A few hours after her death was reported, flight attendant Christine Dacera lit social media with millions attempting to answer what investigators have failed to so far: why did she die?
With Facebook and Twitter users playing both detective and pundit, posts, photos and videos were shared and reshared until they went viral, sometimes with little regard for privacy, underscoring how the case should show that public that while crimes may be headline material, those involved are oftentimes private individuals with rights under law, according to an analyst.
MORE ON CHRISTINE DACERA:
It doesn't help that statements are conflicting, one of her companions recently recanted his earlier claim that Dacera's drink during their New Year's Eve hotel party was spiked. Police earlier said she died of anurysm while her family suspects foul play.
When a person dies of a suspected crime and the clues clash, how do you seek justice while respecting their privacy?
“Everyone should realize that the public does not have an inherent right to know the specific details of a case—just like this one—especially this early into the investigation,” said lawyer Jamael Jacob, who specializes in privacy law.
“It is the very reason why we have a right to privacy—to have a right to tell other people to mind their own business,” Jacob added.
The Data Privacy Act of 2012 is in place to protect the privacy of every individual and ensure that the Philippines adheres to the international standards set for data protection through the National Privacy Commission.
Anything that has to do with your personal data, the DPA regulates—be this the collection, recording, organization, storage, updating, use, or even erasure. This covers the privacy of all individuals, dead or alive.
The slow trickle of clues can feel like a game to the public, with some eager to get into sleuthing without professional training. This gets dangerous as theories can gain traction and be perceived as truth even though there’s no basis.
“Everyone becomes a criminal law expert, a forensics expert. Assumptions lead to accusations; accusations lead to threats; and then threats lead to actual harm,” Jacob said.
But with Dacera dead and buried, how can she call for privacy?
“It doesn’t matter if the individual has—as in this case—passed away because according to the DPA, his or her rights under the law may be invoked by an heir or any authorized representative,” he said.
“Unless authorities and offices can invoke a legal basis for the public disclosure of the autopsy results, the victim’s family can still assert their right to privacy and keep information confidential,” he said.
It’s a balancing act
Ideally, the right of the public to know should be balanced with the individual’s privacy, but with everyone hot on the trails of this case, publishing reports or evidence hastily without confirmation just to satiate the public’s curiosity is tempting.
For people in law enforcement and media, Jacob said “the wrong decision could cause serious harm.”
On the web where everything is swift and easy, an autopsy report, be it factual or false, spreads like wildfire and correcting any errors—especially after the public has made up its mind—is easier said than done.
Lives are on the line
When the case first exploded, online users peddled a list of names—people accused of harming Dacera during the party and leaving her the day after. Some expressed their anger as they demanded accountability and justice, while others offered bounties.
Many acted as if those people were proven guilty. At that point, nothing was proven yet, and the manner in which Dacera passed was still being investigated.
Clarity arrived days later, with many apologizing to the alleged perpetrators—some of whom even stepped up to help in the investigation.
While social media users aren’t trained to sift out the truth from falsehoods at a glance, it’s vital to be critical of reports, as failure to do so can mean harm for both innocent individuals and the victim’s living relatives.
“They should do their homework and confirm the same with reliable sources before believing said information. Everyone should know by now that it’s so easy to create and spread disinformation or misinformation. The danger and harm they create are not confined to online spaces. People could actually get hurt,” Jacob said.
Wording is important
However, the people can’t be blamed completely, especially since they rely on officials and authorities for information and updates.
Controversial and sensitive cases can easily be sensationalized and slip from serious matter to easy sensation. In circumstances like this, authorities and the police must be careful with their words. Being reckless could ruin the lives of innocent people, or unknowingly encourage people to point fingers at an easy target.
“Even if they do have the authority to publish the names of suspects relative to a particular crime, they must still be circumspect and exercise such authority responsibly. They could have simply said, ‘here are the names of the people we’d like to talk to about the incident,’ instead of ‘here are the names of the rapist-killers’” Jacob said.