Big Brother Inc.

Published: December 22, 2012

In reality, it has very little to do with fair trial and more to do with a dangerous licence to gain access to the lives of people.

Security agencies will now have the right to tap telephones, read emails or read text messages using technology that allows them to reach right in to the personal lives of people. The idea of a ‘Big Brother’ Orwellian State, peering constantly over the shoulder and into the inbox is a terrifying one. Even though the Constitution grants some protection of privacy (in Article 14), albeit in a slightly hazy fashion as far as access to electronic communication is concerned, phones have been tapped before by agencies — and recorded conversations used for political victimisation. There is now a real risk that such abuse will increase, with The Fair Trial Bill 2012 unanimously passed in the National Assembly on December 20.

The bill, already meeting with criticism from many quarters, gives unprecedented powers to the security agencies to keep a watch on citizens. Evidence collected through the surveillance of emails, SMS, phone conversations, etc will be admissible in court. The government has argued the new law will help fight terrorism but has not answered questions about how personal rights are to be protected or security agencies prevented from misusing the new law. The possibility that it could be used to track down and punish dissent, unrelated to terrorism, is very real. The bill, too, is misleadingly named. In reality, it has very little to do with fair trial and more to do with a dangerous licence to gain access to the lives of people. No safeguards have been built in to prevent this and restrictions to ‘terrorism’ poorly defined. Opposition proposals that the bill be placed under the umbrella of the Anti-Terrorism Act, to limit its scope, were rejected.

We have a long history of abusive behaviour by agencies. Giving these bodies sweeping new powers in such a situation is dangerous. The threat of blackmail, misuse of personal information and further encroachment into the personal space of citizens is too real. Fighting terrorism must not be used as an excuse to tread into this area. The proposed law is a bad one and has no place in a society that claims to be democratic.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 22nd, 2012.

Reader Comments (4)

  • numbersnumbers
    Dec 22, 2012 - 4:50AM

    Dear author
    After Pakistan’s shameful record in dealing with terrorist suspects in court, where most are released due to “lack of evidence”, please tell us what laws should be passed to solve this issue rather than throwing rocks at evidence laws that you disagree with!

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  • Aysha
    Dec 22, 2012 - 12:47PM

    After US withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan War on Terror will be over in Pakistan. But the agencies will continue to wield these powers. In the long term, our state will end up being more Orwellian than ever.

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  • kanwal
    Dec 22, 2012 - 4:11PM

    These new laws shoyld structly have been passed under the context of anti terrorism only. This did not happen. Combine this fact with the record of these agencies and the emerging picture is very very scary. If you suspect someone to be a terrorist, ok may be you should track this record for tthem. But there is no safeguard and no guarantee in this law that it will not be used in other circumstances like blackmailing political opponents, journalists and the likes. We know why people like Malik Ishaq are roaming around free and how the key witnesses are killed. How judges are harassed and lawyers ambushed and murdered. How is this bill going to help curb that? The silence of the media and public is very worrying. We need a national debate.

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  • shakrullah
    Dec 23, 2012 - 10:47PM

    @ Dear Editor

    I think you need to clarify your mind on one point . Ours is an ideological state, and ipso facto , it is , and has always been , an Orwellian state . We have the delusion that we have freedom of thought and expression . Yes , our politicians have freedom to slander one another to their heart’s content on superficial and frivolous matters . But can anyone publically dicuss any substantial issues guarded by our orthodoxy vigilantes as sacred truths ? The most crucial freedom for human mind is the religious freedom. Only that society can be deemed to be free in which established orthodoxies can be questioned and challenged .

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