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Date [ 2014-02-03, 09:21 ]
Is this a necessary evil or a form of control?
 



The world, more than the US, reeled in shock when Edward Joseph Snowden disclosed top secret documents of the National Security Agency (NSA) to media outlets.
Snowden flew to Hong Kong from his home in Hawaii on May 20, 2013, where he later met with journalist Glenn Greenwald   of the Guardian and documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras. He then released his copies of the NSA documents to them and fled to Russia which has granted him temporary asylum. 

While NSA fumed at  one of its biggest leaks in its history,  the US government came under heavy flack when the leaked documents revealed details of a global surveillance apparatus run by NSA in close cooperation with its Five Eyes partners: Australia (ASD), Great Britain (GCHQ), Canada (CSEC) and New Zealand (SIS), along with cooperation from the security agencies of "most other Western countries.”

Closer to home, Malaysia flew into a huff when reports emerged stating that Singapore was spying on its neighbor on behalf of America. The Singapore High Commissioner was summoned to Wisma Putra for clarification on the alleged spying activities. The charges were denied and the good relations between the two countries were emphasised and the issue has since cooled down.

But what would be disturbing to the man-on-the-street is a further possible clamp down on his personal freedom and privacy. Malaysians have always had press censorship, and then control of the Internet was mooted, where in both cases the main reason given was to safeguard the racial harmony of the nation.

To be fair to the government, compared to many other countries we do have quite a substantial amount of freedom. What is hoped for is an expansion of this freedom and not its contraction!

Now it looks like US and British intelligence agencies have ways to gather data from Angry Birds and other smartphone applications. The agencies are able to glean personal information from networks that have a global spread. 

The New York Times has reported this information has come from previously undisclosed intelligence documents made available by US government’s nemesis, Edward Snowden.

Smartphones can be used to extract information on a user's location, age, gender and other, very much personal information. Have a fight with your girlfriend and they would very probably know about it in a flash. Not surprising when you realize they have been working on this since 2007.

The Times revealed both agencies traded information on collecting location data from users of Google Maps plus gathering address books, buddy lists, phone logs and geographical data embedded in photos when a user posts to mobile versions of Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn, Twitter and other network services.

The US government’s answer was to say it is only interested in collecting data on people considered a threat to the United States. But is it fail proof and not subject to embarrassing gaffes? 

White House spokesman Jay Carney informed at a press conference, “To the extent data is collected by the NSA through whatever means, we are not interested in the communications of people who are not valid foreign intelligence targets, and we are not after the information of ordinary Americans. Any such surveillance was focused on "valid foreign intelligence targets ... I mean terrorists, proliferators, other bad actors who use the same communications tools that others use.”

So was this why Dr.Rahinah Ibrahim was on the ‘no-fly- list and subject to more than two hours of detention? Finally she was allowed to fly back home but with her US visa revoked under suspicion of being involved in terrorist activities. No explanation of any sort was given to her.

Rahinah took up the case against the government to get her name off the no-fly list. U.S. District Judge William Alsup asserted, "The government's administrative remedies fall short of such relief and do not supply sufficient due process." 

And to think Dr.Rahinah is currently the Dean of Architecture at University Putra Malaysia. Perhaps she is teaching her students to blow up buildings!

One disturbing trend that has emerged is that a lot of drumbeating and chest thumping has been taken up by many countries. They cite the Snowden scandal has made it necessary for them to expand their electronic surveillance.

Malaysia too has jumped on the bandwagon with Paul Low, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department and the man in charge of fighting graft. It is estimated that some MYR27 billion end up in pockets that have no right to receive them.

The Minister disclosed the government has initiated preliminary talks and declined to reveal further details. Or has the matter died a natural death as this came up in August last? So is the government already snooping on its citizens and is serious in wanting to develop it further? 

Low, in what may be construed as striking a cord of apprehension emphasized these extra strong powers were necessary to fight corruption in the country.  Really? In 2008, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) was formed in place of the Anti-Corruption Agency. Malaysians generally feel the MACC has been netting small fries instead of going after the really big fishes. Perhaps it would be better if the MACC dug in deeper to clear the debris of corruption that is strewn all over the country. The public would prefer that the culprits be brought to book and heading the list is the police force and certain politicians. There are enough existing laws to take corruption cases to court. But somehow the implementation seems to be lacking. 

It should be realized the MACC has a ‘Checks and Balance Mechanism.” There is an impressive array of independent bodies to monitor it – the Anti-Corruption Advisory Board, the Special Committee on Corruption, the Complaints Committee, the Operations Review Panel and the Consultation and Corruption Panel.

With such an arsenal why the need to expand surveillance via smartphones or otherwise? Perhaps there has been an absence of checks and so there does not seem to be any balance in Malaysia’s continuing war against corruption. 

Oh! And a few last words. Edward Snowden has been nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. His nominees were two Norwegian politicians who felt he had made the world a much safer place.

There must be a hidden message somewhere in all this. Check your smartphone.

(By Ramani Rathir/ Editor, Korean Press)
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The Malaysian Antic-Not my cup of tea! (2014-03-13 11:48:23)