THE HINDU EDITORIAL : July 27, 2017
THE HINDU EDITORIAL : 27, July – 2017
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a) Poles apart
Poland’s right-wing government has been waging a relentless war on democratic institutions ever since it assumed office in 2015. But it may have gone too far now with its moves to curb judicial independence, which have been categorically opposed by President Andrzej Duda. Mr. Duda, an ally of the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS), vetoed two measures that militate against the rule of law. One of them requires all judges of the Supreme Court to step down, except those the President thinks should stay on. The second gives Parliament control over the mechanism that deals with their appointment. However, he did assent to another controversial measure which empowers the justice minister to sack the heads of lower courts. The government of Prime Minister Beata Szydło was able to initiate these unpopular pieces of legislation because it has already stripped the tribunal that adjudicates on the constitutionality of laws relating to its powers. The government has claimed that the overhaul was intended to rid the judicial system of Soviet-era remnants. But most Poles seem to think otherwise. They have tasted economic prosperity and political freedoms in the postCold-War years and after the country’s 2004 accession to the European Union. They have also grown accustomed to standing up for their rights against arbitrary encroachment, and with success. The government was forced to reverse a socially regressive policy on abortion that even criminalised termination of pregnancies regardless of circumstances, including rape. Outrage against the latest judicial reforms has drawn thousands to the streets in protest against the PiS regime. Poland has been the poster child of the EU’s integration, and the institutional clampdown in this otherwise thriving economy is understandably causing concern in other European capitals. The European Commission has said it would start legal proceedings. Under the Rule of Law Framework, it can strip a member-country of its voting rights. But given the sensitivities about national sovereignty, there are bound to be limits on the application of procedures, even where they may be sound under the law. Moreover, Hungary’s continued clash with the EU over similar issues seems to have made little difference to its dismal record on democratic governance and accountability. Experience suggests that leading by example and exerting diplomatic pressure, rather than preaching from the pulpit, is a more realistic and effective course to adopt. The art and craft of stitching up pragmatic, if sometimes painful, political compromises has been the story of the EU, where the imperatives of staying together trump almost all else. Poland’s robust civil society may, in the end, be more effective in keeping its government accountable.
b) Privacy in the public domain
It is heartening to read the preliminary observations of the Supreme Court, made on July 19, regarding privacy as a fundamental right. Unfortunately, much of the debate on privacy seems to suffer from the leftovers of a certain traditional understanding of privacy and the private. In fact, it is no longer possible to decouple the idea of privacy from the mechanisms through which privacy is guaranteed. Since Aadhaar and many of the contemporary discussions on privacy are related to deep technological developments, the question of privacy should be rethought in the context of these technologies.
Secrecy and security
Privacy is not a concept like the other fundamental rights. Moreover, our notions of privacy have changed and will continue to change. If there is one major catalyst for this change, it has been technology. Built homes are a simple example of how we develop a sense of privacy which is influenced by a technological development. Once we have a conception of home, we also have conceptions of bedroom, living room, toilet and kitchen. These spaces and conceptions created by very simple processes of technology create specific ideas of privacy. Two common ways of understanding privacy are through secrecy and anonymity. We believe that our bank balance must be private. Companies do not normally make public the salaries of all their employees. Universities do not make public the marks or grades of their students in a way that violates the privacy of the student. These notions of privacy are based on the need for security and protection. We do not want to divulge certain things about our wealth or life practices since they may be used by others to potentially harm us. So privacy becomes a way of protecting individuals or groups. But we also often overthrow privacy arguments for security purposes. We do not object to giving our biometrics when we apply for visas or when we join some private jobs. Contemporary technology has made possible many new innovations that have changed the very meaning and significance of privacy. From smartphones to the darknet, the fundamental trajectory is one to do with privacy. However, there are two worrisome aspects. In any discussion on privacy, there is a deep suspicion of the government and state, most times rightly so. But this suspicion does not extend to technology and its private agents, those that are responsible for the breakdown of the value of privacy today. Today, in times of growing privatisation, the greatest challenge to privacy comes from the private sector. It also stems from an indifference to our own privacy. We do not seem to value privacy today as in earlier times. Social experiments have shown that people are willing to have private information about themselves made public if they receive some monetary advantage. We do this all the time. When we search for a book or a ticket, we start getting advertisements related to these searches in our supposedly private emails. What we read, search, buy, talk and perhaps even think get stored, used and circulated. Everything is tracked and rerouted. We have no clue to the amount of information about our private lives that is out in the Web. All because we get free emails and free Internet access! Today, privacy has been deeply compromised through the offering of ‘free’ goods.
The state and private players
Very often when we worry about questions of privacy, it is about the role of the government or the state. The state too can do much with the information on individuals that it collects through various voluntary as well as coercive means. The concern about privacy thus was a concern about potential misuse of such information. However, information about individuals is arguably much more in the private domain today than it is within various governments. Moreover, the mining of this information is taken up far more assiduously by the private compared to government institutions. The idea of privacy has always had a troubled relationship with privatisation. Private companies often have rules that protect them from being transparent in hiring policies, in affirmative action or even making public the salaries of all their employees. Private groups know best the power of the idea of privacy. They use this notion to protect themselves from governments and the public. They also realise that the greatest market that is perennially available to them is the market of trading information on privacy. A related problem is that the government has begun to look more and more like the private sector. Today, almost all politicians are rich entrepreneurs and hold powerful business interests. The public-private binary does not function in any useful sense as far as the governing class is concerned. Thus, privacy is not only open to manipulation by the government but even more so by the private sector. This is so especially because it is the private sector that is at the forefront of developing technologies that facilitate this mining, storing and sharing of information.
