THE INTELLIGENT SINGAPOREAN

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Hey, Don’t Kachau* me OK! I Have a Right To My Privacy!

Posted by intellisg on July 21, 2007

privacy.jpgYou know, I just want to tell you, I am one of those oddballs who invariably begin every sentence with the words, “I have a right…..” And it ranges, to the ‘right’ to ride my tricycle on the pavement without getting snide stares from pedestrians, to the ‘right’ not to be flattened by 4X4 driven by a bi-focal pint sized auntie. I once even confronted my neighbor, proclaiming in my Martin Luther King voice I had a ‘right’ to fresh air, because he puffs away in the balcony and it wharfs into my living room. And once when I was commuting in the MRT, I came across an inconsiderate asshole doling out ring-tone torture to an entire carriage, I gave him my jedi stare that said,  “I have a ‘right’ to some peace, if you don’t stop it, I will shove it up your ….”. After a few murmurs of teeth sucking defiance, he got off on the next stop. The aunties in my carriage beamed at me like I had just saved them from bird flu pandemic – Yes, I have a ‘right’ to my privacy specifically my ‘right’ not to be disturbed, what about you? Do you know your rights?

I will have you know, I have a whole compendium of silent triumphs which involve preserving my ‘rights’ not to be disturbed. Some trivial others serious enough to even keep me awake into the wee hours. But let’s just leave the small ‘do not disturb’ stuff and consider for one moment the big ‘rights.’ You know what I mean don’t you – the things that really matter – biggies like the right to privacy. The right to blog about what I want too without fear or favor -the right to do my job in peace without being harassed by my pesky boss.

Are these real ‘rights,’ or am I just making a mountain out of a mole hill, is it simply part and parcel of life in our age? Do I really have a ‘right’ to privacy? Am I perhaps a tad selfish and self-centered to even believe for one moment these are indelible ‘right?’

I am not just talking about the small stuff here like the run-of-the- mill niceness, those silent codes that make Singaporean urban life bearable – these are really important stuff. You know what I mean don’t you? Knowing what our ‘rights’ are can make the difference between simply existing or living it up, enjoying or languishing, quality of life versus the onion life – where you peel and cry only to end up with nothing. These things are important, they matter the big ‘rights’ and size matters.

Do we really have a right to demand the big ‘rights?’

On the first cut, it seems pretty clear cut – that the case of a biggie like the right to privacy is an open and shut case, right? Even constitutionalist often refer too these set of rights in ‘elemental’ and ‘indelible’ terms. We all know this don’t we? We have all watch those cruddy cop serials, the part where the policeman cuffs the baddie with the words, “you have the right to remain silent blah blah blah” – that’s called the Miranda rights – even criminals have rights, so your rest assured, your rights are safe.

Err are they really safe? Are our ‘rights’ secure?

Let’s take a closer look at privacy again, this time under the electron microscope, let’s dissect it into the sum of its aggregate parts to see whether we really even have such a thing as a right to privacy? Oh dear, I see something, we live in the “information age” don’t we, gone are the days when we can read a secret message and eat it to preserve its contents, these days everything sent and received has an electronic bread crumb trail and it raises a number of substantive questions about the use and abuse of these information networks especially how they can affect our privacy.

Have you for instance considered where do those people who post junk mail get your address from? What happens when you use your credit card? Is someone, somewhere logging your spending habits? Whose reading those entries which I have fill up every time I buy a strip of chewing gum? In most cases the creep or erosion to our privacy is insidious. They’re the stuff of in-growing toe nails hardly even noticeable, innocent even. What about those CCTV’s we see all over the place these days, registering with panoptical efficiency how many times you scratch your crotch and pick your nose. Yes, we all know it’s to keep us save from terrorist, would be flashers and con men masquerading as monks, but they’re databasing our every movements aren’t they? Someone sitting behind those plasma screens is probably saying, “we need to check that Astro Boy out, why is he prancing around in just his undies and wellies.”

Am I just being paranoid, surely my privacy is still intact. Right?

