To the Government: Do YOU have something to hide?

The very term “inviolable”  (as claimed under Article 14 of Pakistan’s constitution) suggests that the right of privacy is something that can neither be broken nor be contested. Yet, as the world of technology evolves, we see a continuous disregard for individual privacy rights, with States consistently increasing control under the garb of “national security”.

In the words of Amir Jan Naim, Former Ambassador of Pakistan to Senegal, Greece and Yemen, “It is true that crucial state secrets need to be protected. But, in terms of my own experience in the government, the really secret matters are actually very few and far between.”

So the question is, what are the States  truly trying to protect?  What to governments obtain through massive surveillance of their  own citizens & others?.  Recalling the recent Snowden leaks,  United States National Security Agency (NSA) has been involved in massive surveillance of millions of Americans and citizens around the world. But what happened when millions of people found out that their fundamental rights had been violated,  under the guise of  “national security” as the President of the United States and the government claimed, dozens of  other politicians  have  also justified the violations  by simply using the ” if ones got  nothing to hide, why should one be worried.”

Individuals are  not concerned about their privacy because they have something to hide, they are concerned about their privacy because it is their personal lives and they shouldn’t have to share it with anyone else, unless they choose to. It is not for the State to know, its not for the world to know, its not for their neighbours, families or friends to know, unless they choose to trust and share. Sharing of personal information is always at the discretion of the individual themselves, state should not, can not, must not have any insights into the personal lives of individuals.

What we have failed to see is the grave violations that States have been committing under the guise of security.  It is the culture of fear that prevents us from questioning the government, it is the culture of fear that allows the governments to trample on to our fundamental rights with impunity and it is the culture of fear that will forever keep us away from ever being truly protected and dignified.

Our constitutional rights have been compromised time and again under the banner of security, and we have dealt with it quietly. Our silence has perpetuated an increasingly controlled world where our own dignity has become insignificant.  From airport security points,  where the the brown guy is  ‘randomly selected’  as the the white guy is (mostly) moving along to allowing for indiscriminate spying and surveillance on personal communications because you happen to be from a race, religion or color that is ‘profiled & sensitive’

What happened to no discrimination  based on race, religion, gender &  color? My brother, an American, has been constantly stopped for “random checks”, the algorithm of this randomness is quite telling. But most people have accepted and understood, that  in the world after 9/11, this is  a somewhat important security measure; if only that was true.

It seems by allowing controls without accountability, we have allowed for the security industrial complex to expand. Monitoring my emails or correspondence with my colleagues, friends or family,my facebook updates, tweets and other communication is no longer about security, it is about paranoia perpetuated through the culture of fear.

I cannot understand how any of my information could help secure the nation or the world against any form of terror. For one, terrorist networks are aware of communication surveillance and  have invested a great deal in finding a way out of it; operate without arrest.

Oh, and the argument that the NSA isn’t interested in me, is not paying attention to my updates and hence I should not be concerned, means nothing because they shouldn’t have access to my communication in the first place. I am concerned, so should you.  We must begin by limiting the overarching powers of the state, emphasizing on the rule of law and demand absolute accountability. Our information should be personal and the government’s should be public.

Recently, Bolo Bhi joined a Global Coalition that endorses 13 International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance: Legality, Legitimate Aim, Necessity, Adequacy, Proportionality, Competent Judicial Authority, Due Process, User Notification, Transparency, Public Oversight, Integrity of Communications and Systems, Safeguards for International Cooperation and Safeguards against Illegitimate Access []. These principles do not negate a government’s action to limit privacy, but instead create a framework where this can be done, provided legitimate reasons, legitimate transparent actions are taken in proportion to the situation at hand. It gives protection to the individual from being prosecuted or violated for no reason, while giving a legal pathway for governments and individuals to follow. It forms a compromise between the individual and the state.

Considering the current state of privacy in Pakistan and the immense control the Government and the Ministry of Information Technology  exercise over our right to information, I believe this step to be extremely crucial. While Bolo Bhi alone cannot pressure the government to implement these principles, if the citizens act as a pressure group,  our fundamental right to privacy can be protected.

With the constant talk about acquiring  of surveillance equipments, banning of URLs and websites that fall under the government’s standard of inappropriate or offensive, we have started to replicate the Chinese regime of control and suppression and the United States culture of fear. I call it suppression because when a state takes away my right to information (which by the way, is also a constitutional right- Article 19A) and right to choose what I want to view, when they interfere with my right to knowledge by banning books in Pakistan, when they judge me for a thought-crime, I feel suppressed in every way possible.  After All, what is the point of these constitutional rights when those meant to protect it constantly keep taking it away?

We need to have a say in shaping public policy; the government must stop acting as our moral and cultural custodians and focus on what is truly important: safeguarding the rights of its people. No country should be allowed to infringe upon my rights for the sake of their sense of security.

If the government put as much effort into addressing economic,international relations, terrorism, as they do in  surveilling and censoring citizens, I’d be living in a country and in a world that would be safe,  secure and dignified.. We need to, as citizens, stand up for what is ours and take back our nation. As Anwar Maqsood wrote for Sawa 14th August: “they are public servants, you are the public.” Lets start by making them do their jobs, shall we?

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