By Victor Muisyo
The EU on Monday night called for “respect for freedom of expression” after an opposition-organized protest was dispersed last weekend my Malian security forces, events that left several people injured.
“The demonstrations must be peaceful and all actors including the police must exercise restraint,” said a spokesman for the European Union in a statement.
“It is important that the 2018 presidential election be held in peaceful, credible, transparent and inclusive conditions in order to strengthen Mali’s stability,” he added.
“The EU will remain fully committed to contribute through, inter alia, the deployment of an election observation mission,” he continued.
The Malian government had declared Sunday “false and slanderous” the statements of the opposition, which had initially reproached it for having used “live bullets” during demonstrations the day before in Bamako before demanding an “investigation”, two months to the presidential election on July 29.
In the aftermath of the clashes that left 25 wounded according to a hospital source, UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, was worried the situation in Mali could escalate when he visited the country last week.
Published on Africa news on June 4, 2018
TURKEY: CHARGES AGAINST FILMMAKERS ÇAYAN DEMIREL AND ERTUĞRUL MAVIOĞLU AN AFFRONT TO FREE EXPRESSION
Minister of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Turkey
İsmet İnönü Bulvarı No:32 06100
Emek Ankara, Turkey
Minister of Justice
Kızılay Mahallesi, Milli Müdafa Cd., 06420
Cc: Turkish National Commission for UNESCO
Dear Prof. Dr. Numan Kurtulmuş and Minister Abdulhamit Gül,
We, the undersigned cultural and human rights organizations, call upon the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Batman to drop charges immediately against filmmakers Çayan Demirel and Ertuğrul Mavioğlu and to cease efforts to criminalize the film and its makers. We also urge the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Turkey and the General Directorate of Cinema to support both filmmakers and to advocate for charges against them to be dropped. The upcoming court proceeding against Demirel and Mavioğlu comes at a time when artists, academics, and journalists in Turkey are being criminalized in alarming numbers for the peaceful exercise of their free speech.
On May 29, Demirel and Mavioğlu will appear in front of the Batman 2nd Assize Court. Both filmmakers stand charged with disseminating propaganda in favor of a terrorist organization under Article 7/2 of Law no. 3713 on Counter-Terrorism for their documentary film Bakur, and face up to five years of imprisonment if found guilty. The feature length documentary, shot in the summer and fall months of 2013, shows the daily life of PKK members in three different camps in southeast Turkey. The timing of both the filming and production of Bakur coincided with the peace talks between the Turkish government and the PKK to end a 40-year conflict during which a ceasefire was in place.
As the peace talks unraveled, Bakur was scheduled to premiere at the 34th Istanbul Film Festival on May 5, 2015, but on that day, the İstanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV) canceled the screening. The film was subsequently shown in numerous other international and national festivals, but two years later, on December 20, 2017, the filmmakers were accused of disseminating terrorist propaganda and giving “legitimacy to the terrorist organization PKK/KCK’s methods of using force, violence, or threats.” If found guilty, this would be the first time that filmmakers in Turkey would face a prison sentence due to a film, a dangerous precedent for the status of freedom of expression. However, as an attack on peaceful exercise of the right to free expression in Turkey, Bakur is not an isolated case. Numerous journalists, scholars, writers, and artists are currently facing similar criminal prosecutions.
The right to freedom of expression, whether in a film, newspaper, painting, or peaceful protest is an essential part of a functioning democratic society and the development of vibrant cultures. Artistic expression can play a productive role in addressing conflicts, reconciling former enemies, and can contribute to developing trust between individuals and groups that have experienced protracted conflicts. Turkey has affirmed this and made international commitments to uphold these freedoms, having ratified both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The right to freedom of expression is also protected in the Turkish Constitution (Article 26), which states that, “Everyone has the right to express and disseminate his/her thoughts and opinions by speech, in writing or in pictures or through other media, individually or collectively.” Based on these commitments, Turkey can only exclude controversial works from the protections granted to free speech in exceptional and strictly defined circumstances where national security is under threat because the work would constitute “an incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence” as expressed in Article 20 of the ICCPR. Further, based on Principle 6 of the Johannesburg Principles, the expression may only be punished as a threat to national security if a government can demonstrate that it is intended or likely to incite violence.
