Cebu City Vice Mayor Michael Rama still uses the same personal phone number that I called to contact him some years back. He unwittingly confirmed it to me and gave it to thousands of other people on Facebook Live.
Rama attended the meeting Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia called for mayors of the different towns and component cities of the province.
Cebu City is an independent city and Rama volunteered to attend the meeting to improve coordination among Cebu City, Capitol, and the other component cities and towns in the massive effort to contain the spread of COVID-19.
The proceedings last April 17 were streamed live on Facebook via Capitol’s Sugbo News page.
But just as he was about to leave the gathering so he could talk to Mayor Edgardo Labella, Rama was asked by Pinamungajan Mayor Glenn Baricuatro for a contact person to coordinate with if they needed to repatriate to Cebu City people caught fleeing the quarantine.
Pinamungajan apparently caught a Cebu City resident who was smuggled into the town through a bank’s armored car.
Rama then went up to the microphone and recited for everyone in the room and the thousands watching the proceedings to hear, his personal phone number as well as that of Councilor Raymund Garcia and City Administrator Floro Casas.
“Lista na mo dong. Dili ni numero para masiao, ha?” Rama said in his sing-song voice, “Numero ni ni Casas og numero ni ni Raymund Garcia.”
I checked what he announced on my phone and it was indeed his personal phone number.
The incident highlights possible privacy issues in today’s world of easy livestreaming.
Anyone can broadcast now
It used to be that only major radio and TV stations could afford the special equipment and expensive connectivity for live broadcasts. Even then, they could only do it for big events. Now, live broadcasts can be done with any smartphone with a prepaid mobile Internet data package.
Anyone can do it now. Meetings, briefings, and press conferences are broadcast live. So are people eating, singing, making coffee, or even just walking. Masses and religious services are also broadcast live.
It’s a useful tool for governance amid the pandemic. It informs people who are cooped up at home and assuages their fears by showing that things are being done.
Effective use of Facebook Live
In Cebu, officials like Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia and Mayor Ahong Chan are effectively tapping the platform in informing, educating, and instructing people what to do. The Capitol under Gov. Garcia, in particular, is effective in bringing constituents into governance action via Facebook Live, whether it is coordinating with LGUs and government agencies or checking control centers in territorial boundaries. We were there and many cheered her on as Gov. Gwen reprimanded a soldier for lax enforcement of strict border controls.
Press conferences are usually aired live and the new ability to broadcast enables any organization to share proceedings with constituents.
We used to wait for reports on the presscon by news media. It took a few minutes for radio. It took several hours for newspapers on their online platforms. Now we see it happening live and unfiltered.
But the development also means some interactions like meetings are finally being broadcast in full when they used to be off limits.
Data privacy issues
It also means that when before you were alerted of the broadcast by large cameras, bulky equipment, and thick wires snaking on the floor, now you could hardly spot the phone on a tabletop tripod streaming events live.
That’s where potential data privacy issues arise.
Maria Cecilia Soria, a lawyer who specializes in data privacy, said there should be prior notice that a proceeding will be broadcast live.
Soria said expectations of privacy change when an event is streamed live on platforms like Facebook.
“So imbes na 50 people lang makakita ng pinaggagawa ko, there could be an extra 1,000 pair of eyes. Tapos naka-store forever pa sa Facebook ang Live na video,” she said. “So you will act accordingly to how many you think will see that di ba?”
“Kung ayaw mo kasi sa recording, pwede ka di mag participate or pumwesto sa ibang lugar na hindi ka kita,” she said.
Visual cues of broadcast
Apart from prior and regular notices that the proceedings are aired live, I think there should also be visual cues of the broadcast. This can be done with a small poster on the phone and tripod that indicates Facebook streaming and also promotes the page. That way, people would be aware it is being broadcast and know where to view the proceedings later.
Facebook and third-party developers should also develop tools to either mute the broadcast, especially when something confidential is taken up, or pause it entirely without ending the feed.
That way, the airing of confidential information could be prevented. What if a government official decides in a meeting aired on Facebook Live to implement a total lockdown at a place? You’d have people escaping by the time authorities muster the manpower and resources to implement the order.