A Right to Consumer Privacy

At a time when the collection and use of consumer (personal) data by governments and private entities is so prevalent and has largely remained unchecked, the right to privacy of individual consumers is constantly under threat and needs all the protection it can get from both the law, as well as voluntary privacy policies. The rising rate of data breach incidents only serve to emphasize this critical need.

Recent developments indicate, however, that no less than the State will have to be reminded of this point if any semblance of a consumer privacy is to survive the current onslaught.

The country’s Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) was in the news recently, proclaiming its pending legislative effort to strengthen consumer protection. Apparently, the agency is pushing for a bill that seeks to insert new provisions in to the outdated Consumer Act (Republic Act No, 7394)—enacted more than two decades ago in 1992—while making revisions to existing ones, in order to be more responsive to today’s modern consumer issues.

For many, this legislative upgrade is one that is long overdue. Indeed, online shopping and other types of electronic commerce alone already present myriads of problematic scenarios that could not have been anticipated by the authors of the original law.

Among the key features of the proposed bill is the introduction of the so-called eight (8) basic rights of consumers, namely: (1) to basic needs; (2) to choose; (3) to representation; (4) to redress); (5) to consumer education; (6) to safety; (7) to a healthy environment; and (8) to information. This set is noteworthy and all the rights identified deserve to be extended to every bona fide consumer in the country. However, what is glaringly absent from the list is the critical right to privacy that is just as important as the others mentioned—if not more, in some respect.

The reason behind the omission is anybody’s guess at this point. What is clear, however, is that such oversight must not be tolerated, must be pointed out to the authorities concerned, and properly addressed at the soonest possible opportunity.

The right to privacy is a fundamental human right that is recognized by the Constitution and other domestic statutes, buttressed by an increasing number of international legal instruments. Thus, it must enjoy a high level of protection within the commercial environment, and must never be sacrificed as a consequence of the insatiable appetite for profit by business entities.

The DTI and the legislators behind the consumer rights bill would do well to revisit their proposed legislation, and include the right to privacy as a core component. Failure to do so renders their effort very much short of any true attempt to afford full protection to consumers, both in cyberspace and in the real world.