Bakur does not incite discrimination, hostility, or violence, but rather documents an attempt to reach a peace agreement after a decades-long conflict between the PKK and the Turkish government. Its purpose, as stated in the film’s own trailer, is “to invite its viewers to reflect on a war that has been continuing for decades and give an insightful look on its main subject, the PKK.” Such creative work is clearly and unequivocally protected in accordance with Turkey’s domestic and international commitments. Turkey must uphold its domestic and international commitments to protect freedom of expression and ensure that artists are free to create without fear.
Adil Soz – International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech
Albanian Media Institute
Association of Caribbean Media Workers
Bytes for All
Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI)
Committee for Relevant Art (CORA)
City of Asylum – Pittsburgh
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
Documentarist İstanbul Belgesel Günleri
European Documentary Network (EDN)
European Grassroots Antiracist Movement – EGAM
Federation of European Film and TV Directors (FERA)
Independent Journalism Center – Moldova
Index on Censorship
International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR)
International Press Institute (IPI)
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance
Media Institute of Southern Africa
National Union of Somali Journalists
Pacific Island News Association
P24 (Platform for Independent Journalism)
Reporters Without Borders
South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
South East European Network for Professionalization of Media
Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression
The Beverly Rogers, Carol C. Harter Black Mountain Institute
The Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP)
The International Exile Film Festival – Sweden
VdÜ e.V. – Die Literaturübersetzer
Vigilance for Democracy and the Civic State
VS – Verband Deutscher Schriftstellerinnen und Schriftsteller
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC)
TAKE ACTIONHelp PEN America and the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) raise awareness about this case and tweet your support for the directors of Bakur as they prepare to defend artistic freedom in Turkey. Use the button below or create your own tweet including hashtags #DefendBakur #SinemaYargılanamaz and #KeepFilmsOutOfCourt, and please tag @AtRiskArtists and @PENamerican so that we might amplify your message.
Published on PEN on May 28, 2018
By Gulnoza Said
The Committee to Protect Journalists today joined a coalition of 25 other international press freedom organizations to call on Kazakh authorities to drop criminal defamation cases against media outlets Forbes Kazakhstan and Ratel and revise the law on dissemination of "false information" often used to silence critical media outlets and journalists.
CPJ has documented how authorities used these repressive laws to raid the newsrooms of Forbes Kazakhstan and Ratel, confiscate equipment, detain and question journalists, and block news websites and Facebook pages. The action against Forbes Kazakhstan and Ratel came after the outlets reported in 2016 allegations of corruption against a former government minister.
The former minister, Zeinulla Kakimzhanov, and his son, Ilkhalid, filed a defamation complaint claiming the outlets spread false information. Four separate cases are being heard against the outlets. In April 2017, an Almaty court ordered the two outlets and four journalists to pay 50 million Kazakh tenge (US$160,000) in damages, according to local media reports. The three other cases are ongoing.
The joint IFEX letter to Kazakhstan's prosecutor general, Supreme Court, Parliament, and Minister of Information and Communications, called for the law, which levies disproportionate penalties against journalists and media outlets, to be revised and highlighted the threat that such legislation poses to critical reporting and press freedom.
To read the letter, click here.
By Alex Hern
Facebook has moved more than 1.5 billion users out of reach of European privacy law, despite a promise from Mark Zuckerberg to apply the “spirit” of the legislation globally.
In a tweak to its terms and conditions, Facebook is shifting the responsibility for all users outside the US, Canada and the EU from its international HQ in Ireland to its main offices in California. It means that those users will now be on a site governed by US law rather than Irish law.
The move is due to come into effect shortly before General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into force in Europe on 25 May. Facebook is liable under GDPR for fines of up to 4% of its global turnover – around $1.6bn – if it breaks the new data protection rules.