No free lunches
The Trojan horse through which the state and private players enter our domains of privacy is through contemporary technologies. These technologies have now come to be seen as necessary. The fact that we so unthinkingly buy into this story shows the success of how these technologies have colonised us so effectively. The price we pay for modern technologies is not only money. The economic model that runs consumerism of modern technologies is quite different from the model of selling groceries. We are seduced by the amount of free things we get in a technological gadget. The websites are free; we can download millions of books and songs for which we had to pay earlier. Why are we being given so much that is free? Like almost everything else in this world, there are always hidden costs. The major cost that we pay is the cost of our privacy — the information on each one of our private lives and, through this information, more effective control on how we act and behave. This raises deeply troubling questions about making privacy a fundamental right. How will the Supreme Court judges be able to give a judgment on privacy as a fundamental right without also making possession, and the making, of technology as ‘rights’? How can they do this without imposing controls on predator technologies that enter the social world in the guise of making our lives comfortable? Some might argue that technology is only an intermediary tool that enables certain things, both good and bad. But to hold this view is to be blind to the changing modes of technological domination through digital and Internet technologies. Technology is no longer outside human and social processes; it co-creates and co-constitutes the human and the social.
Meaning: Express approval or agreement.
Example: The Prime Minister assented to the change.
Synonyms: Agree to, Accept
Antonyms: Dissent from, Refuse
Meaning: A court of justice.
Example: An international war crimes tribunal.
Synonyms: Court, Court of justice
Meaning: Make a formal judgement on a disputed matter.
Example: The Committee adjudicates on all betting disputes.
Synonyms: Judge, Adjudge
Meaning: Take apart (a piece of machinery or equipment) in order to examine it and repair it if necessary.
Example: The steering box was recently overhauled.
Synonyms: Service, Maintain
Meaning: The action or process of formally joining or being accepted by an institution or group; The formal acceptance of a treaty or agreement.
Example: The accession of Spain and Portugal to the EU.
Synonyms: Assent, Consent
Meaning: make someone or something accept (something) as normal or usual.
Example: I accustomed my eyes to the lenses .
Synonyms: Adapt, Adjust
Antonyms: Unusual, Unaccustomed
Meaning: Intrusion on a person’s territory, rights, etc.
Example: Minor encroachments on our individual liberties.
Synonyms: Intrusion into, Trespass on
Meaning: Relating to or marked by psychological regression.
Example: A regressive personality.
Meaning: A concerted or harsh attempt to suppress something.
Example: A clampdown on crime.
Synonyms: Suppression, Prevention
Meaning: Prosper; flourish.
Example: Education groups thrive on organization.
Synonyms: Flourish, Grow vigorously
Antonyms: Decline, Wither
Meaning: Dealing with things sensibly and realistically in a way that is based on practical rather than theoretical considerations.
Example: A pragmatic approach to politics.
Meaning: An essential or urgent thing.
Example: Free movement of labour was an economic imperative.
Meaning: Strong and healthy; vigorous.
Example: The kajol family are a robust lot.
Synonyms: Strong, Vigorous
Antonyms: Weak, Frail
Meaning: Living or occurring at the same time.
Example: The event was recorded by a contemporary historian.
Synonyms: Concurrent, Coeval
Meaning: The forming or devising of a plan or idea.
Example: The time between a product’s conception and its launch.
Synonyms: Inception, Genesis
Meaning: The condition of being anonymous.
Example: The official spoke on condition of anonymity.
Meaning: Make known (private or sensitive information).
Example: I am too much of a gentleman to divulge her age.
Synonyms: Disclose, Reveal
Meaning: the curved path that an object follows after it has been thrown or shot into the air.
Example: The trajectory of a bullet/missile
Synonyms: Bends, Loops and curves
Meaning: According to what is generally assumed or believed (often used to indicate that the speaker doubts the truth of the statement).
Example: The adverts are aimed at women, supposedly because they do the shopping.
Meaning: Relating to or using force or threats.
Example: Coercive measures.
Meaning: With great care and perseverance.
Example: Leaders worked assiduously to hammer out an action plan.
Meaning: Agreeing with or consenting to a statement or request.
Example: An affirmative answer.
Synonyms: Positive, Approving
Antonyms: Dissenting, Negative
Meaning: In a way that continues for a long or apparently infinite time; permanently.
Example: A new blow to the perennially struggling economy.
Meaning: Entice (someone) to do or believe something inadvisable or foolhardy.
Example: They should not be seduced into thinking that their success ruled out the possibility of a relapse.
Synonyms: Attract, Allure
Meaning: The state of having, owning, or controlling something.
Example: She had taken possession of the sofa.
Synonyms: Ownership, Proprietorship
Meaning: An external form, appearance, or manner of presentation, typically concealing the true nature of something.
Example: He visited in the guise of an inspector.
Synonyms: Likeness, Appearance