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Opinions of Monday, 25 April 2016

Columnist: Andrew Kaminta

The 'spy law': My thoughts

The latest terror attack recently happened in Brussels, Belgium. Using CCTV footage and DNA sampling, the identities of most of the attackers have been unravelled within the shortest possible time. What made this possible? Simple answer is National Identification.

Why is it taking so long for us to implement a simple national identification system? This is so basic and yet we seem incapable of implementing this very important programme that is intrinsic to national development planning. I just don't get it. And a national address system? Also in chaos. We've only been able to do some road and street naming.But even that has been beset by confusion.

For years, civil society has been agitating for the right to information bill to be passed into law by Parliament. This had been unduly delayed, probably deliberately because public officials don't want to release information for obvious reasons , including corrupt practices.

Yet this is a very important law, including the one on the declaration of assets by public officials which has been blatantly abused. So if public officials can refuse to abide by this statutory requirement, how can they have the moral authority to insist on sanction or insist on their subordinates to do the right thing?

And yet the same officials are in a haste to pass the so-called 'Spy Bill' to enable government to listen into our conversations. On the face of it, this seems in order considering the spate of terrorist attacks in the world, but truth is, we don't even have the basic things in place yet as stated above.

But worst of all is the fact that we are so polarised along partisan lines in this country that there is bound to be abuses of this law. We live in a country where all the security heads were appointed by the party in government and the truth is that professionalism is thrown to the dogs and appointments are made based on partisan considerations. Let's not pretend, that's the truth.

Therefore, for a party in government that is desperate to cling onto power, there's every temptation to use every means legal and illegal to suppress the opposition. What better means than to use an existing law to spy on the opposition?

In even the countries that are under constant terrorist attacks, there are limits to the powers governments have over private communication. A recent case in point is the one between Apple and the USA government. A recent survey showed that most US citizens are against the government having access to the Apple phone security system even though the reason the US government wants that access is to retrieve information about terrorists who massacred real people. The reason is that people generally don't trust governments playing the 'Big Brother ' as unscrupulous officials can use that power for personal or even official persecution of political opponents.

Already, there exist adequate laws to investigate acts of terrorism or subversion. Why the haste to pass this law when there is lethargy to pass the right to information law? Politicians generally cannot be trusted. Those in power don't see anything wrong because it is to their advantage but they forget that one day they could be in opposition and be at the receiving end and then they would realise it's a bad law. By then, it would have been too late.

A word to the wise .......