The shift highlights the cautious phrasing Facebook has applied to its promises around GDPR. Earlier this month, when asked whether his company would promise GDPR protections to its users worldwide, Zuckerberg demurred. “We’re still nailing down details on this, but it should directionally be, in spirit, the whole thing,” he said.
A week later, during his hearings in front of the US Congress, Zuckerberg was again asked if he would promise that GDPR’s protections would apply to all Facebook users. His answer was affirmative – but only referred to GDPR “controls”, rather than “protections”. Worldwide, Facebook has rolled out a suite of tools to let users exercise their rights under GDPR, such as downloading and deleting data, and the company’s new consent-gathering controls are similarly universal.
Facebook told Reuters “we apply the same privacy protections everywhere, regardless of whether your agreement is with Facebook Inc or Facebook Ireland”. It said the change was only carried out “because EU law requires specific language” in mandated privacy notices, which US law does not.
In a statement to the Guardian, it added: “We have been clear that we are offering everyone who uses Facebook the same privacy protections, controls and settings, no matter where they live. These updates do not change that.”
Privacy researcher Lukasz Olejnik disagreed, noting that the change carried large ramifications for the affected users. “Moving around one and a half billion users into other jurisdictions is not a simple copy-and-paste exercise,” he said.
“This is a major and unprecedented change in the data privacy landscape. The change will amount to the reduction of privacy guarantees and the rights of users, with a number of ramifications, notably for for consent requirements. Users will clearly lose some existing rights, as US standards are lower than those in Europe.
“Data protection authorities from the countries of the affected users, such as New Zealand and Australia, may want to reassess this situation and analyse the situation. Even if their data privacy regulators are less rapid than those in Europe, this event is giving them a chance to act. Although it is unclear how active they will choose to be, the global privacy regulation landscape is changing, with countries in the world refining their approach. Europe is clearly on the forefront of this competition, but we should expect other countries to eventually catch up.”
Facebook also said the change did not carry tax implications. That means users will exist in a state of legal superposition: for tax purposes, Facebook will continue to book their revenue through Facebook’s Irish office, but for privacy protections, they will deal with the company’s headquarters in California.
The company follows other US multinationals in the switch. LinkedIn, for instance, is to move its own non-EU users to its US branch on 8 May. “We’ve simply streamlined the contract location to ensure all members understand the LinkedIn entity responsible for their personal data,” it told Reuters.
Published on The Guardian on April 19, 2018
Senegal: Right to peaceful protest and freedom of expression must be respected amid crackdown on dissent
The Senegalese authorities must protect the right to peaceful protest and ensure the security forces refrain from using excessive force as anti-government demonstrations are planned today in the capital Dakar, Amnesty International said.
Activists and opposition parties are due to hold a demonstration outside Parliament against proposed changes to the Electoral Code and Constitution that, if passed, would require all candidates standing in next year’s presidential election to collect the signatures of one per cent of the registered voters in seven regions of the country before being validated. The authorities announced that the protest had been unauthorized on several grounds including a 2011 decree banning all assemblies in the city centre areas.
“Peaceful opposition protests in Senegal have previously been arbitrarily banned and met with unnecessary, excessive force by the police. The authorities must remember that peaceful protest and freedom of expression are human rights that must be respected,” said François Patuel, Amnesty International West Africa researcher.
“That means anyone protesting in a peaceful manner must be allowed to do so without the threat of violent retribution from the security forces. A heavy-handed crackdown on demonstrations would only serve to fuel political tensions.”
The proposal has sparked a fierce public debate with some opposition and activist groups, including the prominent youth movement Y’en a Marre (Fed-up), considering the revision a violation of the Constitution.
Amnesty International has previously documented several cases where security forces have used unnecessary and excessive force to arbitrarily ban and disperse peaceful assemblies in Senegal. In June 2017, security forces shot and injured two women, and beat several others, during a protest in the city of Touba against the ill-treatment of a 14-year-old boy by members of a religious association, often described as the “religious police”.
In July 2017, security forces used tear gas and batons to repress a peaceful demonstration organized by former President and opposition leader Abdoulaye Wade.
