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Thursday 16 August 2018
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Commentary

A question of rights

MARINA SALANDY-BROWN

Rights are taken very seriously in some countries, in others we just don’t recognise the importance of knowing what those might be and, therefore, how to protect them.

I have a bee in my bonnet at the moment because of the continual infringement of my right to privacy. I see that privacy per se is not enshrined as a right in the TT Constitution but respect for privacy is, which means there is a recognition that privacy is, at least, something to which we are entitled. However, in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and in many other international treaties, privacy is recognised as a fundamental human right. Privacy underpins human dignity and other key values such as freedom of speech and freedom of association.

So, what am I on about? I am protesting over the casual and ritual demanding of personal identification cards in Trinidad and Tobago. In just one day recently I was asked to produce photo ID – the highest level of identification – on five separate occasions for the most mundane of services. I refused to hand over any form of it to a clerk in a lawyer’s office where I popped in for all of five minutes to sign a document. The clerk’s totally unacceptable response to my enquiry about the purpose of having to identify me was that she was going to “put it on file.” I was not a client of that attorney and the document I was signing did not establish any relationship whatsoever between myself and the attorney representing the person with whom I did have dealings. The dumbfounded and rather put out clerk admitted that it was unnecessary and that I could sign without any ID, which I did and left.

That experience is typical. We live here like in a police state, akin to militarised and communist countries where one dares not leave home without ID. It is impossible to get through the day in TT if one has to conduct almost any kind of minor business without some form of photo ID in your possession. It also means that people who are not entitled to driving permits, never had a passport and may have misplaced their national ID might as well be non-people. What disturbs me is the fact that we accept it as normal and have not stopped to consider why ID checks are so prevalent when they are a violation of our right to anonymity and in so many circumstances reveal more information about us than is strictly required to establish our identity or authority. I have been trying to work out exactly the reasons why ID might be necessary in the first place.

I accept that for matters of crime and security it is desirable to track people’s activities but there has to be a balance between the need of the State to provide safety and my right to privacy. It is clear, however, from the runaway crime of all sorts in this country and the near total inability of our security forces to nab the perpetrators that noting ID is having no effect whatsoever. The main point of recording personal data is for entry into a central State surveillance system, which may or may not be happening [and we should be told about it], so why does every Tom, Dick and Harry, unrelated to the State, demand to know our address, our age and full name several times a day, or want to keep it on their file which is unconnected to any State system. They themselves don’t know why. It has simply become a bad habit, which makes the intrusion upon our privacy completely wanton.

British people have refused to have national IDs although an attempt was made to introduce them in 2006. It is a political issue and very unpopular, so to date nobody has to produce photo ID on the spot, not even to the police. It is believed that it can lead to discrimination and harassment especially in relation to ethnic minorities and foreigners, who are already picked on by the authorities. If any more proof of that were needed witness the current harassment of children of Caribbean immigrants who settled in Britain 70 years ago. Over zealous functionaries empowered by current “hostile” regulations are eagerly and wrongly depriving those people of their pensions, medical care and detaining them as illegal immigrants. With IDs they would not have lasted 70 years.

The pros and cons of Caribbean immigration will be discussed at the 2018 NGC Bocas Lit Fest, which starts this week at the National Library and Old Fire Station. See www.bocaslitfest.com for a full programme.

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