Overseas Filipino Workers returning to the country amid the pandemic are required to undergo a COVID-19 test before they can be allowed to go home.
The STAR/Edd Gumban, file
National Privacy Commission looking into public release of OFWs' COVID-19 test results
Kristine Joy Patag (Philstar.com) - May 22, 2020 - 2:01pm

MANILA, Philippines — The National Privacy Commission is looking into an inter-agency task group’s public release of COVID-19 test results of returning migrant workers.

Privacy Commissioner Raymund Liboro told Philstar.com that the commission is looking into the public release of a Google Drive link containing a masterlist of OFWs who completed quarantine and tested negative for COVID-19.

Liboro said the NPC “will reach out to the [Philippine Coast Guard] to find out the purpose, necessity and balance” of the releases. “How they balanced the benefits by this approach vis a vis the possible risks,” he added.

The Philippine Coast Guard posted a link to the masterlist on their social media accounts.

A link posted on May 20 shows a list from the Philippine Red Cross revealing the complete name, age, sex and COVID-19 test results of at hundreds of returning migrant workers.

The online data drive also contains Quarantine Certificates which bear the name of the migrant workers and their hometown and province.

PCG said the online release of quarantine clearances of OFWs who tested negative for COVID-19 was agreed upon by their agency, the Department of National Defense, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration and the Bureau of Quarantine.

Adm. Joel Garcia, PCG commandant, issued an advisory dated May 21 on the publication of the Quarantine Certificates issued to the OFWs on their website and Facebook page.

"OFWs concerned may download and print or screen shot their respecive BOQ-PCQ Quarantine Certificates, as evidence of their health condition when returning to their respective home communities," the advisory read.

National Privacy Commission and Department of Health joint memorandum

Data privacy lawyer Cecille Soria pointed out that a negative COVID-19 test result is still health information and the disclosure of such information is prohibited by the guidelines in a joint memorandum between the Department of Health and the National Privacy Commission.

Privacy Commissioner Liboro and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on April 24, 2020 issued a joint memorandum to address the “growing privacy concerns” on the collection, processing and disclosure of COVID-19-related data.

Section VI paragraph D (2)(a) of the memo, on the disclosure of personal health information, states that: “Disclosure to the public, the media, or any other public-facing platforms without the written consent of the patient or his/her authorized representative or next of kin shall be prohibited.”

The memorandum defines “personal health information” as the “individual’s past, present or future physical or mental health or condition, including demographic data, diagnosis and management, medication history, health financing record, cost of services and any other information related to the individual’s total well-being.”

Public access to personal data

In an online exchange with Philstar.com, Soria further explained: “The level of privacy risk depends on the specific situation of the person and how much data on the person the unauthorized holder his data has.”

The Google Drive uploaded by the PCG can be accessed by anyone who clicks the link and does not require a password or other authorization.

“We cannot assume that every person has the same level of comfort in the release of their personal data in public,” the lawyer added.

In extreme cases, Soria said, people who are on the lookout for these individuals can easily trace them now.

Soria also noted the PCG could have found a different way to inform the OFWs of their COVID-19 test results.

“If they were on quarantine, then they can be located,” she pointed out.

The lawyer stressed that the data on migrant workers are not just names or numbers. “These people are human beings. They are being hailed as modern-day heroes,” she added.

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