EDITORIAL: Privacy right

Privacy ensures freedom of speech, political and social activities and association, which are central to a free society

In the run-up to the provincial and federal parliamentary elections, one of the measures parties had resorted to seeking votes was sending text messages to people on their mobile phones. This in today’s modern world did not come as a surprise to many. But some did wonder how the messages were being sent – or how parties or contestants were accessing individuals’ mobile numbers. Questions were asked whether it was a privacy breach. Then, elections were held, and people spent little time pondering over the matter, as these polls were of paramount importance, for, above every other reason, they were the first under the new constitution. The issue ultimately died down. Nonetheless, since questions were raised – even if they were not raised with a lot of force – it did bring the privacy issue to the fore. Individual privacy has been guaranteed by the constitution. Article 28 says: “The privacy of any person, his or her residence, property, documents, data, correspondences and matters related to character shall, except in accordance with law, be inviolable.”

A new law for the protection of citizens’ privacy has to be enacted by September 19 as per the constitutional deadline, and the government has prepared a draft bill related to it. The draft bill, prepared by the Nepal Law Commission, aims to address all seven issues mentioned in the constitution. The bill proposes that individual’s private details kept with government bodies shall not be publicised without consent. It prohibits publication of individuals’ personal details such as citizenship, passport, driving licence, academic qualifications, medical report, bank details including cheque, draft and thumb print, land ownership certificates, pension and voter identity card without consent. The bill also proposes to keep individuals’ property, income, political affiliation, election and business confidential. It also prohibits taking individual’s photo without his/her permission and recording telephone conversation between individuals without their consent. The bill says no one should collect individuals’ personal details and store or process, or publicise them. The bill proposes a jail sentence up to three years or fine up to Rs 30,000 or both for violating individual’s right to privacy.

Privacy no doubt is of utmost importance in a free society. It ensures the individual’s right to maintain autonomy and individuality. There are various reasons why an individual’s privacy must be upheld, but broadly, the right to privacy is crucial because it puts a limit on government power. The recent Facebook data leak became a cause for concern just because of the fact that the more anyone or any organisation or any government knows about individuals, the more power they have over the individuals. When personal data land in the wrong hands, they can be used to cause harm to the individuals. There for sure are many complexities attached to the privacy issue. Hence it should be dealt with carefully. But what cannot be denied is privacy ensures freedom of thought and speech and freedom of political and social activities, association and congregation, which are central to a free and democratic society. Loss of privacy could lead to loss of freedom. It’s incumbent on the state to ensure that people can enjoy their constitutional right to privacy.

Good initiative

Literacy rate in Karnali Province is among the lowest compared to other provinces. The latest data show that literacy rate of Karnali Province is 58.25 per cent against the national average of 65.95 per cent. Against this backdrop, the provincial government of Karnali has decided to launch various campaigns to make the province fully literate within three years. The Social Development Ministry is planning to launch informal and literacy campaign with a special focus on elderly women. Technical education for daughters-in-law, rehabilitation centres for street children and residential schools in mountain districts are some of the major plans unveiled by the ministry. For this, Rs 20 million has been allocated.

Another Rs 15 million has been allocated for an additional scholarship programme to ensure access of students from Dalit, impoverished, conflict-affected and remote communities to education. The plans will be launched after conducting a household survey in ten districts. It is a good initiative. But the funds must be utilised in a transparent manner. The elected officials at all levels must keep vigil to ensure that the programmes benefit the target groups.