Thursday, April 29, 2010

Another Twofer of Taiwan News

Taiwan News had a couple of good ones. First a detailed look at the new law I posted on this morning, which appears to be quite regressive:
First, as reflected in Article 6, the revised law only takes "proper and specific purposes" and the "consent of the affected person" as one of the preconditions for lawful collection of personal data alongside of "legal regulations" and "the obligations of public and non-official agencies" and not as necessary conditions.

This provision will not only fail to ameliorate the excessive collection of personal data by both public and private agencies but will essentially legalize such excessive behavior.

Second, the revised law has no provisions whatsoever for the establishment of a specialized official agency to be responsible for overseeing the protection of computerized personal data.

Instead, the revisions only requires individual ministries or agencies to regulate and manage the fields under their supervision and therefore will create a situation of duplication of authority and the kicking back and forth of responsibility.

Without the assignation of a specific responsible agency, it will also be impossible to realize the comprehensive integration of policy formation, implementation and even education and publicity efforts for the concepts of personal data protection or resolve disputes that involve more than one government ministry or agency.

Fourth, the newly revised law lacks clear mechanisms for the protection of personal data, a shortcoming which will do little to alleviate widespread concern over the invasion of privacy.

In contrast, the member countries of the European Union have each established special national data protection commissions and other mechanisms, such as the appointment of "information commissioners" who are empowered to promote education in "good practices" as resolve complaints from people who believe their rights have been breached and enforce related laws through legal sanctions against official agencies, private corporations or individuals who ignore or refuse to accept their legal obligations.

Protecting the powerful

In terms of remedial measures, Section Four of the revamped law does permit "class action" suits to allow persons whose interests have been harmed by a particular leakage of personal information to jointly file legal action with lower legal costs.

However, the revised law requires that only legal corporate entities with total capital of NT$10 million or social organizations with at least 100 members can initiate class action suits, a provision that imposes severe limitations on the use of class action suits.

Finally, it is vital to keep in mind that only political power-holders, including government law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and large for-profit corporations, truly have the capability to engage in systematic infringement of the right of privacy of our citizens.

The first step toward protecting the human rights of our ordinary citizens, including their right to the privacy of sensitive personal information, is the prevention of the abuse of power by the state and powerful corporate interests.

However, Article 10 of a law touted to "protect" personal information gives national security and government agencies blanket exemptions against the requirement of prior approval of citizens for the collection and use of personal data.
The second piece from earlier this week is another installment in the ongoing series on the KMT attempts to gain control of the media, this time of public television:

The autonomy of the Taiwan Public Television Service Foundation (PTSF) has been under intense pressure since Ma took office in May 2008 as KMT lawmakers have pushed to remove incumbent PTSF Board Chairman Cheng Tung-liao and PTSF General Manager Vivian Feng, who were appointed under the former Democratic Progressive Party government, before their three-year contracts expire on Dec. 31 this year.

Besides offending KMT lawmakers through her defense of the editorial and managerial independence of the public television network, Feng is undoubtedly "guilty" of expanding the quality, viewership and influence of an autonomous public media voice just as the KMT is trying to muzzle state-owned but legally independent media such as the Central News Agency and Radio Taiwan International.

Since October 2008, the KMT - controlled legislature has engineered three revisions to the Public Television Organization Law to expand the size of the board for stacking by KMT lawmakers and other sycophants, but has been frustrated in efforts to wrest complete control over its board due to the lack of credibility in removing a successful management team and Ma's own eroding public confidence.

The most recent takeover attempt was frustrated in January when the Taipei District Court filed an injunction against eight directors appointed by then Government Information Office Minister and now KMT spokesman Su Chun-pin last summer in response to a suit by the PTSF chairman maintaining that the eight had been appointed in a "flawed" process.

Indeed, on Dec. 10, 2009, the Control Yuan had issued a demand to the GIO for a "correction" as Su had appointed the new directors and realized their ratification by a legislatively recommended review committee without informing the opposition Democratic Progressive Party legislative caucus of its right to recommend three new members.

The GIO later retaliated by filing its own injunction against Cheng and other PTSF directors for "illegally" holding a meeting without a quorum that was accepted by the Taipei District Court April 19.

Ironically, the issuance of the two injunctions has now reduced the number of functioning directors to five persons, who cannot hold a legal meeting without notification from the now suspended board chairman.

The GIO has apparently now instructed the five remaining directors to convene a meeting, which would also be of questionable legality, which would ask the GIO to take PTSF into receivership.

For their part, Cheng and other suspended PTSF directors filed a civil lawsuits Tuesday to the Taiwan District Court for a cessation of the April 19 injunction and filed an appeal to Taiwan High Court asking it to overturn the lower court's decision.

Moreover, Cheng called on the GIO to "retract its black hand" and cease its drive to turn Taiwan's hard-won public media into just another "state" owned media.

Return to legality

This unseemly conflict has already imposed grave harm on the public media in Taiwan and the working rights of journalists and other employees in the public television group.

Up to now, the tussle has been conducted through legal channels, but a decision by the GIO to take the PTSF into receivership would manifest the intervention of the KMT-controlled state apparatus into the control and management of a previously legally independent public media.

The consequences of this action to Taiwan's media freedom and the international reputation of the Ma administration would be profoundly negative.

A GIO takeover, however "packaged," would mark the reversal of decades of media reform efforts aimed at freeing the Taiwan news media from control from the KMT party - state.

The chilling effects would also not be limited to the Taiwan Public Television and its Hakka and Indigenous affiliates but would also affect the far larger terrestrial China Television Service and extend a cloud of uncertainty over the future of CTS and its considerable property assets.

A direct takeover of Taiwan's public television network by the GIO would undoubtedly also spark a precipitous plunge in Taiwan's international ratings in press freedom and human rights, which have already sagged since President Ma took office in May 2008.

There is a simple and legal way out of this morass, namely return to the requirements of the Public Television Law for the board to reflect the public will as represented by the composition of the Legislative Yuan.

First, the GIO should ask the Taipei District Court to cancel the April 19 injunction and restore the rights of PTFS Board Chairman Cheng Tung-liao and the seven fully legally appointed directors and thus restore the normal functioning of the public television network.

Secondly, the GIO should accept the correction issued by the Control Yuan last December, ask the KMT and DPP legislative caucuses to appoint new members to a new 15-member PTSB board selection review committee and then nominate and confirm eight new directors.
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