The authorities also continue to curtail freedom of expression and target artists, journalists, human rights defenders and political activists who express dissent. On 17 April 2018, Barthélémy Dias, opposition leader and mayor of Mermoz-Sacré-Cœur, a neighbourhood of Dakar, was sentenced to six months in prison for “contempt of court” and a fine of CFA 100 000 (approximately EUR 150) after he criticized the decision of the court to sentence opposition leader and Mayor of Dakar Khalifa Sall. Sall’s sentence of five years in prison and a fine of 5 million CFA (7600 EUR) for charges of fraud of public funds raised questions about the independence of the judiciary.
Published on Amnesty International on April 18, 2018
Russian authorities should drop the charges against a Jehovah’s Witness adherent for practicing his faith and release him immediately, Human Rights Watch said today.On April 3, 2018, a criminal court in Orel is slated to begin the trial of Dennis Christensen, a 46-year old Danish citizen who has been in pretrial custody for nearly 11 months. If convicted on charges of organizing activities of an “extremist organization,” he faces up to 10 years in prison.
“Russian authorities are seeking to punish a Jehovah’s Witness for exercising his right to practice his religion,” said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “From the start, investigators have been warping Dennis Christensen’s peaceful participation in his faith to make it appear criminal. He did nothing wrong and should be freed.”
In 2016, a local court banned the Orel Jehovah’s Witness organization as an “extremist religious organization.”
Police in Orel arrested Christensen, who has had a Russian residence permit since 2000, on May 25, 2017, during a raid by riot police on a Jehovah’s Witness worship service. Christensen, a Jehovah’s Witness elder, had given a sermon during the service. He was not on the staff of the Jehovah’s Witness organization, but had unlocked the building where the members had gathered.
Authorities charged Christensen with “organizing activities of a religious organization that has been declared extremist.” The charge sheet, which Human Rights Watch reviewed, states that he was “actively involved in organizational work aimed at continuing the unlawful activities of the [banned Orel Jehovah’s Witness organization].”
Christensen’s lawyer told Human Rights Watch that the charges stem from Christensen’s actions on May 25 and from two previous incidents, in February 2017, when Christensen participated in discussions about a religious publication. They are also linked to Christensen’s role in organizing worshippers to help with the upkeep of their place of worship before the court ruling banning the organization entered into force in July 2017, and to persuading several other people to worship with Jehovah’s Witnesses.
An April 2017 Russian Supreme Court ruling banned all Jehovah’s Witnesses organizations throughout Russia. The ruling declared the Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Center an extremist organization, closed the organization on those grounds, and banned the religious group’s activities throughout Russia. The Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Center was the head office for 395 Jehovah’s Witnesses branches throughout Russia.
In recent months, Jehovah’s Witness worshippers in several other Russian cities have faced raids and criminal charges.
In January 2018, law enforcement officials in the Kemerovo region searched 15 homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses as part of a criminal investigation into the religious group. The Jehovah’s Witnesses organization said that in some cases investigators forced their way into apartments with the help of armed members of the Interior Ministry Rapid Deployment Task Force, and National Guard troops. The Kemerovo branch of the Investigative Committee, Russia’s criminal investigation service, said that investigators confiscated phones, electronic devices, computers, hard drives, and personal objects. The investigation is ongoing.
Further searches were carried out on February 7 among Jehovah’s Witnesses in Belgorod. Police searched 16 apartments, fingerprinted residents, and confiscated Bibles, electronic devices, hard drives, and passports. The lawyer for Anatolii Shalyapin and Sergei Volkov, who were detained during the raids, told Human Rights Watch that the two were held for two days and then released, and are suspects in a criminal extremism case.
Previously, in November 2015 a court in Tangarog found 16 Jehovah’s Witnesses guilty of extremism for continuing to gather for worship after a court had banned the local organization in 2009. They received suspended sentences and fines.
