The Anti-Wiretapping Law

The Anti-Wiretapping Law

Republic Act 4200 is probably the most quoted law nowadays. Thus, it is worthy to examine the said law and discuss its pertinent provisions. 

Section 1 of R.A. 4200 entitled, ” An Act to Prohibit and Penalized Wire Tapping and Other Related Violations of Private Communication and Other Purposes,” provides that it shall be unlawfull for any person, not being authorized by all the parties to any private communication or spoken word, to tap any wire or cable, or by using any other device or arrangement, to secretly overhear, intercept, or record such communication or spoken word by using a device commonly known as a dictaphone or dictagraph or detectaphone or walkie-talkie or tape recorder, or however otherwise described.

In Ramirez vs. Court of Appeals, [G.R. No. 93833 (Sept. 28, 1995)], petitioner Ramirez vigorously argues, that the applicable provision of Republic Act 4200 does not apply to the taping of a private conversation by one of the parties to the conversation. She contends that the provision merely refers to the unauthorized taping of a private conversation by a party other than those involved in the communication. In relation to this, petitioner avers that the substance or content of the conversation must be alleged in the Information, otherwise the facts charged would not constitute a violation of R.A. 4200. Finally, petitioner agues that R.A. 4200 penalizes the taping of a “private communication,” not a “private conversation” and that consequently, her act of secretly taping her conversation with private respondent was not illegal under the said act.

The Supreme Court disagreed with the petitioner. It stated that Section 1 of R.A. 4200 “clearly and unequivocally makes it illegal for any person, not authorized by all the parties to any private communication to secretly record such communication by means of a tape recorder. The law makes no distinction as to whether the party sought to be penalized by the statute ought to be a party other than or different from those involved in the private communication. The statute’s intent to penalize all persons unauthorized to make such recording is underscored by the use of the qualifier “any”. Consequently, …….even a (person) privy to a communication who records his private conversation with another without the knowledge of the latter (will) qualify as a “violator” under this provision of R.A. 4200.”

The Supreme Court held further that the nature of the conversations is immaterial to a violation of the statute. It held that:

“The substance of the same need not be specifically alleged in the information. What R.A. 4200 penalizes are the acts of secretly overhearing, intercepting or recording private communications by means of the devices enumerated therein. The mere allegation that an individual made a secret recording of a private communication by means of a tape recorder would suffice to constitute an offense under Section 1 of R.A. 4200. As the Solicitor General pointed out in his COMMENT before the respondent court: “Nowhere (in the said law) is it required that before one can be regarded as a violator, the nature of the conversation, as well as its communication to a third person should be professed.” 

Curiously, in Gaanan vs. Intermediate Appellate Court, [145 SCRA 112 (1986)], a case which dealt with the issue of telephone wiretapping, the Supreme Court held that the use of a telephone extension for the purpose of overhearing a private conversation without authorization did not violate R.A. 4200 because a telephone extension devise was neither among those “device(s) or arrangement(s)” enumerated therein, following the principle that “penal statutes must be construed strictly in favor of the accused.” 

WHEN IS WIRETAPPING ALLOWED?

Under Section 3 of R.A. 4200, a peace officer, who is authorized by a written order of the Court, may execute any of the acts declared to be unlawful in the two preceding sections in cases involving the crimes of treason, espionage, provoking war and disloyalty in case of war, piracy, mutiny in the high seas, rebellion, conspiracy and proposal to commit rebellion, inciting to rebellion, sedition, conspiracy to commit sedition, inciting to sedition, kidnapping as defined by the Revised Penal Code, and violations of Commonwealth Act No. 616, punishing espionage and other offenses against national security. Such written order shall only be issued or granted upon written application and the examination under oath or affirmation of the applicant and the witnesses he may produce and a showing: (1) that there are reasonable grounds to believe that any of the crimes enumerated hereinabove has been committed or is being committed or is about to be committed: Provided, however, That in cases involving the offenses of rebellion, conspiracy and proposal to commit rebellion, inciting to rebellion, sedition, conspiracy to commit sedition, and inciting to sedition, such authority shall be granted only upon prior proof that a rebellion or acts of sedition, as the case may be, have actually been or are being committed; (2) that there are reasonable grounds to believe that evidence will be obtained essential to the conviction of any person for, or to the solution of, or to the prevention of, any of such crimes; and (3) that there are no other means readily available for obtaining such evidence.

INADMISSIBILITY OF WIRETAPPED EVIDENCE

Section 4 of R.A. 4200 declares that any communication or spoken word, or the existence, contents, substance, purport, effect, or meaning of the same or any part thereof, or any information therein contained obtained or secured by any person in violation of the preceding sections of this Act shall not be admissible in evidence in any judicial, quasi-judicial, legislative or administrative hearing or investigation.

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