Mind you I am not making light of the issue of terrorism, it’s a menace and a threat that should be dealt under the strongest possible terms, only aren’t we perhaps bovine whenever we acquiescence to pineapple eyed surveillance, random searches, probing questions? I know it’s for our own protection, but aren’t our rights to privacy being slowly withered away? When radicals take on the net, aren’t we tarred and feathered along with them only because we share the same medium of importing and exporting schools of thoughts and states of minds. And when policy makers speak in terms of ‘undesirable’ elements in the net? Aren’t they extending their panoptical reach to encroach on our privacy as well?

Come to think of it, do we still have any privacy at all? Where do we draw the line between balancing the need to preserve privacy yet allow for enough widget space to allow the baddies to be put behind bars – those terrorist, sex predators, con-artist and pastors who keep demanding for petrol money for their sports cars?

However, you wish to cut it, the right to privacy will always remain a contentious issue (except perhaps in North Korea and my room which I know my grandma regularly snoops around to see if she can find anything incriminating) only because when we look closer privacy is hardly even an elemental right and when you consider its core values, it’s a bit like a Cheshire cat, all it has is a winning smile and very little else. In truth, even by modern standards, not even jurist, academics, intellectuals or even circus performers can all agree on what really constitutes the acceptable benchmark for privacy. At best privacy encapsulates multifarious meanings, it hardly even coherent concept. Before 9/11 most Americans would have balked at the whole idea of men in dark glasses rummaging through their dustbins, these days waste disposal companies in America even recommend users to use transparent bin liners!

That just goes to show you even the most robust notions of privacy can be negotiate away if the sum of all our fear exceeds the pay out’s of enjoying privacy. It’s hardly a straightforward debate with clear cut answers and solutions. Not when it’s right up your street, in your face? See what I mean, privacy is slippery as wet glass, hardly the stuff you can really pin down. In reality, two people can still contend they’re exercising their right to privacy in their respective private zones and still encroach on each others world.

One reason why privacy remains derisive and controversial these days – could be because everyone has their own interpretation of what the pay outs of privacy entails. Consider the trite lamentations of the rich and famous, they never ever stop claiming their right to privacy has been violated, those who stalk them no end with long range telephoto lenses on the other hand claim, they live in a free country. They have a right to share the life of the rich and famous in the privacy of a public place. Stopping them from doing so is an invasion of privacy – sounds twisted right – agreed, but somewhere, everyone is shouting, “I have a right to my privacy” and to exacerbate matters, they all have a valid point premised in law!

Clear as mud! Isn’t it?

And there lies the danger of privacy in our age, it’s a conundrum that even vexed the framers of the American constitution, the Bill of rights. Even they, the framers were unable to address future changes in technology and the myriad of privacy concerns that have evolved as new technologies permeated their way into our society. In their age, they never envisage planes, guided missiles, nuclear power, terrorism and Wal-Mart this poses a real dilemma’s in our age.

It’s even arguable these days, the same conundrum those wig wearing framers mulled over not end in the age of sail, and candle powered lighting remains starkly similar till this day,

Where do we know where to draw the line? Where does your privacy begin and the need to protect the great good end? How does this measure with the broader will to protect the common good? And where do they intersect?

So next time, when you ladies are sitting next to a guy in the MRT who insists on splaying apart his legs as if he has a set of enlarged crystal balls and they intrude into your space, squishing your legs feebly inwards. Consider this: is your privacy invaded? Do you retaliate in the Singaporean cluck (where would we be without those wonderful home grown social cues, I wonder).

What’s clear to me from the outset is privacy, for lack or want remains at best a fragile and subjective concept, hardly clear cut even when compared to the best bench marks.

Having said that: if someone invades your privacy, do kick up a fuss, pick a fight and yes always insist on you’re right. The odds of being considered a fool are negligibly small and the rewards are great, only because its almost guarantees to leave one feeling smugly satisfied, two inches taller and basking in the instant love of having protected something as dreamy and lofty as the ideal – Hey, Don’t Kachau* me OK! I Have a Right To My Privacy

By Scholar Boy & Astro Boy 2007

[* Kachau – Singlish meaning, disturb or unwarranted interference stemming from Bahasa Malaysia]

(This has been brought to you by Aurora your friendly brotherhood controller – Scholar Boy / Astro Boy : Hey, Don’t Kachau* me OK! I Have a Right To My Privacy!- 2007 / Executive Summary 990398 – 2007 of Extended Piece (EP 990398 – The Brotherhood Press 2007)

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