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Restrictions on CCTV use

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Restrictions on CCTV use

/ 10:25 PM October 03, 2013

In what may be considered a sign of the times, the close circuit television (CCTV) business in the country is currently enjoying brisk sales.

Several cities now require businesses that deal extensively with the public to install CCTVs in their open areas to deter the commission of crimes and, if committed, to assist in their solution.

No CCTV, no business permit.

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In Davao City, Mayor Rodrigo Duterte has ordered shopping malls, commercial centers and movie houses to install, operate and maintain high definition CCTVs in their entrance and exit points, and other strategic areas.

As a result of this requirement, the city is experiencing a shortage in CCTVs. Christmas has come early for dealers of cameras that meet the city’s criteria.

The video surveillance fever has also affected gated communities, condominium buildings and other housing projects. Some schools in Metro Manila have made that system an integral part of their security measures.

So pervasive has this technology been in our daily life that the manner of its use was discussed and passed upon by the Supreme Court in the case of “Spouses Bill and Victoria Hing vs Alexander Choachuy Sr. and Allan Choachuy,” G.R. No. 179736, dated June 26, 2013.

Construction

The case involves two families that owned adjoining properties in Mandaue City, Cebu. The Choachuys built an auto repair shop in their premises. Later, the Hings began to construct a fence around their property which was being used as a business office.

The Choachuys went to court to demand that their neighbor be ordered to desist from constructing the fence because it allegedly did not have a valid permit and that it would destroy the wall of their shop that was adjacent to the fence.

The court denied the petition for failure to substantiate the damages claimed. Smarting from this defeat, the Choachuys installed in their shop two video surveillance cameras facing their neighbor’s property to record the construction of the fence.

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The Hings resented the installation of the cameras and, invoking invasion of their right to privacy, asked the court to order the removal of the CCTVs and illegal surveillance.

The court ruled in their favor and ordered the Choachuys to “immediately remove the revolving camera that they installed at the left side of their building overlooking the side of (petitioners’) lot and to transfer and operate it elsewhere at the back …”

The losing parties appealed the decision to the Court of Appeals and got a favorable ruling.

Invasion

The appellate court based its action on Art. 26 of the Civil Code which states that “every person shall respect the dignity, personality, privacy and peace of mind of his neighbors and other persons. The following and similar acts … shall produce a cause of action for damages, prevention and other relief: … (l) Prying into the privacy of another residence.”

Since the property subject of the controversy is not used as a residence, the court said no violation of privacy could be imputed on the Choachuys.

Unfazed, the Hings went to the Supreme Court to seek the reversal of the latter ruling. They claimed that the Civil Code provision which prohibited people from prying into the private lives of others also included business offices.

In support of this stand, they cited the comments of Civil Law expert former Sen. Arturo Tolentino who said the provision “does not mean, however, that only the residence is entitled to privacy, because the law also applies to ‘similar acts.’ A business office is entitled to the same privacy when the public is excluded therefrom and only such individuals as are allowed to enter may come in.”

The tribunal agreed with Tolentino’s comments on how a person’s right to privacy should be construed and understood.

It stated that the prohibition on “prying into the privacy of another’s residence also covers places, locations or situations which an individual considers  private, or “in places where he has the right to exclude the public or deny them access.”

Reasonableness

To ensure the proper determination of that right to privacy, the tribunal reiterated its earlier pronouncements on the “reasonable expectation of privacy” test.

The test consists of two questions: (1) whether, by his conduct, the individual has exhibited an expectation of privacy; and (2) this expectation is one that society recognizes as reasonable.

The reasonableness of such expectation is influenced by customs, community norms and other practices. Thus, its determination must be done on a case-by-case basis depending on the factual circumstances surrounding the case.

Applying the test to the situation at hand, the tribunal said that “in this day and age, video surveillance cameras are installed practically everywhere for the protection and safety of everyone.

“The installation of these cameras, however, should not cover places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy, unless the consent of the individual whose right to privacy would be affected, was obtained.

“Nor should those cameras be used to pry into the privacy of another’s residence or business office as it would be no different from eavesdropping, which is a crime under Republic Act No. 4200 or the Anti-Wiretapping Law.”

Bottom line, the CCTVs the Choachuys’ installed in their property that faced directly the Hings’ property or covered a significant portion of it, without the latter’s consent, is a clear violation of their right to privacy and should therefore be removed.

The tribunal’s ruling should be taken to heart by people who want to install or presently operate video surveillance cameras in their residences or business offices. Their right to security cannot be exercised at the expense of the right to privacy of people who fall within the surveillance coverage.

For comments, please send your e-mail to rpalabrica@inquirer.com.ph.

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