of time, it is immensely unconstitutional.
On Twitter, the hashtag #antiselfiebill trended globally because of this issue. Many netizens have rejected the bill and urged Congress to focus on other more important national issues:
Anti-Selfie Bill. I WEEP FOR THIS COUNTRY. And some haters question why I want to leave this place?
— Camie Juan (@camiejuan) August 28, 2014
Internet users following the issue pointed out that while some parliamentarians were eagerly pushing the bill, another bill that would enshrine the right to freedom of information (FOI) appears not to be moving forward.
An anti-selfie bill is gaining more ground than a very crucial FOI bill? More and more, congressmen don't deserve to represent us.
— philippinebeat (@philippinebeat) August 28, 2014
After triggering a mild public uproar, the proponents of the bill have vowed to further deliberate the matter.