Data privacy should be harmonized with the Freedom of Information (FoI). There is no contradiction between the two, and they should not be pitted against each other.
The symbiosis is highlighted by the declaration of state policy behind the Data Privacy Act (DPA), which protects the fundamental human right of privacy while ensuring the free flow of information to promote innovation and growth.
Data privacy and freedom of information are essential features of democracy and tools critical to serving the public interest. However, both are not without limitations.
Centrally, the media plays a crucial part in this process. Media is essential in creating an informed citizenry, strengthens good governance, accountability and participatory democracy. Thus, the role of media and journalists in balancing privacy and informing the public is vital. Free media is a pillar of democracy. The press must perform this arduous job of reporting on crucial public interest matters without violating individual rights such as privacy.
Many data protection officers (DPO) and FoI decision-makers in government have faced this acute challenge of weighing in on providing media the information they want. It’s a tough call. But preventing media from reporting public interest matters impairs its ability to perform its role in a democratic society. However, one must keep in mind that no right is unlimited or absolute, including freedom of information, the right to privacy, and even the media’s right to expression.
The DPA serves to protect personal data. At the same time, the freedom of information ensures full and public disclosure of information.
Both rights are complementary and significant in holding the government accountable to its citizens.
Freedom of information is more than just access requests to the government; it is about responsible data sharing. Open data will significantly improve government services and come up with new ones, supporting innovation and growth.
FoI is about sharing data, and data privacy is about caring for data. Both principles are about maximizing the beneficial use of data while preventing and mitigating risks that can harm citizens.
There are cases when the two complimentary rights overlap. When these happen, it is not privacy or the right to information that suffers, but the value of democracy itself.
There will be gray areas in applying these concepts in a wide array of government actions. Hence, in this age of post-truth, where opinions and popular belief dictate truth, information officers in government — DPO and FoI decision-makers — need to drive the government to protect the genuineness, accuracy and integrity of data, while ensuring the freedom of information.
We must shift the mindset from need to know to need to share. I don’t care about your data to full accountability. We do so to create an informed society and trusting a citizenry whose voice is the music of a resilient and robust democracy.
Thank you to all the DPO and FoI decision-makers who attended the 1st FoI-DPA Virtual Congress organized by the National Privacy Commission and the Presidential Communications Operations Office held recently. May your tribe increase.