A postscript on the DoJ-INC issue; NAIA scanners violate privacy

THE recent entry of Senator Grace Poe in the presidential derby triggered many news items about other candidates, declared or otherwise.  For instance, Leni Robredo, a possible vice presidential candidate under the Liberal Party, may face criminal charges for allegedly soliciting and receiving funds from foreign sources to finance her 2013 campaign for the congressional seat of Camarines Sur.

 News about Poe’s presidential run has likewise drawn public attention away from government anomalies.   These include the P20 million worth of traffic lights of the Metro Manila Development Authority which recently ended up in Legazpi City in Bicol.   So far, MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino has not explained why he should not be held liable for this irregularity.   Another anomaly overlooked is the recent revelation by the Commission on Audit that P141 million worth of relief goods rotted away in the warehouses of the Department of Social Welfare and Development under Secretary Dinky Soliman. 

Still another issue forgotten lately is the rift between the Department of Justice under Secretary Leila de Lima, and the Iglesia Ni Cristo religious sect.

It will be recalled that months ago, a minister of the INC filed a criminal complaint with the DoJ.   The minister alleged that he was, among others, abducted by certain officials of the INC supposedly over disagreements over a series of online commentaries. When Secretary De Lima entertained the case, the INC protested on the ground that the state was meddling in the internal affairs of a religious group.   Invoking the separation of church and state mandated by the Constitution, INC members organized a large rally, first along Padre Faura Street in Manila, and later at the intersection of Edsa and Shaw Boulevard in Mandaluyong. 

The rally aggravated the already horrid traffic mess along Edsa and its nearby roads.   Grace Poe and Chiz Escudero used the rally to their political advantage, but then that is the topic of another story.    

Since a stalemate between Secretary de Lima and the INC seemed forthcoming, officials of the administration of President Benigno Aquino III and some INC leaders held a close-door meeting.   At the end of that meeting, the INC announced that its demands were met, but provided no details.   On the other hand, the government said no concession was given to, and no secret agreement was made with, the INC.   In the aftermath, de Lima said the criminal case filed by the INC minister in the DoJ will take its natural course in the investigation process.       

The equivocal statements given by both sides suggest that the problem was resolved only temporarily.   Questions necessarily arise, however.   If the INC saw a need for mass action when the DoJ started its investigation, what will happen if the DoJ finds probable cause and rules in favor of the INC minister who filed the criminal complaint?   What will the government do if the INC goes back to the streets in protest?

Right now, the spotlight should be on Secretary de Lima, who is considering running for the Senate.   If De Lima decides to run, then sooner or later, she will have to resign her DoJ post to begin her campaign.   Under the law, however, the DoJ must resolve the INC case within a fixed number of days.   If that deadline is breached, the complainant will certainly raise objections. 

De Lima’s additional problem is that if she resigns from the DoJ before the INC case is resolved, it will look like she was ordered by President Aquino to keep her hands off the INC case, or that she wants to court the INC votes in the coming elections.             


Meanwhile, officials operating the Ninoy Aquino International Airport may be courting a breach of privacy suit soon.   NAIA officials admit that the new computerized body scanner installed at the airport can actually see through the clothing of passengers and reveal their naked bodies on the corresponding video monitor.   They were quick to insist, however, that the monitor will replace actual images with “caricatures” and that nobody will look at the actual naked bodies appearing on the monitor.

What they conveniently failed to admit is that the images of naked bodies can be retained in the digital memory of the computerized body scanner and match each image with the passenger’s name.   

The use of this intrusive device at the Naia is very unsettling, and should be a cause for alarm for all passengers using the airport.   Foreign embassies should also be upset.     

Passengers going through a routine body check at the international airport have a reasonable expectation of privacy with respect to the intimate parts of their bodies.   In other words, body scanning equipment used at the airport should not be able to produce images of naked bodies and to capture these images on a video monitor.   The scanning devices are supposed to detect illegal objects concealed by a passenger, and not to see through the clothing of people.       

In extreme cases, an extensive body search of a suspicious person may be warranted, but that is done physically in a private, secured place, without any video recording equipment around. 

As stated earlier, if the body scanning equipment used at the Naia can see through clothes and capture the naked image of a passenger on a video monitor, the same equipment can record the naked image in a digital memory file. This creates the haunting specter of unscrupulous airport personnel—and there are many of them—secretly using the body scanning equipment for perverted purposes, and even for blackmail. 

The disclaimer offered by airport authorities is not enough.   Everyone subjected to body inspection at the Naia, Filipino or otherwise, has the constitutional right to privacy with respect to the intimate parts of their bodies.   Those scanners must be replaced by non-intrusive devices.

Concerned citizens should file a case for  habeas data, as well as anti-graft raps, against the airport authorities. 

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