Lower house passes bill on personal freedoms
Rare ruling party dissension and opposition from military MPs were not enough to sink a bill on personal freedoms and privacy protection.
DESPITE objections from military MPs and uncharacteristic dissension from within the ruling party ranks, a bill aimed at protecting citizens’ personal freedoms and security was approved at a Pyithu Hluttaw session on September 20.
A main sticking point for military MPs as well as several National League for Democracy lawmakers was Section 8 of the bill, a clause pertaining to an issue governments across the globe are grappling with: surveillance.
“No one may trail, detect or investigate in a way that can aggravate a citizen’s personal freedom and security or could affect human dignity without permission in accordance with the law,” the section reads.
Major Myint Maung argued that the security of the state should be given priority over personal freedoms, pointing to “incidents” in neighbouring countries and Myanmar’s own history as proof of the need to give preference to national security.
He argued that undue constraints would weigh down the morale of security personnel concerned about their ability to effectively do their job.
He also took his time before lawmakers to accuse the National League for Democracy-dominated hluttaw of bending to provisions of the constitution to suit its agenda, arguing that guarantees of personal security in the charter were being used to justify the protection bill, while other acts of the legislature clearly ignored constitutional bounds.
He referred to repeal or amendment of multiple state security laws and the State Counsellor Law, which military MPs argued at the time was a clear abuse of power.
But U Tun Tun Hein (NLD; Nawngcho), chair of the lower house Bill Committee, offered a forceful defence of the protection legislation.
“The bill was drawn up according to the constitution. Sections 357 and 352 say to enact such a law. So the bill has been drawn up,” he said.
Section 357 reads, “The Union shall protect the privacy and security of home, property, correspondence and other communications of citizens under the law subject to the provisions of this constitution.”
The bill includes similar language on homes, other property and privacy protections. Proponents have called it a consolidation of the democratic gains of recent years.
Warrantless home arrests and surveillance of personal communications are forbidden in the bill, among other privacy protections.
Penalties are also provided for breach of its provisions – a prison sentence of minimum six months to maximum five years, or a fine of K300,000 (US$247) to K2.5 million.
Maj Myint Maung and U Tun Tun Hein gave competing presentations in a bid to sway lawmakers, with the Bill Committee chair ultimately winning out in a surprising close vote. His presentation scored 208 votes in favour, while Maj Myint Maung received 185.
Lt-Col Moe Kyaw Oo argued that while obtaining “advanced permission” – an appendage of some of the bill’s clauses – might be feasible in some instances, taking action on matters of urgency could not afford to be delayed by permission-seeking.
“In border areas, delay to trail, detect, investigate and arresting could be hours because of the process of applying for permission and citizens’ lives might be in danger,” he said, proposing that in such cases, the militarycontrolled Ministry of Home Affairs would be better suited to give timely authorisation.
Even the provenance of the bill was subject to some dispute this week. Officially it was put forward by the Bill Committee, but U Thein Tun (USDP; Kyaunggone) told The Myanmar Times yesterday that he had heard parliament’s Legal Affairs and Special Cases Assessment Commission was behind the legislation.
U Kyaw Soe Linn from the Pyithu Hluttaw Bill Committee also told The Myanmar Times yesterday that the bill was drafted and sent by the legal commission, but the day prior U Tun Tun Hein insisted that his committee was its author.
Asked if he was concerned about the relatively close vote in an NLD-dominated parliament that has largely passed legislation and motions by wide margins since lawmakers took their seats in February, U Tun Tun Hein replied, “They decide with their own brain. Lawmakers will give a vote in favour if they think it should be favoured. It is their own decision.”
‘[Constitutional] sections 357 and 352 say to enact such a law. So the bill has been drawn up.’
U Tun Tun Hein Pyithu Hluttaw Bill Committee chair