For street photographers like Mindy Alberto, everyday is an opportunity to capture a memory, an event. He arms himself with a camera strapped in his shoulders. He shoots away at every event or situation he finds interesting.
His camera lens has probably captured hundreds or even thousands worth of films. (He is not into digital). While his usual subjects are his friends, he shines more when he takes pictures of random individuals he meet on the streets of Manila.
But it looks like he won’t be able to take pictures of random people soon.
“The Anti-Selfie Law”
A member of the Philippine’s House of Representatives proposed a bill that seeks to forbid taking pictures of people without their permission. Even doing a selfie with people in the background will be in violation of the bill, if it ever becomes a law.
So let us get this straight. Think about the implications of this bill, called “Protection Against Personal Intrusion Act”.
- You cannot photograph strangers
- You cannot take pictures of yourself if there are strangers in the background
- You cannot take pictures of public places, if there are people you don’t know appearing in it.
- You can only take pictures of law enforcement activities.
- The same rules applies to videos
So does that mean the only people we can photograph (or take a video of) are ourselves and our friends? What if these friends suddenly become our enemies? Will they be allowed to file a case against us based on that bill?
To Shoot or Not to Shoot
The Protection Against Personal Intrusions Act, aptly called the “Anti Selfie Bill” has some wide implications in the Philippines. The bill further notes that you cannot take pictures of the above, more so if you stand to gain or profit from it. Granted, “profit” means you get money from the pictures. However, what does “gain” mean? It will have different interpretations, but gaining means so many things when you put the word “gain” in the context of social media:
- when you gain more followers because of that picture
- when you receive a surge in comments because of that picture you posted
- when your blog post receive more traffic than you usually do.
Filipinos, Remember the “I’m a Liar” Controversy?
Late in the year 2010, a YouTube user uploaded a video wherein a student angrily shouted at the LRT security personnel. The student accused the personnel of suspecting her of misdemeanor after inspecting her bag.
This student received flak from social media. From Twitter to Facebook, she was called a ‘bitch’ and irresponsible. The term “I’m a liar” became popular, pertaining to the phrase she shouted at the security personnel in the LRT. Because of the incident, she mentioned in a later interview that she contemplated taking her life.
On August 31, 2014, a group of cops robbed and abducted 2 persons onboard a vehicle on a highway in Manila, in broad daylight. Only one lone picture of the event was uploaded on Twitter.
The highway mentioned above is EDSA, famous for its traffic from morning to night. Since some of the cops were in their uniforms, it was probable that everyone who saw the situation felt that the cops were apprehending criminals onboard . It turns out, the cops were actually “robbing” the vehicle on broad daylight.
The student describe above is a private person. The policemen aren’t.
Various groups in the country clearly wants the House of Representative to define what the word “private property” means in the bill. By nature of the cop’s work, they are public servants. Because of that, they should not be protected by the bill, especially in uniform.
The Definition of Privacy
The word “private” is the most crucial part of the bill. According to another official familiar with the bill, “Even an innocuous selfie with public figures at the background would be liable for ‘intrusion of privacy.”
If I post a picture of myself with someone I do not know in the background, the bill allows this “someone” to file a case against me for intrusion of his privacy. However, I am a private person. Who are the people that will mostly get affected should this bill ever becomes a law?
- A journalist who uses her camera to take a picture of an ongoing event, to be used on her ongoing report.
- People who participates in “citizen journalism”. They take photos of what is currently happening and then submit it to the media, to be included in a developing story.
- Photographers who take pictures of landmarks and events to be used in their exhibits or become part of their collection.
The Street Photographers
Mindy Alberto does not call himself a professional photographer. He does work for lomography.com. However, he clearly has a definition on when a picture he took is owned by him or by the company where he works for.
He calls himself a hobbyist. You can see it from the pictures he take. “At one point, I stayed at a park in Makati just taking pictures of people walking by. I also took a picture of the barber who cut my hair”.
I was with him when I stumble upon a Google Event in a mall in Manila. I thought it can be a good story for Vulcan Post. I took pictures using my Nexus 7 and they all suck.The Nexus has a 5M camera. Clearly, it is something you should not use for taking pictures. I asked Mindy to take pictures using the very same Nexus I hold. The results were different.
How can you take beautiful pictures with a shaky 5M camera? He explained in great detail how to do it properly. I did not understand anything. The proof? I still take sucky pictures.
Before he became a hobbyist photographer, Mindy worked at a bank. He was one of the people who take the risk, quit the corporate world, and chose to follow his dream. He now collects pictures to diversify his portfolio and aims to showcase his work in an exhibit next year. I will be there when it happens.
However, the government is sending a message with the Anti Selfie Bill. And it harms the street photographers more than any other profession. “The journalist can probably do other stories that are not within the law’s reach. The professional photographer can organize a photoshoot. The media can probably stop receiving pictures from the citizens.” he said.
“..but to street photographers, this is our bread and butter. There is no alternative. How can we practice our profession if the government will take away our means to do that?”
(Following increased opposition from the media, the anti-selfie bill was sent back to the deliberation committee for further “deliberation”,)