Legislative Review: Absolutely Necessary!
United Daily News editorial editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
April 27, 2010
Confronted by a massive wave of opposition, the Legislative Yuan postponed its third reading on the "Personal Information Protection Act." It reverted to a second reading of the bill, subjecting it to review, and amending those provisions that stifle freedom of the press. This is the only way to prevent this bill from becoming law -- bad law. There is no other way.
If legislators still do not realize the gravity of the situation, and insist on a third reading, then the Executive Yuan will be forced to veto it. This will waste time. It will also leave behind an embarrassing record of a KMT-ruled Executive Yuan vetoing legislation passed by a Legislative Yuan with a KMT absolute majority.
In the name of "protecting personal privacy," the KMT-dominated legislature has created a huge pitfall for freedom of the press and online freedom of expression. Promoters of the "Personal Information Protection Act" set their sights too high, even as they resorted to methods too underhanded. Ironically, until the ruling and opposition parties subjected it to joint review, many legislators still did not realize what was wrong with the bill. All they could do was to consult with the Executive Yuan. This scenario accurately reflects the abysmal quality of proceedings in the Legislative Yuan.
Last Tuesday, during the second reading, the Legislative Yuan passed 17 bills in a single breath. The legislature resembled an auction house. It reverberated with the sounds of auctioneering, bidding, and gavel banging. Was anyone giving serious consideration to the impact of these bills on society and the public? Some Blue Camp legislators proposed that elected representatives be exempt from the law. But when their colleagues reprimanded them, they jettisoned exemptions for the media as well. Green Camp legislators initially expressed vehement opposition to the "Chiu Yi Clause." They were concerned only with blocking it, and ignored all other considerations. The result was ruling and opposition legislators colluded in suppressing freedom of the press in the Republic of China, then reveled in the fact they had exempted themselves from their own laws.
The Ministry of Justice behaved barbarically, acted hastily, and shirked responsibility, in a manner that left onlookers aghast. During interpolation in the legislature, the Ministry of Justice held a public hearing. It invited representatives of impacted industries to participate. Among the broadcast media it invited only one Green oriented media organization. This bill has far ranging implications. Yet the public hearing was so flagrantly lopsided and biased. How can it possibly win the public trust? How can it possibly represent the views of the media as a whole? How can a meeting shot through and through with such selectivity, "heed the voice of the people?"
Even more frightening was the "media exemption" clause included in the Ministry of Justice's original draft. During the public hearing, the "Taiwan Rights Committee" advocated "equal treatment." The result? Media exemption was eliminated in one fell swoop. The entire process was truly mind-boggling. The news media is the Fourth Estate. This is true the world over. How can it be compared to the credit industry, the securities industry, or the banking industry? That a human rights group would harbor such a deep bias against the media, staggers the mind. The Ministry of Justice lost sight of its duties. It failed to assert itself before the fact. It shirked its responsibility after the fact. It demeaned its own role as the foremost legal authority in the nation.
The executive and legislature behaved rashly. They created an stumbling block with the "Personal Information Protection Act." The act abrogates freedom of the press. It turns ordinary netizens into lawbreakers. Abuses of privacy occur mainly when large corporations misuse or leak information about individuals stored in their databases. While dealing with these, the executive and judiciary have revealed just how embarrassingly incompetent they are. According to the new law, the government's dragnet will be tight. Whether it can catch information thieves is unknown. But people will post group photos of students in Facebook. People will post photos of Spring Scream concerts in Kenting in their personal blogs. These photos may not have received the "consent" of every person in them. The poster may be charged with violating other peoples' privacy. Endless disputes may arise. Will the executive and the judiciary have the time and manpower to cope with them? If not, won't this law be meaningless?
To violate freedom of the press in order to protect peoples' privacy, is an example of intellectual confusion. It is uncalled for. It is not worthwhile. If one casts a dragnet, but fails to catch real criminals, but instead inadvertently catchs young netizens in the trap, one's good intentions will wind up as social harassment. Worse still, if this giant dragnet becomes a magic cape that protects corrupt officials and profiteers, while binding investigative journalists who expose corruption hand and feet, who will be the beneficiaries?
Ruling and opposition party legislators are now willing to conduct a joint review. This shows they realize the seriousness of the problem. Ruling and opposition party legislators created this mess. Ruling and opposition party legislators must clean it up. They are not merely salvaging the Personal Information Protection Act. They are also salvaging their personal images. Last Friday the ruling and opposition parties discussed how they would review the Personal Information Act. Green Camp legislator Liv Wong flat out refused. Business taxes nearly became collateral damage, and had to undergo emergency review. How can legislators not feel ashamed about their performance?
2010.04.27 03:03 am