Sunday, May 26, 2024

In open letter, NPC counters ECOP chief’s proposal to suspend Data Privacy Act

The National Privacy Commission (NPC) has penned an open letter to Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) chair Sergio Ortiz-Luis Jr. to counteract his suggestion to suspend the provisions of the Data Privacy Act of 2012 (DPA) for purposes of contact tracing activities.

NPC chair Raymund Liboro

In the letter, NPC chair Raymund Liboro said his agency is “saddened” by the recommendation made on television by Ortiz-Luis to reveal the names of Covid-positive individuals.  

“We understand that ECOP is insisting on the announcement of the names of those Covid-positive persons so that close contacts will hopefully come out and submit themselves to the health authorities, instead of the government spending for contact tracing,” Liboro said.

“We wish to educate the ECOP on data privacy and rights of data subjects in relation to the government’s pandemic response, specifically contact tracing. There is no scientific basis that correlates and supports the disregard of data privacy as an effective measure against the pandemic.”

On the contrary, Liboro said a study conducted by the World Health Organization showed that  social stigma associated with Covid-19 negatively impacts the pandemic response since it drives patients to hide their illnesses to avoid discrimination, prevents people from seeking immediate healthcare, and discourages them from adopting healthy behaviors.

“Our experience last year is telling. We have seen incidents of discrimination, online bullying, stoning, physical assaults, and even chemical dousing incidents against suspected Covid-positive individuals — all of which are more harmful than the virus itself,” the NPC head said.

The DPA, he stressed, allows the processing of personal and sensitive personal information for contact tracing and other pandemic responses.

“The DPA has never been a hindrance to contact tracing. What the DPA ensures is that the right to privacy of individuals is upheld and that privacy risks are mitigated. It is a law that protects every Filipino, without which, there will be far greater consequences,” Liboro emphasized.

Liboro pointed out that there is no jurisdiction in the world that suspended its data privacy or data protection laws for purposes of contact tracing.

“And there is no public policy anywhere that requires public announcements of the identities Covid-positive persons for contact tracing,” he said.

The NPC chief said contact tracing protocols are already in place, noting that as early as April 24, 2020, the NPC and the Department of Health issued a Joint Circular on the Processing and Disclosure of Covid-19 related data for Disease Surveillance and Response which ensures the protection of the data privacy rights of patients in the pursuit of disease surveillance.

“Contact tracing requires an in-depth investigation and a systematic process of identifying contact points, performed only by trained experts. The ECOP’s suggestion for a do-it-yourself (DIY) contact tracing is not a methodology backed by science, nor experience,” Liboro said.

“We are deeply concerned about your repeated announcements during interviews to waive privacy rights, since several other rights have already been given up due to the pandemic. Such advocacy is dangerous and may have far reaching implications beyond contact tracing and the pandemic response.”

Liboro said data privacy, along with other human rights, should be strengthened in trying times to enable positive and nurturing environments for economic recovery.

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