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  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 4:43 pm on August 28, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: access to information, , , free speech, ,   

    Wikileaks controversy 

    Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH Pro Igual

    Recently Wikileaks found itself embroiled in a fresh controversy. Some of the US critics claim that Wikileaks only picks on the US and other western democracies. Their opponents reason that Wikileaks is only as good as its sources of information. But even if there is certain preference for exposing the US and western countries — something that so far has not been truly demonstrated by critics — wouldn´t such preference be justified?

    It is a fact that the USA and most of the western powers are real democracies, where most human rights are truly respected. Criticism of the authorities there is well tolerated and in fact Wikileaks would not be conceivable in many other countries.

    It is also a fact that, say, Turkmenistan or Thailand are not real democracies, and many if not most human rights there are not at all respected. Criticism of the authorities there is not tolerated, and critics might find themselves in jail pretty quickly for doing a fraction of what Wikileaks considers its mission.

    But let´s consider implications of the actions, especially beyond their borders, of the US versus, say, Turkmenistan. As a consequence of actions of the US in Iraq, Afghanistan, and earlier in Serbia/Kosovo, thousands of people were killed and many more were displaced or made destitute. (By now, probably, many more people died from the US force, than in hands of the regimes the US sought to topple.) To those dead and to their families, it does not matter that the US is one of the freest countries in the world. It only matters that in their eyes the US forces murdered their loved ones.

    And how many people were killed by unfree Turkmenistan beyond its borders? Zero, correct. The fact that the government of Turkmenistan may be not very nice towards its own people may not speak in its favor, equally as the fact that people of Turkmenistan continue to put up with such government may not speak in their favor, either.

    But the implications for the rest of the world are clear: there is much more potential damage and life loss inflicted by the free and democratic US than by unfree and undemocratic Turkmenistan. And this potential to inflict damage warrants that extra bit of attention from Wikileaks and the like watchdogs.

    In the free speech terminology, it is in the public interest to subject to scrutiny someone in a position of authority. The US certainly is and regards itself to be in a position of considerable international authority. As such, it should be flattered, not angered by the interest its actions generate.

  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 3:43 pm on June 6, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: access to information, , , conflict-of-interest, corruption, , ,   

    The World Health Organization that cried “flu pandemic” 

    Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH Pro Igual

    A recent article in British Medical Journal (BMJ), WHO and the pandemic flu ´conspiracies´, by Deborah Cohen and Philip Carter, reveals that scientists advising the WHO on planning for the flu epidemics were also on payrolls of leading pharmaceutical companies. These companies would benefit, but the WHO never disclosed conflicts of interests. What is more, the WHO vehemently denied and discredited as “conspiracy theories” any attempts at inquiry.

    There are (at least) three issues of concern here. The first is a conflict of interest, which per se is very troubling. It is not pretty to see in a village veterinarian´s clinic, and it gets only uglier when it affects a major international organization funded, ultimately, from our pockets, through the member states´ contributions. Any country where such practices are uncovered would normally be chided by the Transparency International or the like. Yet here we observe a global Banana Republic in action, and no remedies in sight: apparently, despite those revelations, the WHO still has not changed its disclosure rules as of this date.

    The second issue is a potential health hazard for those who were influenced by the WHO into taking shots. The WHO urged vaccination, even though no adequate clinical trials were conducted prior to vaccination, and thus no evidence was available for making an informed choice whether risks posed by the flu outweighed risks posed by the vaccine. This incident brings memories of several major health problems ultimately caused by the greed of pharmaceuticals that in their urge to shovel money skipped an essential trial stage, or were rather creative with the patients´ informed consent. Thalidomide babies can attest to that. And that fuels the feeling of frustration, mixed with fury, because again the most vulnerable groups of population: pregnant women, young children and elderly, were exploited and put at risk. These groups in various countries were practically forced, or threatened into taking flu shots last season.  We can only hope that those flu shots would not scar the lives of “Tamiflu babies” whose moms got vaccinated at own risk, with the WHO blessing.

    Last but not least, there is a shadow of the future. What if tomorrow a real, deadly pandemic occurs? Will people still trust the claims of an organization that had been scattering its prestige on questionable steps before? Or will the WHO advice be ignored as the claims of a proverbial boy who cried wolf one time too many?

  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 6:29 am on May 11, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: access to information, , , data, , , , , , , , , , privacy, , racial profiling, , ,   

    Eternal dilemmas of data collection 

    Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH Pro Igual

    That the ethnic data is important has been said and written a lot. But in the end of the day, after another conference is finished, another publication´s ink dried off, and another set of recommendations is passed onto another set of key people, we all go home, and nothing changes. Privacy rights activists continue to call on states not to store our personal information. (Some) minority rights activists continue to appeal to disaggregate the official statistics so vulnerable groups become visible. And states continue to ignore either, still getting our emails, sms, and bank information, blatantly profiling undesirable, and still saying no ethnic data exist. Is there a solution?

    We, the people, we, the society, send conflicting messages to our states. We want this information, but we don´t want it collected. The states, on the other hand, behave very consistently. They collect the data they need, whether or not we like it, and they will always find a legal caveat to do it.

    Let´s face it: the states will never stop collecting our personal information. They need the data to protect us, to fight crime, and what not. But it may be very expensive to ask everyone´s permission. So, they don´t. And since formally the states don´t collect ethnic information, they don´t use it for things that might benefit us, the people, us, the society.

    The states do not use ethnic data to assess the true extent of social exclusion faced by most vulnerable groups of population (and let´s be clear — anyone of us can find oneself vulnerable at some point of life: falling ill, losing a job, or turning old).  And since the states do not base social policies on disaggregated data, even the most advanced policies usually keep the most vulnerable invisible. Logically, the success and impact of social programmes on the most vulnerable cannot be measured, either. Roma policies across Europe present a glaring example of how state policies can fail if they are not based on solid ethnic data.

    But there is another side to this. Information, including ethnic data, is power. As any power, when unchecked, it corrupts. The states´ ability to gather and use unfathomable amounts of personal information, without us even knowing it, can and does lead to excesses. Who at some point has not received communications from businesses offering personalised deals (unsolicited yet rather tailored)? Ever wondered how come they knew so much about you? It is open to speculation whether the states — or companies that help states acquire private data — sell or share our information, or whether they do not keep it secure enough and allow privacy breaches. But it is disconcerting in any scenario.

    Racial profiling is another example. Racial or ethnic profiling is categorising persons according to their perceived ability to commit specific crimes or behave in a particular way. And we are wrong if we believe it will always affect only others. Yesterday it affected Jews, Roma, disabled. Today it affects Muslims, Blacks, migrants. Tomorrow… who knows?

    If the states collect our personal information, no matter what, we might as well try to make them play by the rules, rather than passively waiving our rights. We can insist to access our private data (after all, it is not a state secret we are after). And we can insist that irrelevant data — most of it, for sure — be purged, and we should go to courts with this if necessary. And if enough people do it, it may finally become cheaper for the states to ask everyone´s permission in advance, than pay out afterwards.

    Now, can we do this bit?



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