Data privacy bill gets initial OK

Posted on February 15, 2011

THE HOUSE of Representatives has approved on second reading the proposed Data Privacy Act that will prevent unlawful disclosure of data.

Deputy Majority Leader Roman T. Romulo (2nd district), one of the authors of House Bill 4115, confirmed by phone yesterday that the measure was approved on Feb. 9.

Under the bill, personal data must only be collected for legitimate purposes determined before the data is collected.

The information must be processed accurately and lawfully and kept up to date. Inaccurate or incomplete data must be corrected, supplemented or destroyed. Personal data processing will be permitted only if there is clear consent from the consumer, which must be in writing or through other similar means of express consent, the bill read.

Furthermore, personal data may only be stored and used for as long as it is necessary to achieve the purpose for which it was processed.

The data controller (person or organization who collects information) and data processor (person or organization who uses the information) must enforce organizational and technical measures to protect personal data against accidental or unlawful destruction, alteration, disclosure as well as against any other unlawful processing. Moreover, the information gathered may not be shared with third parties.

Mr. Romulo said the “corporations or companies that collect information should be able to put safeguards to protect the privacy of their subjects.”

These safeguards are subject to the approval of the Commission on Information and Communications Technology (CICT) which shall supervise the activities of data controllers when processing personal data, monitor the legality of processing of personal data, prevent breaches in data processing, and ensure protection of the rights of the data subject.

The measure also imposes a fine of not less than P200,000 but not more than P2 million for unlawful disclosure of personal information, which refers to the identity of an individual.

Unlawful disclosure of sensitive personal information, referring to a person’s race, ethnic origin, marital status, age, color, and religious, philosophical or political affiliations will be meted a fine of not less than P500,000 but not more than P4 million.

A fine of not less than P200,000 but not more than P5 million shall likewise be imposed on companies or corporations that fail to issue appropriate safeguards that will ensure privacy protection.

Meanwhile, at the Senate, the counterpart bill -- Senate Bill 355 -- filed by Senator Antonio “Sonny” F. Trillanes, has been pending with the committee on public information and mass media since July last year.

Senator Gregorio B. Honasan II, chairman of the committee, said by phone yesterday that his committee “will consider” the proposed measure, but added that the Freedom of Information (FoI) bill, which seeks transparency in government transactions, should first be discussed. “Personally, I see the Data Privacy Act as an exemption to the FoI. We should address this fundamental issue first,” Mr. Honasan said.

Sought for comment, CICT chairman Ivan John E. Uy said that the passage of the bill is “very timely” considering that the country has no specific laws on data privacy.

“There really is no protection [under the current practice] that all private information will be kept secureā€¦no stopping data processors from selling information to interested parties. Even the government can sell information provided by individuals,” he said.

He added that the measure will invite more investors in the BPO industry that handle a great deal of personal information as most of the clients abroad require clear laws that will guarantee data privacy protection.

The same was impressed by Martin E. Crisostomo, executive director for external affairs of the Business Processing Association of the Philippines, who said in a text message yesterday that “the approval of the Data Privacy Act on second reading sends the right signals not only to existing foreign locators in the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry but also to the many global players which are just deciding whether to invest in our country and participate in the IT (information technology)-BPO space.”

“Looking forward, the eventual passage of the bill will translate to the creation of hundreds of thousands of jobs for Filipinos,” he said. -- Noemi M. Gonzales