Global privacy experts hold “landmark” meeting in Manila to discuss Asian State surveillance
Manila, Philippines – A group of privacy and human rights experts from across Asia met this weekend to discuss developments in surveillance. The meeting, hosted by the Foundation for Media Alternatives (FMA) and Privacy International, brought together advocates and experts from Thailand, Pakistan, India, Indonesia and the Philippines to share their experience of campaigning against State surveillance, an increasing threat to human rights in the region.
Privacy International’s Legal Director, Carly Nyst, called the meeting a “landmark” moment in the history of the privacy movement: “For too long we’ve heard Asian governments assert the false premise that their citizens don’t value privacy as a means to justify increasing intrusions into individuals’ lives, particularly via the internet. This meeting is an important sign to these governments that unrestrained surveillance is not only unacceptable to the Asian peoples, but that States will be held to account for their failures to comply with international human rights standards.”
SIM card Registration
The meeting comes at an important time, as the Philippines considers introducing SIM card registration policy that has been long criticised by privacy advocates across the world. Al Alegre, Executive Director of FMA, said: “We believe that addressing crimes is a legitimate concern of the State but we should also rethink how this policy could be a violation of our citizen’s right to privacy.”
The privacy experts shared their experiences of fighting against similar State policies. According to Nighat Dad of Digital Rights Foundation Pakistan, “SIM cards registered when it falls into the wrong hands can wrongfully implicate innocent citizens. It also gives the State, like in the case of Pakistan, to have a new tool for monitoring citizens.”
It is also good to note that most countries in Asia don’t have data protection laws that could help secure the collected information from SIM card registration.
Cyber Martial Law everywhere in Asia
Enacting laws on computer crimes or cybercrimes to implement blanket data retention policies is also trending in the region, and it’s the military and law enforcement agencies that seem to have great interest in this.
In Thailand the computer-related crime act has long been in question wherein data can be used to prosecute “enemies” of the State. Art Suriyawongkul of Thai Netizen Network said, “The ‘national security’ reason has often times been used as an excuse for cases to ‘accelerate’ prosecution process without regard to civil rights.”
Philippine Internet Freedom Alliance legal counsel Marnie Tonson reiterated that blanket data retention such as what the Philippine Cybercrime Prevention Act imposes, is actually mass surveillance. “This is contrary to the United Nations’ recent resolution on the Right to Privacy in the Digital Age,” he said.
Surveillance Asian States
India, an emerging leader in information and communications technology (ICT) in Asia is also increasingly becoming a big surveillance state, installing huge surveillance systems – including biometric capture of all citizens, centralized wiretaps, and 10-year data retention, shared Center for Internet and Society.
Whayudi Djafar of ELSAM Indonesia also expressed worry on the lack of transparency by Indonesian government on its surveillance practices. “The Indonesian parliament must use its function to check and balance intelligence agencies specially in employing surveillance policies,” he said.
The meeting concluded with a vow of advocates to continue on the struggle against mass surveillance and to keep on reminding Asian governments to uphold the right to privacy of its peoples.
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