Comment: Privacy no more

Not many people seem to be too bothered that their privacy can be infringed upon by security companies.


Ahmer Ashraf September 29, 2012

We live in a society which is truly intrusive – most people feel it is their right to ask you personal questions and infringe into other people’s private lives. Is that the reason why the Fair Trial Bill has had little reaction from people?

How would you feel if you are at the risk of being watched all the time and any move that you make can be recorded and used against you in a court of law? You will obviously be very careful and in many ways, become fed up of this constant watch on your life. It is like putting cameras in your bedroom and toilets!

This is exactly how all your communication from all personally used media may be treated from now. The Fair Trial Bill is a slap on people’s private lives that has been passed as an amendment to the anti-terrorism act. In essence, it is passed to criminalise the terrorists who are at the risk of escaping for lack of evidence against them but in reality, it may pose a serious threat to the public and their private lives. Why is it that we have not had any uproar by the public on this bill?

There could be a number of reasons behind this. We are so entangled in our own issues and day-to-day survival that worrying about our phones being tapped does not appear to be much of a concern to many. This is also reflective of our culture, where intrusiveness is often acceptable.

Our intrusive culture has its own share of benefits: a sense of togetherness and helping each other out in times of need. But when it is giving a license to authorities to peep into anyone’s private life, it is time for us to question such measures.

“I understand that there are genuine threats, but bills like this will provide a great deal of potential for the abuse of power by law enforcement officials. I hope the media is able to rapidly spread awareness about this bill and its implications and that people rise up against it,” says Sabeen Mahmud, Founder and Director of PeaceNiche – an NGO aimed to work for the development of civil society. A number of people feel that such laws can be potentially misused and exploited. The problem in Pakistan is never with the laws but their actual implementation. They are at the risk of being exploited by those in power.

Mahmud quotes Benjamin Franklin: “Anyone who trades liberty for security deserves neither liberty nor security,” and adds, “I feel strongly that the state has no right to spy on citizens in the name of national security. There is a fine line between safety, security and personal rights and as more and more people gain access to technology and the internet, this tension will escalate.”

What surprises me is that not many people seem to be too bothered that their privacy can be infringed upon by security companies that are now allowed to tap into phones for gathering intelligence against suspected terrorists. Is no one worried about this new law being abused?

As a society, we meet many people who ask us deeply private questions in an extremely casual manner: Are you married? Do you have children? Do you live with your in-laws? How much money do you make? While these questions are perfectly reasonable if asked by a close friend or relative, you’ll agree that one or more of the above have been thrown at you by a person you met five minutes ago at a wedding.

It seems we are so used to intrusive behaviour, that privacy is not precious. The media is also to blame, as it is intrusive enough to burst into people’s homes uninvited, even if families are grieving due to a death.

Keeping all this in mind, it seems that we have either become too desensitised to care, or are willing to give up on privacy because we are so frustrated with the security situation in our country. While the measure has been put in place to prevent terrorism, there is no doubt that it can be abused. The key to prevent terrorist activities before they take place is better intelligence mechanisms and proper security covers that. But the government’s strategy seems to be different, and our apathy will bolster their complacency.

The writer is a former print and broadcast journalist who has worked at The News and Geo TV.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 30th, 2012.

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COMMENTS (9)

M.Ahmer Ali | 9 years ago | Reply Unless US' interference in Pakistan's extremely confidential matters and foreign policies is stopped Pakistani nation's privacy can never be secured from such these types of illegal and unlawful activities by the Pakistani government's,law enforcement's and intelligence agencies because this is all happening just due to the increasing terrorism in Pakistan day by day by fighting the US' war for US' interests within Pakistan by Pakistan.......
M.Ahmer Ali | 9 years ago | Reply

Unless US' interference in Pakistan's extremely confidential matters and foreign policies is stopped Pakistani nation's privacy can never be secured from such these types of illegal and unlawful activities by the Pakistani government's,law enforcement's and intelligence agencies because this is all happening just due to the increasing terrorism in Pakistan day by day by fighting the US' war for US' interests within Pakistan by Pakistan.......

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