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Friday December 9th, 2022

Sri Lanka parliament passes data protection act amid privacy concerns

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka parliament enacted Data Protection Act aiming to promote a digital economy amid concerns raised over the privacy of individuals and adverse impact on media reporting.

The bill was passed without a vote after a raft of amendments was made to the original version.

Justice Minister Ali Sabry said the new law was a necessary tool and the act will not breach the privacy of the people.

“There is nothing called perfect legislation. Today’s perfect legislation may not be perfect for tomorrow. Therefore we can’t sit and wait for tomorrow to do the legislation,” Sabry said before he made the amendments.

Opposition legislator M A Sumanthiran said the independence of the proposed Data Protection Authority was “a serious concern”.

“Change the nature of the authority and make it independent,” Sumanthiran asked the government during the debate.

However, Justice Minister said the government will accommodate amendments if there is any serious concerns.

Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) and seven media groups under Sri Lanka Press Institute have raised serious concerns over possible implication and infringement to the rights of professional journalism and media freedom.

They argued the terms of definition regarding personal data and special categories of personal data remain arbitrary given that special categories also include data related to offenses, criminal proceedings and convictions which do not recognise the journalistic right to exercise free speech in delivering such information.

“The Bill does not recognize ‘Journalistic Purpose’ or data processing in the exercise of freedom of the press or freedom of expression as a condition for processing data,” the TISL said in a statement.

“This means that media, including broadcast media, will be restricted from using personal data when reporting, as they become data controllers and processors in the use of personal information of others for journalistic activities.”

The TISL also raised concerns over Data Protection Authority citing that the proposed body does not have sufficient safeguards against political interference or attempts at diluting its powers and functions.

“Further, the Data Protection Authority, being a non-judicial and non-independent body, is given the power to investigate into sources of obtaining data and to impose penalties of up to Rs. 10 million per non-compliance on data controllers and data processors who fail to comply with the directives of the Authority.”

It also said the new act could have an adverse impact on the Right to Information Act.

However, Sabry during the debate said there will not be infringement on privacy of individuals and journalists do not have special rights beyond freedom of expression.

“There is nothing called journalist rights. In the country journalist rights and people’s right – freedom of expressions – are one and the same,” Sabry said.

“Journalists do not have special rights anything beyond that. They have certain amount of privileges.” (Colombo/March 10/2022)

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  1. Francis Perera says:

    If Journalist rights and people’s right are one and the same why blame journalists for their expressions?’

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  1. Francis Perera says:

    If Journalist rights and people’s right are one and the same why blame journalists for their expressions?’

Foreign minister, US ambassador discuss future assistance to crisis-hit Sri Lanka

ECONOMYNEXT — In a meeting in Colombo, Sri Lanka Foreign Minister Ali Sabry and US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung discussed ways in which the United States can continue to support Sri Lanka going forward, the Ambassador said.

Chung tweeted Friday December 09 afternoon that the two officials had reflected on the “twists and turns” of 2022, at the meeting.

Minister Sabry was recently in Washington D.C. where he US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

A foreign ministry statement said the two officials held productive discussions at the Department of State on December 02 on further elevating bilateral relations in diverse spheres, including the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations which will be marked in 2023.

Incidentally, Sri Lanka also celebrates the 75th anniversary of its independence from the British in 2023, and President Ranil Wickremesinghe has given himself and all parties that represent parliament a deadline to find a permanent solution to Sri Lanka’s decades-long ethnic issue.

The US has been vocal about Sri Lanka addressing concerns about its human rights record since the end of the civil war in 2009 and was a sponsor of the latest resolution on Sri Lanka passed by the United Nations Human Rights Council. Unlike previous resolutions, this year’s iteration makes specific reference to the country’s prevailing currency crisis and calls for investigations on corruption allegations.

In the lead up to the UNHRC sessions in Geneva, Minister Sabry Sri Lanka’s government under then new president Wickremesinghe does not want any confrontation with any international partner but will oppose any anti-constitutional move forced upon the country.

