That Ridiculous “Anti-Selfie” Bill

So the historic Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is expected to reach Congress anytime now and it needs the serious attention, review and deliberation of our legislators. In fact, they are considering forming an ad hoc committee to focus on this headed by Cagayan de Oro City Representative Rufus Rodriguez. House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. even said that they must “work double time to underscore the importance of this legislation and ensure the success of the peace process.”

I don’t know if Rep. Rodriguez’ recent withdrawal of support from the bill he authored, House Bill 4807, otherwise known as “An Act to Provide Protection From Personal Intrusion for Commercial Purposes,” has anything to do with his desire to demonstrate his seriousness in the task of tackling the BBL or is it simply because he faced significant opposition from the media and the general public on his “Anti-Selfie” bill. If I were his public relations person, I would spin it that way. That as a Mindanawon, passing the BBL has a far better impact on his constituents than legislating an anti-selfie bill in the “Selfie Capital of the World.”

Yes, his bill is popularly known as the “Anti-Selfie” bill because one of the provisions makes it unlawful “to capture any type of visual image of any individual, personal or family activity for commercial purposes” and that includes taking a selfie that deliberately or accidentally includes other people who do not know that they are “photo bombing” your selfie. All in the name of protecting our right to privacy.

Maybe they should have called it the anti-paparazzi  bill because if it is really your intention to invade someone else’s privacy to profit from the images you took of that person, it is kind of ridiculous to take a selfie (as in include yourself in the photo) to do it, don’t you think?

The principle behind the proposed bill is supposed to be “the policy of the State to adopt measures that would effectively promote the maintenance of peace and order; the protection of life, liberty and property.”  It also defined “for commercial purposes” as “the expectation of sale, financial gain or other consideration.”

Now this got me thinking (maybe some of our legislators should try it sometimes). Who stands to benefit from such a legislation? Will it be the majority of the Filipino people? Are you going to profit from taking an unauthorized photo or video of your neighbor in the slums washing the dishes? What do you think is the going rate for a photo of some random jeepney driver taking a nap in a corner of the carinderia next door?

What kind of images will have commercial value in our society? Images of the rich, famous, and powerful, of course. I am sure more people will pay good money to get a photo coverage of Kris Aquino’s dating life more than they would mine (Patmei who?). Oh, wait, Kris has her own multimedia empire to cover that. I guess the law will protect her profits then. She has her own photographer and camera crew, thank you very much. Random selfies of you with her in it will not ensure that you will capture her in the best angle and light. And, heaven forbid, a photo of her looking fat and ugly goes viral. So, of course, something like House Bill 4807 is needed. To protect Kris Aquino’s (and other celebrities who endorse beauty products like her) privacy. Because she must be the only one who can profit from her own self-exploitation, er, candidness.

And what about the rich and powerful who get dragged to our entertaining televised Senate investigations? You know, the ones who cleverly (and annoyingly) invoke their “right to privacy” whenever they do not want to tell the whole truth. You might be in one of their parties and you took photos of them with Janet Lim Napoles. When you heard the news about the pork barrel scam and a certain powerful personality denied ever having seen Napoles, you remember those photos you took and shared them on Facebook and they went viral. You become famous, achieving some kind of a whistle-blower status and media outlets ask to use your photos and offer to even compensate you for them. Aha! That is profiting from the image of the lying powerful personality with an accused criminal. You ought to be ashamed of yourself for exposing a truth that is of public interest at the expense of that powerful person’s privacy. That is why we need House Bill 4807. To prevent the rich and powerful from being persecuted and prosecuted.

What about images captured on your CCTV? Then your computer got hacked or something and the security footage got uploaded to YouTube for some reason. Can a closeted gay neighbor sue you for ruining his reputation and outing him as having a male lover visiting him every midnight? Or does he still need to prove that you profited from the YouTube upload for the case to prosper? But then again, wouldn’t pursuing a case in court only increase his chances of being exposed even more? Wouldn’t it be better if he just lives authentically and be out and proud? That is a more complex argument for another day. For the sake of this particular discussion, I just want to point out that there are risks involved when you keep a lot of secrets. Yes, it is reasonable to expect from others and from society in general a certain amount of privacy, but life has a way of exposing us when we least expect it and no amount of legislation can protect us from that sometimes.

There are extreme cases, of course. Like the kind of images taken by Hayden Kho (remember those?). Or those taken by amateur pornographers who are too cheap to hire professional actors. But there are already laws for that.

Given our social context, images that intruders of privacy can profit from are of those who are rich, famous, and powerful. Why? Because these same people are the ones who perpetuate this celebrity-obsessed and gossip-crazy culture we have in the first place. They become even more rich, more famous, and more powerful because we are bombarded with images of their privileged life. We want to be like them. We want to be in their engagement parties and their weddings and the birthdays of all their family members and pets. We buy their cars; build homes like theirs; wear their clothes; have their nose, hair, boobs, skin color, etc. We vote for them in elections even. So we want to get our hands on as many images of that dream life as possible to feed our illusions and forget our social problems. And now they are telling us we can be sued for wanting that?

There are already enough laws to protect the privacy of the privileged class. Even without laws, they are already protected. Because the system works in their favor most of the time.  Why do you think they are in that privileged position in the first place?

First appeared on Mindanao Times, September 11, 2014