EDITORIAL: Ensure privacy right

It would be in the interest of the government not to push the bill through the Parliament on the strength of its near two-thirds majority

Like some of the previous bills registered in the Parliament, a new bill is likely to stir up a hornet’s nest as it runs counter to the people’s right to privacy. The Bill to Amend and Integrate Laws related to the Constitution and Operation of Nepal Special Service provides sweeping powers to the National Investigation Department (NID) to monitor the communications of any person or organisation that the government suspects is spying against the state or working against public interest. The bill was tabled by the government at the Federal Parliament recently for discussion. The Right to Privacy Act was enacted last year, and it allows an investigating agency to collect private data on individuals only with the permission of a court. What the bill under discussion in the Parliament does is it overrides the provisions mentioned in the Act and gives NID direct authority to monitor and intercept digital exchange of information of individuals without a court’s approval. Article 28 of the Constitution has declared the right to privacy and protection of information as a fundamental right, and no state institution has the right to encroach on it.

The Nepali Congress has come down heavily on the Operation of Special Service bill while drawing flak from human rights lawyers and the civil society. This points to the fact that the bill has been tabled without holding greater consultation with the stakeholders – the opposition, civil society and human rights activists. The NC Parliamentary Office says the provisions in the bill are aimed at squeezing the people’s fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution as it allows the leakage of information related to citizens, violating their privacy and freedom. Hence, it has demanded that the government immediately withdraw the bill. The bill requires service providers to provide information to the NID should it demand details of the communications that took place between individuals or organisations over the telephone, mobile phone or computer.

It is not understandable why the government has tabled the new bill so soon after the Right to Privacy Act was enacted in September last year, fully knowing that this would raise an uproar as the two are not in harmony. True the government has every right to defend the sovereignty of the country and protect it from any attempt to raise arms against the state, incite communal hatred and acts of espionage, sabotage and subversion. But while doing so, the government must see to it that it does not infringe upon the human rights of its citizens. As some rights activists note, the bill, if passed into law, could be used by the government to increase surveillance against its opponents, rights activists and civil society members or collect information of individuals even on flimsy ground. Hence, it would be in the interest of the government not to push the bill through the Parliament on the strength of its near two-thirds majority. It will be good to hold wide consultations with the stakeholders and amend the bill accordingly so that the fundamental right to data protection is ensured, together with six other privacy rights guaranteed in the new privacy law.

Avoid heaters in rooms

With the chilly winter season in full swing, doctors have advised people not to use heaters, firewood and charcoal inside a closed room. People have died of suffocation, or asphyxia, when asleep due to lack of oxygen in the closed room. Fire absorbs oxygen from the surrounding in the process of burning and releases harmful carbon dioxide that can be fatal to those sleeping in a poorly-ventilated room.

Inhaling carbon dioxide kills the brain tissue, making people unconscious and unable to react promptly. This could eventually take the life of those unconscious people if they are not rescued on time. One must see to it that the electric heater, gas heater, burning firewood or charcoal have been taken care of before going to bed, and windows of the room must be kept open to allow fresh air into the room. In the case of new mothers, pregnant women, infants or ailing people, chances of death are higher as their resistance power is less than that of normal people. Police said most people living in  shanty areas use firewood to keep their room warm, and they are unaware of the harmful impact of carbon dioxide on their health. The best way to stay safe from such incidents is to keep the room well-ventilated and avoid using heaters.