Russia, as a member of the Council of Europe and a party to the European Convention on Human Rights, is obligated to protect the rights to freedom of religion and association. The government has previously been found to be in violation of the European Convention for actions taken through the courts to dissolve communities of Jehovah’s Witnesses (Jehovah’s Witnesses of Moscow v. Russia, application no. 302/02).
The case against Christensen and the raids against Jehovah’s Witness adherents violate the right to freedom of religion, denying them the right to worship, and cannot be justified as either a necessary or proportionate measure to protect public safety or public order, Human Rights Watch said. Christensen has filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights alleging among other things that his arrest constituted unlawful interference with his right to freedom of religion.
“The Russian authorities’ ruthless persecution of Jehovah’s Witness adherents has been picking up steam,” Denber said. “Dropping the case against Christensen would be a good first step toward ending the raids and other criminal cases against people who are merely practicing their faith.”
Published on HRW on April 2, 2018
Reacting to the news that the Malaysian government has tabled a vaguely-defined bill in parliament ostensibly outlawing “fake news”, which could land those found guilty with a 10-year prison term, James Gomez, Amnesty International’s Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said:
“This bill is an assault on freedom of expression. The vague and broad definition of ‘fake news’, combined with severe punishments and arbitrary arrest powers for police, shows that this is nothing but a blatant attempt to shield the government from peaceful criticism. This bill must be scrapped immediately.
“Malaysia has a long and troubling track record of using its legal books to silence dissent. It is no coincidence that this law has been tabled with general elections just around the corner. We are already seeing how the government is closing the space for public debate ahead of the polls.
“It is deeply disturbing that the Malaysian authorities are using the catch-all term ‘fake news’ as an excuse to crack down on critics. The Bill combines the worst of the cheap propaganda coming from the West and the repressive laws and policies in the East. With both Singapore and the Philippines considering their own ‘fake news’ legislation, we call on all countries in the region to refrain from following this dangerous trend.”
Published on Amnesty International on March 26, 2018
The Council of Europe today adopted policy guidelines addressed to its 47 member states on the roles and responsibilities of internet intermediaries such as search engines and social media.
The power of such intermediaries as protagonists of online expression is such that their role and impact on human rights, as well as their corresponding responsibilities, should be clarified.
In its Recommendation on the roles and responsibilities of internet intermediaries, the Committee of Ministers – the executive body of the organisation- therefore calls on states to provide a human rights and rule of law-based framework that lays out the main obligations of the states with respect to the protection and promotion of human rights in the digital environment, and the respective responsibilities of intermediaries.
The recommendation calls on states to create a safe and enabling online environment where intermediaries, users and all affected parties know their rights and duties, to encourage the development of appropriate self- and co-regulatory frameworks, and to ensure the availability of redress mechanisms for all claims of violations of human rights in the digital environment.
It also underlines the importance of more transparency being introduced in all processes of content moderation. Media and literacy programmes should be promoted to enable users to enjoy the benefits of the online environment, while minimising their exposure to risks.
Published on COE on March 7, 2018
By Madalin Necsutu
“In the last few years in Moldova, we cannot talk about progress, but more about regression,” Nadine Gogu, executive director of the Independent Journalism Centre in Chisinau, told the Media Policy Forum in the Moldovan capital on Tuesday.
The biggest problems identified by the speakers at the forum related to the increasing politicisation of the country’s media and the alleged concentration of ownership in the hands of proxies for the ruling party, which was described as a threat to the country’s democracy.
The president of the Moldovan parliament, Andrian Candu, told the forum however that “it is important that the media should be allowed to raise its economic capacity”.
Candu argued that the media should have more access to public information and that the debates at the forum should help politicians to improve mass media legislation in Moldova.
But Moldovan media NGOs complained about the unwillingness of the authorities to offer more rights to journalists.
Freedom House described Moldova as a country with a ‘partly free’ press in its 2017 Freedom of the Press index.
Participants at a panel moderated by Tim Judah, a special correspondent for The Economist, stressed the need to increase the level of media literacy in the country as a tool to combat propaganda and so-called ‘fake news’.
