Limitations on right to privacy

Dear Atty. Kathy,

Three employees in our private company, Employee 1, Employee 2, and Employee 3, are involved in the theft of certain company property.

As the HR head handling the company investigation, Employee 1 was compelled to show me on his mobile phone the actual Facebook group chat messages with Employee 2 and Employee 3, confirming their plan to steal the company property and sell the same. I also saw photos of the stolen items, which correspond with the Audit Team’s report on the stolen items.

Employee 2 and Employee 3 are claiming that we cannot use the Facebook group chat messages and photos as evidence because this was a violation of their right to privacy.
Are they correct? We also intend to file criminal cases against the concerned employees, but they might just reiterate this defense.

Benjamin

Dear Benjamin,

Preliminarily, the rule governing the admissibility of evidence under the Bill of Rights in the Constitution, which includes the right to privacy, affects only those pieces of evidence obtained by the State or the Government through its agents, i.e., the police. Since your company is a private entity, the Supreme Court has ruled that photos and messages obtained by private individuals from a Facebook Messenger account are admissible as evidence in court. (Cadajas vs People of the Philippines, GR 247348, 16 November 2021)

Further, the mere fact that Employees 1, 2 and 3 are members of the subject Facebook Messenger group chat means that each one had authority to access such account, including Employee 1, and Employees 2 and 3 lost a reasonable expectation of privacy over the contents of said account. Thus, as ruled in the Cadajas case, there is no violation of privacy to speak of in such instance.

Even if Employee 1 was only compelled to provide the photos and messages from the subject account because of the company investigation, there is still no violation of the privacy of Employees 2 and 3, since by allowing each other to access such account, all of them made its contents available not only to Employee 1 but to other persons Employee 1 might show the account to, whether or not Employee 1 be forced or not to do so.

In sum, based solely on your narration and the relevant jurisprudence cited above, Employee 2 and Employee 3 are not correct in claiming that you cannot use the Facebook group chat messages and photos as evidence.

Atty. Kathy Larios


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