Article III, Section 3 of our 1987 Constitution emphatically mandates that the “privacy of communication and correspondence shall be inviolable except upon lawful order of the court, or when public safety or order requires otherwise, as prescribed by law”; but despite nearly a decade already having lapsed, the raging tide of post-9/11 paranoia persists and has deplorably given governments worldwide, perhaps including ours, a pervasive and enduring justification premised on national security concerns, to stifle the right guaranteed above. Movies like “Rendition” and “Unthinkable” reflect the grim facets of such licentious state action, although hopefully done with good intention.
Without meaning to dismiss the legitimacy of state action based on emergency in certain cases that present actual and imminent threats to national or public security, the terrorism paranoia, however, has opened Pandora’s Box to indiscriminate state action in which supposedly inalienable rights are increasingly being reduced to mere paper privileges. Now, the more furtive and insidious aspects of such state action are surfacing:
In the East, for example, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, among others, have threatened to ban the Blackberry Messenger function, and also its Internet and e-mail services, because Saudi’s government cannot access information exchanged over this service (ITP.net. http://www.itp.net/581281-saudi-bans-blackberry-messenger-service). India too, has taken issue with BlackBerry’s “tough encryption standards, which make it impossible to monitor communications for threats like terrorist attacks”; and sadly, rumor is that RIM, Blackberry’s developer, has succumbed to the pressure and “agreed to provide reasonable access to user data to governments who demanded it.” (Blogote.com. http://blogote.com/2010/blackberry-2/rims-blackberry-pressure-user-data.html) This situation is deplorable not only because this contradicts Blackberry’s principal selling point of “complete encryption and security to users” (ibid.), but more significantly, because it steps on individuals’ right to privacy for the sake of a government’s license to eavesdrop.
On the other half of the globe, the European community struggles with tapping Internet calls over such channels as Skype. “While the police can get a court order to tap a suspect’s land line and mobile phone, it is currently impossible to get a similar order for Internet call on both sides of the Atlantic.” “Police officers in Milan say organized crime, arms and drugs traffickers, and prostitution rings are turning to Skype and other systems of VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) telephony in order to frustrate investigators.” (PCWorld. http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/159896/skype_calls_immunity_to_police_phone_tapping_threatened.html)
These sought-after derogations on individual rights should not be countenanced. RIM should not be cowered into permitting government access to RIM resources and VoIP telephony should not be tampered with. In the balancing of interests between protecting individual rights and ensuring national security or public safety, government, as agent, fails its principal in fudging its duty to faithfully serve the principal’s interests. In the final analysis, governments must seek recourse to police measures, which, while adequately addressing security concerns, do not, as far as practicable, interfere with the citizenry’s robust enjoyment of human rights. Anyhow, an eavesdropped world does not guarantee a safer one.
Raul S. Grapilon
Entry No. 9