The director of Romanian Centre for Independent Journalism, Ioana Avadanei, described a successful media literacy programme that was implemented in some schools in Romania with young pupils.
“It is not so much fake news that causes trouble, it is disinformation that comes in many shapes and form and it’s not only about banning content from social media, it is about how to educate people today,” Avadanei said.
BIRN’s Macedonia Country director Ana Petruseva noted how investigative journalism had played a very significant role in the fight against the concentration of media power and the disinformation spread by government-controlled media in Macedonia over the past few years.
“We had a situation when on three to four private TV stations, we could see the same exact report... the only different thing was the voiceover,” Petruseva recalled.
The Media Policy Forum was organised in Chisinau by Freedom House, the Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation and Internews, and co-sponsored by USAID, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation and BIRN.
Published on Balkan Insight on March 13, 2018
The Indian government’s mandatory biometric identification project, Aadhaar, could lead to millions of people being denied access to essential services and benefits in violation of their human rights, Amnesty International India and Human Rights Watch said today. The large-scale collection of personal and biometric data, and linking it to a range of services, also raises serious concerns about violations of the right to privacy.
The government should order an independent investigation of the concerns raised about Aadhaar, and cease targeting journalists and researchers who expose vulnerabilities in security, privacy, and protection of data, the organizations said.
“Making an Aadhaar card a prerequisite to access essential services and benefits can obstruct access to several constitutional rights, including the rights of people to food, healthcare, education and social security,” said Aakar Patel, executive director at Amnesty International India. “The government has a legal and moral obligation to ensure that nobody is denied their rights simply because they don’t have an Aadhaar card.”
The Aadhaar project is run by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), a statutory body of the Indian government set up in 2009. It collects personal and biometric data such as fingerprints, facial photographs, and iris scans, and issues 12-digit individualized identity numbers. Aadhaar was initially meant to be voluntary, aimed at eliminating fraud in government welfare programs and giving people a form of identification.
However, the Aadhaar Act of 2016 and subsequent notifications and licensing agreements dramatically increased the scope of the project, making Aadhaar enrollment mandatory for people to access a range of essential services and benefits including government subsidies, pensions, and scholarships. It has also been linked to services such as banking, insurance, telephone, and the internet.
Shops providing subsidized food grains as part of the government’s public distribution system to people living in poverty have denied supplies to eligible families because they did not have an Aadhaar number, or because they had not linked it to their ration cards – which confirm their eligibility, or because the authentication of their biometrics such as fingerprints failed. Local human rights groups and media have reported some cases in which people starved to death as a result. Poor internet connectivity, machine malfunction, and worn out fingerprints such as those of older people or manual laborers have further exacerbated the problem of biometric authentication.
According to activists in Rajasthan state, between September 2016 and June 2017, after the Aadhaar authentication was made mandatory, at least 2.5 million families were unable to get food rations. In October 2017, the central government instructed states not to deny subsidized food grains to eligible families merely because they did not have an Aadhaar number, or had not linked their ration cards to it. However, reports of denied benefits continue.
Children without Aadhaar cards are at risk of being denied free meals in government schools, while others have been denied enrollment in government schools despite the Right to Education Act guaranteeing free and compulsory education to all children ages 6 to 14. Students are also increasingly finding it difficult to receive government scholarships without Aadhaar numbers. Hospitals in Haryana state insist on newborn babies being enrolled in Aadhaar before giving them birth certificates. Aadhaar numbers are also demanded to issue death certificates. In some cases, people living with HIV/AIDS have decided to stop getting medical treatment or medicines when forced to submit Aadhaar numbers to get healthcare benefits because they fear their identities will be disclosed. Many persons with disabilities have been denied benefits because they were unable to obtain Aadhaar numbers.
The government’s expansion of the Aadhaar project and efforts to make it mandatory for essential services directly violate Supreme Court orders. In August 2015, the Supreme Court, in an interim order, said that Aadhaar enrollment was “not mandatory” and should not be a condition to obtain any benefits otherwise due to a citizen, and also restricted its use to a few government programs. A five-judge bench will start hearing the final arguments on the legality of Aadhaar on January 17.