On the eve of the sessions on October 06, Sabry said countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, who led the UNHRC core group on Sri Lanka, are greatly influenced by domestic-level lobbying by pressure groups from the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora.

These pronouncements notwithstanding, the Wickremesnghe government has been making inroads to the West as well as India and Japan, eager to obtain their assistance in seeing Sri Lanka through the ongoing crisis.

The island nation has entered into a preliminary agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for an extended fund facility of 2.9 billion dollars to be disbursed over a period of four years, subject to a successful debt restructure programme and structural reforms.

Much depends on whether or not China agrees to restructure Sri Lanka’s 7.4 billion dollar outstanding debt to the emerging superpower. Beijing’s apparent hesitance to go for a swift restructure prompted Tamil National Alliance MP Shanakiyan Rasamanickam to warn of possible “go home, China” protests in Colombo, similar to the wave of protests that forced the exit of former pro-China President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

The TNA will be a key player in upcoming talks with the Wickremesinghe government on a solution to Sri Lanka’s ethnic issue. (Colombo/Dec09/2022)

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India smogs out Sri Lanka’s China tower observers

 

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Chinese-built Lotus Tower has halved visitors to its observation deck an official said as dirty air flowing from India triggered air quality warnings and schools in the capital closed.

“Masks are mandatory at the observation deck and roughly around 50 to 60 can go up to the observation deck at a time, time limits have not been altered and still persists at 20 minutes for observation,” the official told EconomyNext.

Prior to the smog, 120 observers were permitted at once to the deck.

However, even after limitations the Lotus Tower has continued to draw visitors, and revenues are coming in, the official said.

The tower built with a Chinese loan by the cash rich Telecom Regulatory Commission has been described by critics as a white elephant that eats the money earned from telecom operators mainly as spectrum fees.

Sri Lanka’s National Building Research Organization (NBRO) said India air heavily polluted with particulate matter was flowing across the island into a depression in the South West Bengal Bay. (Colombo/Dec09/2022)

 

 

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Mystery mattress sparks innuendo-filled row in Sri Lanka parliament

File photo of a mattress

ECONOMYNEXT — A mysterious luxury mattress said to have been paid for by a private company has found its way to the president’s office in the parliament complex, an opposition MP claimed, leading to an innuendo-filled exchange of words between the MP and the chief government whip.

Main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MP Buddhika Pathirana told parliament on Friday December 09 that on July 28, a week after President Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in, some “items” had been transported to the parliament complex.

“None of these items were purchased by parliament. A private company had paid for them,” said Pathirana, announcing his intention to table all receipts.

According to the MP, the items had been moved to the space allocated for the president’s office inside the parliament building. Among these items had been a luxury mattress that the Matara district MP claimed was one foot thick.

“Why has a mattress like that been brought here, and why is it in the president’s office? As far as I know, nobody sleeps in that room. This raises a serious question as to whether someone goes to bed in that room,” he said.

“Either the president has to sleep in it or it’s his staff,” he added.

Pathirana urged Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena to appoint a committee of MPs to investigate the matter, and the MP volunteered to inspect the bed himself.”

“We’ll also go and take a look. That’ll be good for president’s security and for that of this House. Can things paid for by a private company be brought in here?”

MP Pathirana claimed that though it was said that President Wickremesinghe had covered all expenses of his swearing in ceremony with his private funds, the company that paid for the mysterious mattress had in fact made the payments.

Pathirana’s SJB colleague Hesha Withanage who came to the MP’s defence amid howls of laughter from the government benches said it was a serious matter, urging the lawmakers not to make light of it. Withanage claimed that he had in his possession a letter directing an unnamed authority to provide the company in question 20 acres of land in Hambegamuwa, Hambantota.

He did not elaborate.

Chief Government Whip Prasanna Ranatunga, meanwhile, told Pathirana and the SJB that the Speaker had said he would look into the matter.

“The speaker has said he will look into it. You’re not going to sleep in that bed, are you? I don’t know if you do and if that is why you’re so interested.

“There are much more important things to discuss. Talk about problems of the country without talking about about beds,” he said. (Colombo/Dec09/2022)

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