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The PADU paradox: Secrecy, confidentiality and privacy

The PADU database, according to a government source, covering approximately 30 million Malaysian households, claims to offer access to everyone – government and the governed – about almost everything about everything that’s going on.

Somebody sent me a cartoon of a fox, after devouring a few chickens, promising he will become a vegetarian if elected. Somehow, PADU’s reason and purpose resonates with the promise of that wily fox.

The Official Secrets Act and the provisions of other pieces of legislation relating to the protection of personal data do not fail to create an orchestra of cacophony by arrogant, ignorant and incompetent election-winning lawmakers paying homage to ringgit-power.

Bill Moyers warned that “secrecy is the freedom tyrants dream of”. He certainly warned citizens that it’s their first civic duty to demand transparency as a fundamental right quite absent in the US Bill of Rights.

Almost as an after-thought, Economy Minister Mohd Rafizi Ramli announced that it is necessary for the government to now exactly and precisely where each citizen lives and works to obtain clear and precise data, details and particulars as to their choices, preferences, requirements, and by extension to not so very surreptitiously engage in further probes into their lifestyles.

If the government’s attitude is given such latitude, it is fair to say that fascism is alive and well in Malaya. Is this what the Madani government desires to promote and advance as Malaysian ethos? Where are we going with this outrageous pathos?

The United States Supreme Court once declared that the government has no business behind private doors, especially bedrooms, of its citizens. See Stanley v. Georgia, 394 U.S. 557 (1969), not proscribing the ‘right to receive information and ideas regardless of their social worth’.

The apex court may have entertained the thought that privacy is not about hiding something. Instead, it could be to protect something. The flip side says publication is an invasion of privacy.

PADU stands at the crossroads of legality and validity. What may be legal may not be valid – like a bad law. What may be valid – like a religious tenet or law – may not be legal. So, where does PADU get its breath and life from?

PADU, apparently, was justified under the Personal Data Protection Act 2010 (Act 709) (PDPA) which, apparently, is a protection layer, but section 3(1) conveniently exempts the Federal and State governments from complying with the PDPA – the victors. And those that are not exempt – the people – become the victims.

Archibald MacLeish reminds us that “the business of the law is to make sense of the confusion of what we call human life – to reduce it to order but at the same time to give it possibility, scope and even dignity”. PADU and PDPA snatch every iota of dignity that’s left in the business of government.

The government is unable to fix simple things like bad roads, but it has the gall to assure citizens that they can control hackers from accessing personal data. It’s a burgeoning trade since IT became a fact of life. Politicians talk and talk about tackling many problems.

And that brings us to ponder and wonder whether the Dewan Rakyat can make decisions for its equal partners – Sabah and Sarawak – who are certainly not ‘States’ in the grand scheme of things (read: MA63). The word ‘States” is still in the Federal Constitution as a teasing thorn in the sides of the Borneo Territories.

Article 161E Federal Constitution, despite its awkward phraseology and scrivener errors and excesses, assures Sabah and Sarawak that the Dewan Rakyat cannot pass laws that infringe on the equal partner status of Sabah and Sarawak despite being erroneously referred to as ‘States’. Effective as a parchment promise?

To buttress my point, why doesn’t the Federal Constitution mention the ‘Additional Protections for States of Sabah and Sarawak’ in Part XIIA equally for Perlis, Kedah, Penang, Perk, Selangor, Melaka, Johor, Pahang, Terengganu and Kelantan? I believe the point is made.

Therefore, Sabah and Sarawak have a constitutional right to reject the PDPA and its illegitimate offspring PADU, under the provisions of their territorial constitutions. It is more than clear that federal laws have validity in the Borneo Territories only if their legislatures say so. I doubt it requires further belabouring.

The Madani government claims that PADU is necessary for knowing where and to whom subsidies are dished out to. Malaysian citizens’ identity cards ought to suffice for this purpose. The National Registration Department surely has tomes of data.

How many more laws do we need to invade our privacy? Why not instal CCTV cameras in every nook and corner of cities, towns and villages? Inside and outside our homes? Heck, how about mandating mini-cameras inserted into our brains to unpack our thoughts?

PADU seems to be a contrived distraction. Many such well-planned distractions are hurled at the public to keep the real issues from boiling over. The Umno Youth chief who inflamed the nation with his venom over the KK Mart socks issue is one such weapon of mass distraction. He is yet to be questioned and charged by the authorities.

Assuming PADU is necessary. Will the government also disclose everything they do? Like salaries, perks, and other emoluments; the location and worth of their assets; their bank accounts; their mobile telephone numbers; their identity card numbers; their residential addresses; the names, ages, and addresses of their immediate family members?

After all, what’s good for the goose is also good for the gander, right?


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