Thursday, April 25, 2024

THE HOYOS FILE: Permission not granted


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SOMETIMES I WONDER WHY the present administration, with around two years to go before a general election must be held, seems bent on keeping an ever closer track on its citizens.

At the heart of it all is the Barbados Revenue Authority. This new agency was set up to bring together all of the Government’s tax and fee collection efforts under one umbrella, including value added tax, land taxes, income tax, corporation tax and licensing fees. Oh yes, and Customs and Excise duties, one of these days. 

Just recently, the Attorney General spoke about the suspension of the plan to start fingerprinting all persons (Barbadians included) as they entered and left the island through our airport and seaports. Reason for putting it on hold: a massive outcry in the population. 

And last week, the Minister of Transport announced another great initiative from the Government: electronic tracking of vehicles. 

In a news story, Cars To Be Tracked, written by Roy Morris, and dated March 23, 2016, “Minister of Transport and Works Michael Lashley explained yesterday that with an estimated 30 000 unlicensed vehicles on the road, authorities had no choice but to move with dispatch to get the new Electronic Vehicle Registration System (EVRS) in place.”

Some $2.5 million has been included in the current Estimates for Phase 1, which, according to the story, “would include the affixing of two electronic tags on every legally registered vehicle and the establishment of 14 digital monitoring sites across the island, all tied to a central database that would be administered by the Barbados Licensing Authority (BLA) and shared with the police and judiciary.”

With an electronic tag on your windscreen and another on a licence plate, your vehicle would be “electronically checked,” night and day whenever you passed one of these 14 ‘Checkpoint Charlies’. Hand-held readers would also be used by police officers and traffic inspectors.

My question is simple: legal or illegal?

We live in a world where electronic tracking, checking, monitoring and observing are the norm. There are security cameras everywhere, even in little Barbados. Cars from many manufacturers now feature their own “black box” to tell insurers about the driver’s driving at the time of an accident.

If you work for a company which supplies you with a vehicle, especially if you use it to distribute the company’s products, you are increasingly being tracked.

But in a country where we are supposed to have the freedom of movement, the freedom to associate and the freedom to live as privately as we want to, the proposed electronic surveillance by the Government through vehicle tracking amounts, in my view, to an invasion of privacy. 

Our Constitution protects the citizen’s right to privacy and unwarranted search, doesn’t it? So what is the difference between all these monitoring electronic eyeballs on you and me as we move through the public spaces of our country, and the Government sticking a tag on our vehicle to monitor if we are driving without a vehicle licence? 

The difference is the latter has to be with our permission. And we must be free to say no, too.

In the United States, the Supreme Court last year affirmed a landmark ruling it made in 2012. The actual judgement, which went out of its way to quote English law from the 1700s as part of its justification, was delivered by recently deceased Justice Scalia, saying, inter alia, as follows: “We hold that the Government’s installation of a GPS device on a target’s vehicle, and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle’s movements, constitutes a “search”.

Justice Scalia went back to an English case from 1765, Entick v. Carrington. In that case, he said “Lord Camden expressed in plain terms the significance of property rights in search-and-seizure analysis: ‘[O]ur law holds the property of every man so sacred, that no man can set his foot upon his neighbour’s close without his leave; if he does he is a trespasser, though he does no damage at all; if he will tread upon his neighbour’s ground, he must justify it by law.’ ” In Britain, many companies have tracking systems for their company vehicles, and as a result, they do collect lots of personal data about the people who are doing the driving.

The use of this information is governed by the Data Protection Act 1988. 

While it has been described as “highly complex” and often “difficult to interpret,” says one writer, “the act is underpinned by the concept of ‘permission’. Fundamentally, personal data cannot be processed unless the person it concerns has given permission….”(C)ollecting data covertly is usually considered to be in breach of the law.”

But here in Barbados it is going to be the Government itself which apparently will be collecting information about your vehicle’s comings and goings by forcing you (if you want your vehicle to be licenced) to allow electronic tags not owned or controlled by you to be placed on your own vehicle.

So, if the present Government has its way, it will know, via the Barbados Revenue Authority, which taxes you have paid and not paid; if you are in or out of the country at any moment in time; and where your vehicle is located at any given time. 

Once they know your routine, they can show up wherever you seem to be heading, thanks to that e-tag they put on your car.

Do you want the Government, or anyone else who may get their hands on this information for other purposes (including criminals) by hacking the system, to know your daily movements? I certainly don’t. 

That’s why I say, “Permission not granted.”


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