October 22, 2020

Sharing victims’ personal details violate their right to privacy

On May 26, 2020, Pakistani Twitter was engulfed in a new debate involving a showbiz professional Uzma Khan whose house was violently attacked and vandalised by a business tycoon’s family in Lahore. The following day, Khan shared her statement mentioning that she is determined to seek justice, and will take legal action against those who physically assaulted her and her sister at their residence. Subsequently, her lawyer Hassan Khan Niazi, who was also the lawyer of Khadija Siddiqui when she was stabbed by her classmate in 2016, took to social media to share that the Lahore police has refused to file the First Information Report (FIR) owing to the influence that attackers hold in the country.

The resulting outrage directed government officials to take notice, leading the Minister of Human Rights, Ms. Shireen Mazari, to share the FIR through a tweet confirming that the report has in fact been registered. The copy of the document, however, clearly shows the address and other personal details of the complainant putting them in the way of irreparable physical harm.

Where many side with the victim of abuse on the internet, there is a bigger number of individuals who are in favour of the perpetrators of violence, and projection of personal details of the victim by a Federal Minister for the world to see can result in further physical harm with no immediate recourse at sight.

The copy of FIR, like in most incidents of this nature, have already started to do rounds in WhatsApp groups of lawyers and journalists. A source told Digital Rights Monitor that the photo of FIR was shared in a group of journalists with 246 members. The screenshot suggests that it was forwarded from another group or chat, signalling at it being potentially shared in more groups.

The disregard of privacy of the victim indicates that right to privacy of vulnerable individuals cannot be respected in local context. Amel Ghani, a program manager at Media Matters for Democracy, says, “These are the same people who put a mic in front of the survivors of a devastating plane crash to ‘break the news’. The incident in question is still one that has undertone of an issue that has never been regarded with respect by our media, that is gendered implications of abuse of privacy.” She adds, “The lack of gender sensitivity coupled with neglect of constitutional right to privacy result in what we see everyday around us and on the TV screens. The concept of news being in public interest does not warrant breach of someone’s privacy, and in extension their safety for ratings or brownie points among the citizens.”

Ghani is further of the view that being a federal minister, that too of Human Rights, it should have been a default consideration of Ms. Mazari to ensure that human rights of every citizen is protected. And when the issue specifically involves a case as sensitive as the one in discussion, the implications are far worse than cases that do not involve gendered aspects to the discourse.

However, it’s not a standalone incident. When the PIA flight PK8303 crashed in Karachi on May 22, where families of victims hoped for their loved ones to survive the crash, the list of passengers was soon shared on the internet by some prominent journalists in the country. The list that entailed personal information of the passengers onboard pointed at the larger issue of right to privacy that the passengers and their families deserved. The information on this list created panic among families, and further promoted misinformation and resulting confusion on the internet. In situations of emergency, Ghani believes that it is essential for people to prioritise morality and sensitivity over breaking news.

In the past, infringement of right to privacy has resulted in women losing their lives to so-called honour killing which remains a prevalent practice to this day in Pakistan. Most notable example of this being the social media celebrity Qandeel Baloch who was killed by her own brother in her sleep. Another example involves the infamous Kohistan case in 2012 where at least four girls lost their lives to honour killing when their video of dancing from a private wedding gathering was leaked on social media; and more recently two teenage girls from Waziristan were killed on ground of reasons similar to the Kohistan case.

Ghani shares, “The association of honour with women’s bodies has resulted in loss of innocent lives because patriarchy can’t allow women to have autonomy over their own existence. The violence against women is deep rooted in Pakistani society, and this is why it is crucial for every responsible individual to ensure that privacy of women and gender minorities is not an after-thought in discussions, but instead a default consideration.”

Written by

Hija is a Programs Manager at Media Matters for Democracy. She combines her experience in digital rights in Pakistan to lead digital rights and internet governance advocacy of MMfD. She tweets at @hijakamran

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