TAX DECLARATIONS AND DATA PRIVACY
By: Kathleen Guiang on March 5,2020
Under the Local Government Code of 1991, owners or administrators of real property, whether natural or juridical persons, are required to prepare and file with the provincial, city or municipal assessor, a sworn statement declaring the true value of their property.
Such declaration shall contain a description of the property, sufficient in detail to enable the assessor to identify the same for assessment purposes. This sworn statement is more commonly known as a “tax declaration.”
The Register of Deeds usually requires presentation of a tax declaration to record a transfer of title of real property from a seller to a buyer, or from a donor to a donee. The presentation of a tax declaration is also required when a claimant causes the annotation of an adverse claim, lien or notice of lis pendens on the title.
Generally, only the registered owner of a real property or the registered owner’s authorized representative may secure a copy of a tax declaration from the assessor’s office of a local government unit.
In several advisory opinions, the National Privacy Commission (NPC) had the opportunity to discuss the disclosure of a tax declaration of real property vis-à-vis the concept of processing of personal information under the “Data Privacy Act of 2012” (DPA). The queries arose from the fact that a tax declaration contains personal information such as the name, address and tax identification number (TIN) of the owner of the property.
The DPA applies to all types of processing of personal information, subject to certain qualifications. This includes the disclosure of documents containing personal or sensitive personal information.
Personal information is defined under the DPA as “any information whether recorded in a material form or not, from which the identity of an individual is apparent or can be reasonably and directly ascertained by the entity holding the information, or when put together with other information would directly and certainly identify an individual.” The names and addresses of the registered owner of the property are considered as personal information.
On the other hand, the TIN of the registered owner of the property has a different treatment. The TIN is considered sensitive personal information under the DPA.
Sensitive personal information refers to personal information about: about an individual’s race, ethnic origin, marital status, age and color, and religious, philosophical or political affiliations; an individual’s health, education, genetic or sexual life, or to any proceeding for any offense committed or alleged to have been committed by such person, the disposal of such proceedings, or the sentence of any court in such proceedings; information issued by government agencies peculiar to an individual which includes, but not limited to, social security numbers, previous or current health records, licenses or its denials, suspension or revocation, and tax returns; and information specifically established by an executive order or an act of Congress to be kept classified. The TIN falls under the third category as it is issued by the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) peculiar to a certain taxpayer.
The rules under the DPA applies to the disclosure of tax declarations because these documents contain personal information and sensitive information of the registered owner of the property. Generally, the processing of sensitive personal information and privileged information shall be prohibited without the consent of the registered owner. However, the DPA provides for instances when a copy of a tax declaration of real property may be disclosed without the consent of the registered owner of such property.
In a case of sale or donation of real property, the BIR requires that the tax declaration over the subject property be presented before it will issue a tax clearance or certificate authorizing registration. Since a sale or donation is a contract, it can be presumed that the registered owner of the real property is aware and consents to the disclosure of the subject tax declaration to the other party.
In the case where a person claiming an interest over real property (e.g., annotation of adverse claim and notice of lis pendens) attempts to secure a copy of a tax declaration, this situation may fall under one of the instances where processing of personal information may be disclosed without the consent of the registered owner — that “the processing concerns such personal information as is necessary for the protection of lawful rights and interest of natural or legal persons in court proceedings, or the establishment, exercise or defense of legal claims, or when provided to government or public authority.”
With regard to such exception, the NPC has opined that, as long as the person requesting for a copy of a tax declaration can establish that there is a pending case in court where the presentation and use of the tax declaration of the property is material or that the document is necessary to the establishment, exercise or defense of a legal claim, the processor of personal information (in this case, the assessor’s office) may grant the request from persons other than the registered owner without the latter’s consent.
In this regard, it could be said that the assessor’s office may rely on the provisions of the DPA that provides for the criteria for lawful processing of personal and sensitive personal information. This gives the assessor’s office the duty and responsibility to make a proper determination of whether or not the disclosure shall be made. This evaluation shall include the determination of the purpose for such request and testing of the relevance and materiality of the information requested to be disclosed.
After all, the protection accorded by the DPA on personal information and sensitive personal information is a recognition of the fundamental human right of privacy and communication, and the state’s inherent obligation to ensure that these types of information in information and communications systems in the government and in the private sector are secure and protected.