Politics & government

[2783] Public officials do not deserve privacy

Privacy very is important to me. It is important not just in the practical sense but also as a matter of principle with the context that I am a libertarian. Even in the internet age when doxing and hacking are almost normal and easily done, surveillance and privacy breaches are still a concern.

Now, the 1Malaysia Development Berhad scandal involves a lot of violations of individual privacy. Details of individuals’ bank accounts have been leaked out. Yet, I do not take it as violation in the libertarian sense.

Does this mean I am applying double standard in this case?


So, why does the privacy for these individuals weigh less than that of others’?

These individuals — public official and their close relatives — do not deserve the typical privacy protection granted to the common men and women because they are in power. They are public officials. The higher up they are on the echelon of power, the less protection they deserve and the greater scrutiny the they should come under.

If they were accorded the same protection, it would create great opportunity for corruption and makes it harder to detect actual cases of corruption. For a clean government to exist, power must always survive skepticism. And so too for men and women holding public offices.

In fact, it should be the practice for public officials to declare their income and wealth to the public in the first place to reduce the opportunity for corruption. That very practice refuses them the right to privacy as far as income and wealth are concerned.

But in Malaysia, we do not have that declaration system and the public cannot access existing incomplete, inadequate asset declaration records. And this doubly means that these individuals of power do not deserve privacy that they are demanding.

Truly, leaks targeting 1MDB and others in power are now the only means for the public to ascertain the various allegations of corruption. These allegations are no more about sensationalist tabloid gossips. They are a matter of state administration and corruption.

Worse, sadly, the leaks have more credibility than most Malaysian institutions. I hold that it is these leaks that are forcing our institutions to investigate 1MDB finally. Without the leaks, these institutions compromised as they are, would have done nothing. The leakers, whoever they are, are providing public service.

This leads to another point. Our institutions suffer from trust deficit. Years of abuse by the government have robbed our institutions from the neutrality and the credibility they need to do their job.

And on top that, there is also conflict of interest just by the way our institutions are designed. In the case of 1MDB specifically, the attorney general who is leading the investigation suffers from conflict of interest. The AG office is both the public prosecutor and the legal counsel for the government. Since the AG office itself is under the Prime Minister’s Department, I fear the political reality means the AG will act more of a legal counsel to the government than as a reliable public prosecutor.

If the lack of very public asset declaration practice, trust deficit and conflict of interest has yet to convince you why individuals of power (public officials and their close relatives) do not deserve the typical privacy protection, then perhaps the awkwardness of them using the privacy laws to prosecute the leakers and prevent the public from finding out if there is indeed has been any wrongdoing.

At the very least, there is a very strong suspicion of abuse in 1MDB, a government-linked company. Any individual benefiting from the abuse deserves no privacy protection. They, instead of the leakers, should face the full force of the law instead.