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  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 8:21 am on October 8, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , data collection, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,   

    Home of human rights? 

    Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH Pro Igual

    No, really, I don´t have anything against France. In fact, I am a fan of French culture, especially its amazing literature. But things that have been happening there are deeply disturbing.

    One of the latest revelations in France´s Roma deportations saga is the existence of an illegal database on Roma. Which makes all the more hypocritical the indignation of the French authorities at the remark of EU Commissioner Reding that deportations were reminiscent of the Nazi-era policies. (She subsequently apologized, but may be in light of this info she should withdraw her apology?)

    Also, recently media reported that President Sarkozy and Carla Bruni used state security services to find out who was gossiping about their marriage. I had to rub my eyes and re-read it to believe it. I would expect to read something like this about China, North Korea, or a host of other former Communist countries. But how is this possible in a “home of human rights,” to borrow an expression coined by none other than President Sarkozy himself’?

    I will not even dwell here on banning burqa and rampant Islamophobia in France which have been covered widely in the international media. Instead, I would like to reprint a statement by the French representative of the Coordinating Body for Associations and Individuals for Freedom of Conscience at the recent OSCE Human Dimension Implementation conference (available from hrwf.net). It also adds to a feeling that even if France ever was a “home of human rights,” somehow it is now moving in the direction of a police state.

    Created over ten years ago to fight against discrimination of religious or belief minorities in France, the Coordination of Associations and Individuals for Freedom of Conscience which I am representing wants to express its strongest disapproval concerning the statement made on 26 November 2009 by the French Secretary of State for Justice, Jean-Marie Bockel, about minorities of religion or belief derogatorily labelled as “sectarian”.

    According to him the growing quest of personal fulfilment and the emergence of unusual religious syncretism are significant of the sectarian phenomenon which “can be analyzed as pathology of belief on a background of individuation and deregulation of belief.”

    This public statement made in 2009 at the first national conference of the Inter-Ministerial Mission of Fight and Vigilance against Sectarian Deviances (MIVILUDES) is still posted on the official site of the Ministry of Justice to this day. For the French authorities, it is necessary to repress minorities of belief they consider as deviant and to attempt to regulate beliefs.

    The Secretary of State added that “sectarian deviances” are “comparable to mutating viruses which spread in often insidious ways the poison of manipulation of human behaviours and spirits”. We understand that viruses as such should be eliminated.

    In spite of the French government’s assertions to the OSCE and the United Nations that MIVILUDES does not take in consideration the content of beliefs, the fact is that the main criterion retained by MIVILUDES in its 2008 Report to characterize mental manipulation is that “one or more people start to believe in certain ideas which differ from the ideas generally accepted by society”.

    But States have no business in assessing the legitimacy of beliefs. France committed by ratifying the Helsinki Accords and the European Convention on Human Rights to protect the right to freedom of belief and to remain neutral towards all creeds.

    Although France has been pointed out by the UN Special Rapporteur on Religious Freedom in 2005 for keeping a black list of “sects”, MIVILUDES has now compiled a repository of records on around 600 minority movements established from denunciations, accusations and tattling. Targeted faiths have no access to these records although they have been made available to Justice officials and public authorities.

    Our association regularly receives testimonies on the 1995 black list of sects which is still in use to justify discriminatory measures against the targeted groups. This practice is now aggravated with the repository of records of MIVILUDES resulting for minority movements in denials to open bank accounts or to use conference halls, and discrimination of their members in their professional and family life.

    Under the impulse of Mr Fenech, judges, prosecutors, police officers and social workers receive sessions of “education” on the minority groups he put on files. A special anti-sect task force has been created to intervene during police operations targeting minority movements to make sure that prosecutions are initiated.

    Independence of Justice is not guaranteed in France as long as minorities of religion or conviction are concerned.

    Additionally, Mr Fenech has launched a new way of intervention: he organizes unannounced visits by MIVILUDES in the communities, using his official title to force his way into their premises and impose the presence of the media to stigmatize them through an avalanche of slanderous accusations in the media.

    A letter of protest sent by members of the Ecumenical Monastery Le Moulin des Vallées in Brittany summarizes the problem: “Mr Prefect, we solicit your help to understand how Mr. Fenech can legally introduce himself in a monastery, under the cover of a Ministerial investigation, in order to actually help journalists make an unauthorized report?”

    We solicit the help of OSCE representatives to intervene with the French authorities and put an end to this policy of intolerance and harassment of minorities of religion or conviction.

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  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 6:29 am on May 11, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , data, data collection, , , , , , , , , 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?

    P

    P

     
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