Right to Privacy
In August 2017, the Supreme Court stated that the right to privacy was part of the constitutional right to life and personal liberty, in response to government arguments in Aadhaar-related petitions that privacy was not a fundamental right. The right to privacy is also protected under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which India is a party.
Several reports have shown that the Aadhaar system is vulnerable to data breaches and leaks. In January 2018, the Tribune newspaper reported that unrestricted access to the personal details of people enrolled in Aadhaar could be purchased for less than US$10 from racketeers. The UIDAI responded by filing a criminal complaint, naming the reporter and the newspaper, prompting widespread condemnation by civil society groups.
In 2017, millions of Aadhaar numbers, along with people’s personal information, including bank accounts, were published by government websites. The government has repeatedly dismissed reports of such leaks saying “mere display of demographic information cannot be misused without biometrics,” emphasizing that biometric information is safe. However, experts say companies could store biometric data at the time of enrollment or authentication for a transaction, and biometric data once stolen is compromised forever.
These fears proved real in February 2017, when UIDAI filed a criminal complaint against three companies alleging illegal transactions using stored biometric data. However, a month later, the UIDAI sought to downplay the breach and when an entrepreneur wrote an article illustrating how stored biometric information under Aadhaar could be misused, UIDAI filed a criminal complaint against him.
Following the Tribune story in January 2018, the government said it would address concerns about privacy rights violations by introducing temporary “virtual IDs” for Aadhaar holders to use in certain situations without revealing their Aadhaar numbers. However, the strategy does not effectively address data protection concerns.
The government claims to have issued 1.1 billion Aadhaar numbers to residents in India, not limited to citizens, making it one of the biggest biometric databases in the world. The government’s push for mandatory enrollment and its efforts to link the Aadhaar number to a wide range of services raises grave concerns that it could disproportionately interfere with the right to privacy for millions of people. It has also prompted fears of increased state surveillance, with the convergence of various databases making it easier for the government to track all information about specific individuals, and to target dissent. These fears are heightened by the absence of laws to protect privacy and data protection in India, and the lack of adequate judicial or parliamentary oversight over the activities of intelligence agencies.
Transparency and Accountability
Certain provisions of the Aadhaar Act and subsequent regulations also raise concerns regarding transparency and accountability. The law prevents anyone other than the UIDAI from approaching the courts in case of a breach or violation of the law. It also fails to set up an adequate or effective grievance redressal system. The ICCPR requires countries to ensure that anyone whose rights or freedoms are violated has an effective remedy.
Aadhaar regulations allow the government to deactivate an Aadhaar number for various reasons including for “any other case requiring deactivation as deemed appropriate” by the UIDAI, leaving the broad wording open to misuse. Also, the government is not required to give any prior notice before deactivating an Aadhaar number, which could violate natural justice principles and also put access to essential services at risk. Between 2010 and 2016, the government deactivated 8.5 million Aadhaar numbers, saying it was for reasons provided for under the law.
Aadhaar does not allow anyone enrolled under it to opt out or withdraw. Aadhaar regulations do not require the authorities to inform an Aadhaar number holder if their information has been shared or used without their knowledge or consent.
“It is ironic that a 12-digit number aimed to end corruption and help the poor has become the very reason many have been deprived of fundamental rights,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “There are legitimate concerns about privacy, surveillance, or just misuse of personal information, and the government should address these problems instead of coercing people to enroll and link existing services to Aadhaar.”
Published on HRW on January 13, 2018
A civil right is an enforceable right or privilege, which if interfered with by another gives rise to an action for injury. Examples of civil rights are freedom of speech, press, and assembly; the right to vote; freedom from involuntary servitude; and the right to equality in public places. Discrimination occurs when the civil rights of an individual are denied or interfered with because of their membership in a particular group or class. Various jurisdictions have enacted statutes to prevent discrimination based on a person's race, sex, religion, age, previous condition of servitude, physical limitation, national origin, and in some instances sexual orientation.
Source: Cornell University Law School