Where are my privacy safeguards?

Are most Asians compelled to take legal action when they feel their privacy has been violated? But, do they have any rights to privacy to begin with?

Are most Asians compelled to take legal action when they feel their privacy has been violated? But, do they have any rights to privacy to begin with?

Unlike their counterparts in the United States, who are often described as litigation-happy, Asians aren't quite as trigger-friendly when it comes to filing lawsuits. You could say that it's probably because Asians are less aggressive about pursuing court cases, but it could also be the lack of legislation in this region directly addressing one's right to privacy.

For example, this week, my colleagues at CNET News.com in the United States sued Hewlett-Packard for invading their privacy. HP is accused of gathering confidential phone records belonging to the reporters and their family members, by deceiving phone company employers and conducting surveillance on one reporter's movements.

This case goes back just about a year ago when the IT giant resorted to these spying tactics in an attempt to expose a media leak that originated from HP's board of directors. The incident resulted in the ousting of former chairman Patricia Dunn, and HP's reputation took a beating.

My question, then, is: Would I be able to do the same if this unfortunate episode happened here? The answer, for now, is likely to be "no", particularly because there are no general privacy laws in Singapore.

I spoke to Bryan Tan, a lawyer and director of Keystone Law Corp, who explained that journalists here could rely on Singapore's Computer Misuse Act (CMA) if the spying tactic is a breach under the Act. But, Bryan notes that the defense lawyer could argue that the CMA isn't intended to protect one's privacy. He added that the invasion of privacy per se, is not actionable in Singapore, and the HP lawsuit would probably not take off here--at least, not until we enact legislation that protects the general rights of privacy.

Bryan explains: "Trying to protect privacy in Singapore currently requires the application of computer misuse laws and older pre-Industrial revolution laws, such as harassment and property laws."

And while there are no general privacy laws now in Singapore, it doesn't necessarily mean this won't change in the future, he adds--at least, in the area of data privacy.

I hope that the future will be here soon. With the rapid emergence of popular social networking sites, and the growing population of Netizens worldwide, every country that aims to have a vibrant online community should also strive to have a proper legal framework in place to safeguard their citizens' right to privacy.

In a world where few people now think nothing of publishing their personal information on cyberspace for all to view, a legislation infrastructure could very well be the only way to protect the interests of those who can't do it themselves.

After all, wouldn't you want to have a course of action if someone's listening in on your IM (instant messaging) conversation without your knowledge?