CCTV and right to privacy

SOMETIME this year Basotho will elect their representatives in the Local Government Elections. They will also elect their representatives in the National Assembly next year.

Things that are of paramount importance to me go beyond power struggles bedeviling our political landscape.

Since 2007, Sadc has been seized with issues relating to the allocation of proportional representation seats and the issue of the official leader of the opposition in parliament.

While these are of cardinal national importance, my concern relates more to the profile of representatives returned by the electorate.

The issue is whether we will have identified those geared to tackle the challenges and demands of the 21st century.

Lesotho has acknowledged the fact that groups in society other than government do have a stronger role to play in addressing emerging problems of our time.

Our MPs need the capacity to enact appropriate and just laws that cover a broad gamut of different aspects of the information age.

Research tells me that in the span of just a few decades, Information Technology (IT) has not only altered the way people communicate, but has also brought the world closer together in a “global village”, a concept associated with Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian.

It describes the world where better transportation and communication have allowed people around the globe to be in contact with each other more quickly, frequently and easily than ever before.

The world is also connected through global resource use and economies such that North Americans and Europeans consume food and products grown and manufactured in Asia.

European products are found in Australian and New Zealand stores while African agricultural products are consumed in Europe and Scandinavia.

McLuhan’s village depicts a picture of an inter-connected and inter-dependent world.

New technologies have brought with them complex challenges that call for innovative and progressive thinkers in our legislative chambers.

We live in a world where as Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis observed, “intensity and complexity of life have rendered necessary some retreat from the world so that solitude and privacy have become more important to the individual”.

However, they also note that modern enterprise and inventions have, through invasion upon our private space, subjected us to mental pain and distress, far greater than could be inflicted by mere bodily injury.

Appropriate and just laws I have in mind are those relating to our right to privacy against ICT operators and service providers: — processing of our personal data within banking, national security and telephony elements.

What of elicit tapping of telephone conversations and e-mails?

Imagine the surveillance and monitoring of our movements by thousands of closed circuitry television (CCTV) systems by local supermarkets and law enforcement agents.

Security can’t be compromised, and we do not necessarily have to elect computer wizards, but there has to be a critical mass of MPs with the capacity and ability to conceptualise legal aspects of computing.

Required legislative framework would be inclusive of appropriate and relevant Cyber and Information Technology (IT) laws, a cyberspace law that encapsulates legal complex issues related to Internet governance and use of communicative, transactional, and distributive aspects of networked information devices and technologies.

Lesotho needs an independent autonomous office of information commissioner to enforce compliance with cyberspace laws in collaboration with the Lesotho Telecommunications Authority.

David Johnson and David Post argue that given the Internet’s unique situation, it has to govern itself.

Thus, instead of obeying the laws of Lesotho for instance, the so-called “Internet citizens” have to be guided by laws that service providers globally have to comply with and enforce.

IT-Law on the other hand, is a set of legal enactments which governs the processing and dissemination of information digitally.

Such legal enactments, often described as “paper laws” for “paperless environment”, cover aspects relating to computer software and its protection, access and control of digital information, privacy, security, internet access and usage, as well as electronic commerce.

Practically, Internet citizens live in ‘borderless states’; they defy geographical boundaries and are not identified as physical persons.

Thus, effectively the Internet is a “sovereign nation”; its citizens’ identity is defined by user names and email addresses, which explains why national laws no longer apply to them.

A Johannesburg colleague who owns and drives vehicles with vehicle tracking devices known as Global Positioning System narrated a story which exposed imperfections of GPS tracking and highlighted innovations used by car thieves who are always ahead of modern technology.

His son’s car was stolen and promptly reported to the service provider. A heavily armed rapid response team commissioned to follow the car’s signal to a spot where it was apparently hidden. Sadly, upon arrival, they found that the device had been quickly striped off the car and thrown atop someone’s roof, the car was not there anymore, house occupants knew nothing about the car, and were oblivious of the fact that a ‘tracker’ had been thrown on their roof-top.

Privacy abuses on the Internet, in cell phone digital photography, within law enforcement agencies, business outlets using CCTV and GPS are fuelling concerns.

Privacy advocates inclusive of Laurence Tribe, are wary of GPS because of their intrusion into human dignity.

Tribe’s argument is that “part of human dignity is the ability to hide. Even in the context of someone you trust to act in your own interest, there are a great many things with respect to your location over which you want to retain authority”.

Unfortunately however, navigation systems such as GPS’s and CCTVs provide both a consumer and third parties with a precise reading of the person’s location.

In the absence of data protection law, who knows if shop owners and menders of CCTVs have an evening ball reviewing compromising footages of unsuspecting customers and city travellers? Otherwise beware, “Big Brother is watching you”.

Comments are closed.