Nothing is ever private on Facebook.
The Supreme Court has issued this reminder to Internet users about the perils of posting online, saying even those tagged as private never really escape public viewing, including unintended audiences.
Ruling on a case involving controversial photos of minors posted on the social networking site, the Supreme Court's Third Division cited "self-regulation" as the best defence against breach of privacy, especially among the tech-savvy selfie generation.
The high court gave a lengthy discussion on Facebook use in its 18-page decision denying a petition for habeas data filed by parents of two high school students of St. Theresa's College (STC) Cebu, citing the protection of their Facebook photos that school officials found objectionable.
Habeas data is a remedy provided to "any person whose right to privacy in life, liberty or security is violated or threatened" through the "gathering, collecting or storing of data or information regarding the person family, home and correspondence of the aggrieved party."
The Facebook photos, which showed the students drinking and smoking in a bar, and wearing just undergarments on a street, prompted school officials to ban five students from marching in their graduation rites in March 30, 2012.
The photos were uploaded by one of their friends.
STC, a Catholic all-girls school described by the court as "conservative," described the photos as "lewd, obscene and immoral" and said the students had violated several provisions on conduct laid down on the school's student handbook.
The Supreme Court ruled that "STC did not violate the minors' privacy rights."
"STC cannot be faulted for being steadfast in its duty of teaching its students to be responsible in their dealings and activities in cyberspace, particularly in [social networks], when it enforced the disciplinary actions specified in the Student Handbook, absent a showing that, in the process, it violated the students' rights," it said in a ruling on Sept. 29.
The parents of four students went to court, but two later withdrew their lawsuits after reaching an amicable settlement with school officials.
The remaining complainants claimed that the school violated the students' privacy and that the punishment was excessive and did not follow due process.
The Cebu City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 14 denied the parents' petition for habeas data after finding that "the photos, having been uploaded on Facebook without restrictions as to who may view them, lost their privacy in some way."
This prompted the parents to raise the issue to the Supreme Court.