Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Big Brother Lurches Forward

The Taipei Times reported on a proposed law that permits elected officials to search private records of individuals without informing them:
The amendment seeks to add a clause that allows elected representatives to gather personal information for investigation without the knowledge of the person concerned.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Gao Jyh-peng (高志鵬) expressed strong opposition to the proposed amendment.

“This is a Chiu Yi [邱毅] clause,” he said, suggesting that the clause was especially written for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislator so he could legally look into personal data and records of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).

“I’ve heard that the Ministry of Justice and Judicial Yuan all support [the amendment]. The DPP opposes this,” Gao said.

Several other members of the DPP also opposed the proposal, saying that the clause would seriously damage an individual’s right to privacy.

Defending his proposal, KMT Legislator Hsieh Kuo-liang (謝國樑) said that elected representatives have the right and responsibility to protect citizens from corruption.

“I strongly believe that [elected representatives] should not be required to inform the individual who is being investigated, because if I’m in the middle of trying to expose corruption, and I’m required to inform [the person] first, then I would have no corruption to expose,” he said.

“However, if I make a mistake in accusing [someone] of corruption, I would be held legally responsible,” he said.
You can see how a law that permits "elected representatives" to look into private records presents almost limitless possibilities for abuse. Like, for example, your neighbors who want to nose into the private life of the weird foreigner next door can ask their lin/li zhang to check for them, assuming the law means any elected official.

We already have an investigative arm with full authority, prosecutors and police. We don't need legislators collecting private information they can use in campaigns or in blackmail, or to buy votes or gain leverage over voters. The Taipei Times has an editorial on Hsieh and the law.

Echo Taiwan points to a Liberty Times story about a high school student who shouted at Ma to step down, and was immediately detained by the police. How many times did people shout that at Chen Shui-bian?
According to the Liberty Times (嗆「馬英九下台」高三生遭逮捕), the student was interrogated in the police station, which scared the student's mother to death. She asked the police for leniency. The police didn't release the student until some document was signed (confession of a crime?) and the student got finger-printed.

The police office at HSR Chiayi Station claims that the reason they "brought" the student in is to "persuade him to focus on study in order to be a good student". They also claim that they conducted "personal information investigation" for the safety of president.
It looks like an isolated case of police overzealousness. Someone needs to speak to the cops, though.

The government said yesterday that for certain civil service positions related to China -- not all positions -- applicants would be tested on the PRC constitution. A few hours later it reversed that position.

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Thomas said...

There is a familiar pattern to this big brother story. I seem to have seen several times the following rationalisation: You give me more power. "I can use it to help you, and I promise I will never abuse it."

After the legislative and presidential elections left the KMT with absolute power, didn't we hear the same thing? "We will use our power responsibly," they said.

Regarding negotiations between the SEF and ARATS, don't we hear the same thing? "We will listen to what you have to say, and we will negotiate treaties that you won't see but and that the legislature won't be able to debate beforehand, but we will always have your interests in mind," they say.

It all comes down to the responsible use of power. And, unfortunately, the KMT alone seems to have the power to decide what is responsible and what is not.

cfimages said...

I'm not sure why elected officials need to be doing any investigating. Surely their job is to run the country/country/city/town. Is there anything stopping them referring possible cases to the police who I presume have these powers already? It's not as if the police here do a whole lot of work as it is.

Franck said...

Officially, Taiwan is a democratic country, which means we have the separation of powers (legislative, executive and judicial).
My question is maybe very "naive", but if elected people could obtain this kind of data, using this way, just because they are elected, where is the separation of powers?
Or maybe Taiwan is on its way to forget about this separation stuff, as in China.
Uh Oh... the recent events related to politics and justice seems to prove that maybe there is no more separation.