The ISA is bad? Not so much, really

Okay, as part of my daily trolls for content for the The PPS Review podcast (free plug there), I came across Lainie's post on the film Romantik ISA. What interested me were the comments underneath. Everyone seemed to be negative about ISA. ISA bad. Not something to be proud of. But I thought people were not getting the point. I wrote this:
The ISA is a very, very useful tool for the Government in this case. You can ensure the safety of your people quickly and easily. How great that is. Why would you want to get rid of it?

I was trying to say, your focus isn't quite on the right thing. You're complaining about a law, when the problem is its implementation.
And then there were the counter-comments to this.
I doubt you'd still be feeling the same when the same act that you evelate for 'protecting' people can put you in custody one day simply because some officials feel like it, disallow you all contact with the world as we know it, AND then throw away the key.

Anyway, Lainie felt her brain was melting. She invited me to write a response as to why the ISA was a good thing.

I have to admit I didn't do that. Instead, I wrote what I really felt about the ISA.

The ISA is a law that has huge loopholes in the system that allow terrible things to happen. I suspect most governments would love to have something like this on their books. Of course, no government is going to say they're going to abuse it.

One interesting thing about the ISA is it is relatively long, but most of the attention is squarely focused on Section 8 (Power to order detention or restriction of persons). Other sections are just as "draconian", but receive relatively little attention. Not surprisingly, incaceration provokes a greater human response than prohibition of printing seditious materials.

The objective of the ISA, simply put, is to allow the government to shortcut due process in order to head off potential threats to the nation. Due process takes time, due process takes effort and little emergencies have a tendency to grow quickly to large ones, and then all hell breaks loose, and we have people bashing each other's heads in for no good reason. The point I want to make was that, if I was the Government, I would want the freedom this law gives me as well. Nobody ever mentions the potential good there is to the country to have a law like this.

I love a law like this. That is, if I can trust my Government.

OK, why don't we build in a safety mechanism to the ISA? They do. It's an Advisory Board. Within three months of an arrest under section 8, the Minister needs to make a presentation in front of this Advisory Board, and the board can decide that the Minister does not have sufficient grounds for detention (technically, it goes up to the Agong first, and then back to the minister... long story). On top of that, each case is reviewed by the Adivisory Board at least once every six months. (However, I think that the Minister is not obligated to follow the advice of that review if he doesn't want to.)

Does the Advisory Board work? Well... general consensus is "not as well as it should". The advisory board is not a court of law and not obligated (I think) to make public its findings. There is no transparency. Who knows what goes on in there.

Now, I'm sort of just rehashing some of what SUHAKAM said in their review of the ISA. Have you read the report?

In the end, their recommendation, in brief, is this: Make people more accountable, make it more transparent. They still want to allow the Government to detain people without trial. The BIG difference is this: Within 29 days of detention, you must charge the prisoner (and then he's arrested under 'normal' laws) or release him. Personally, I like this. Even if it was 90 days, that would be good. At least there is an end in sight.

People's fingers point in the wrong direction most of the time when they criticise the ISA. They point to the law itself, but don't appreciate the Government's need to have a mechanism to help ensure security. They don't consider the intent of the law, they just say it's bad because it's being abused. SUHAKAM, I believe, is the only organisation of note that has actually given a solid, concrete recommendation that both addresses the Government's needs and also protects the rights of citizens in the long run.
posted on Wednesday, September 14, 2005 - permalink
I'm still thinking this over - I appreciate the reply though :)

Anyway, I wouldn't know about the future but is there any threat, currently, that requires such an extreme law?

I still find myself more accepting of laws that aren't so open to abuse. Accountable? What's regulated in the stay before meeting the Advisory Board? Or after? I like that there are changes coming, but I'd rather the whole thing was scrapped anyway.

And incidentally, I don't approve of censorship either. I still need time to think over what you said - though honestly, I think we'll probably have to agree to disagree.

Tried finding the Suaraham article you referred to, but I wasn't sure which one it was, exactly. Mind telling me which link it is?
Post a Comment