By Nehmia Elyxa Relano

PHOTO: Supreme Court/Law Technology Today

Photos and messages posted by private users on social media accounts like Facebook Messenger are accepted as court evidence, the Supreme Court ruled on Friday.

According to a 31-page decision written by Associate Justice Jhosep Lopez, the Court upheld the conviction of petitioner Christian C. Cadajas, 24, for violating Republic Act No. 9775, or the Anti-Child Pornography Act.

The ruling rejected the petitioner's claim that the chat thread presented as evidence against him should be excluded because it was obtained in violation of his right to privacy.

The chat thread that Cadajas was referring to was the one between him and a 14-year-old girl with whom he had a relationship through Facebook Messenger.

“In 2016, petitioner, then 24 years old, started a romantic relationship with AAA, a 14-year-old girl. AAA, using the cellphone of her mother, BBB, would converse with petitioner on Facebook Messenger. In one of their conversations, petitioner coaxed AAA to send photos of her private parts, to which AAA relented," the decision narrated.

It added: "BBB later discovered this conversation when AAA forgot to log out her Facebook account on her mother’s phone, prompting AAA to delete the messages on her account. BBB, however, forced AAA to open petitioner's Facebook messenger account to get a copy of their conversation."

However, the Court ruled that the Bill of Rights in the 1987 Constitution, including the right to privacy, is meant to protect the public from possible infringement by the government. 

The right to privacy, and its effects in determining the validity of court evidence, are deemed waived against private individuals.

The ruling means that the person cannot invoke their right to privacy under the Constitution if the evidence of photos and messages from their social media accounts are acquired by private individuals, and not by police officers or other government agents.

The Court further clarified that Cadajas cannot argue that the girl invaded the petitioner’s privacy “since by giving AAA the password to his Facebook Messenger account, the petitioner lost a reasonable expectation of privacy over the contents of his account.”

“Thus, even if AAA was only forced by her mother to obtain the photos and messages, there is still no violation of the petitioner’s privacy, since by allowing another person access to his account, the petitioner made its contents available not only to AAA, but to other persons AAA might show the account to, whether she be forced or not to do so,” it said.

Moreover, the Court decided that the Data Privacy Act (DPA) does not apply to the petitioner since the DPA permits the processing of personal information when it comes to determining a data subject's criminal liability.

“The Court also ruled that the crime of child pornography, while defined and penalized under a special law, should be classified as mala in se, or acts which are inherently immoral and thus require proof of criminal intent by the accused, as opposed to mala prohibita, or those acts which are prohibited only because the law says so… Thus in cases of child pornography, the criminal intent of the accused must be proved,” the decision continued.

The Court added: "In the case of petitioner, it was established that he had intent to induce AAA, a minor, to exhibit AAA’s private parts, since it was petitioner’s prodding that led AAA to take and share the intimate photos."

Edited by Kyla Balatbat