Before it is too Late: The Importance of Checks on State Surveillance
CHEERS TO Rappler for its in-depth two-part series explaining the extent and implications of state surveillance.
The first part, published on March 16, examined the problems that arise from state surveillance, particularly the lack of transparency among agencies that conduct intelligence gathering. In the report, Jam Jacob of Foundation of Media Alternatives said: “It’s very difficult to keep track of even our own government. It’s difficult also to know what exactly our intelligence-gathering agencies are supposed to do. The delineations are not clear.” The secrecy makes it difficult to know the capabilities of the government in monitoring individuals and even legitimate surveillance can therefore be prone to abuse (“State surveillance: A necessary evil?”).
The report also probed the issue of funding such operations and found that for 2018, the Office of the President is expected to get a PHP2.5 billion allocation, an unprecedented amount for intelligence work which does not submit to accounting. These funds, according to the report, are difficult to audit “because their specific use may not be disclosed to the public.”
In the second part published on March 18, the report tackled several surveillance incidents reported by human rights group Karapatan. During the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in November 2017, Karapatan discovered that a tracking device was placed in their van after they got it back from the custody of Manila Police District (“Prone to abuse: State surveillance as a tool to silence critics”).
Human rights organizations and those who have criticized the government’s policies including the violent war on drugs have been continually threatened by the President and other government officials. Some of these critics were included in the petition filed by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to declare the Communist Party of the Philippines – New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) as a terrorist group on February 21. See: Missing out on the Witch-hunt: Delayed Media Attention on List of Terrorists
The report notes that the Commission on Human Rights can help those who feel that they are placed under surveillance as it is mandated to look into alleged human rights violations committed by the state.
The lack of accountability and transparency makes state surveillance prone to abuse. It can even lead to the monitoring of journalists, students, and any individual or groups seen as a “destabilizer” by the government. The reports drew on these relevant discussions as more crackdowns have unfolded in the open.
The media needs to get ahead of this story and Rappler has taken a strong lead on the issue. Its obvious significance and relevance should call other media organizations to explore other aspects of the perils of state surveillance, especially in the hands of an administration that has proclaimed its impatience with checks on human rights.