HK High Court rules that Domesic Helpers can gain PR

Hong Kong’s High Court has ruled that foreign domestic helpers can become Permanent Residents of Hong Kong, after staying here for 7 years. This, no doubt will be appealed to the Court of Final Appeal, and possibly even the National People’s Congress, thereby causing yet another constitutional crisis. However, I honestly can’t think of a better way for domestic helpers to shoot themselves in the foot.

The current pay for a domestic helper is HK$3740 per month, and the pay for someone earning the a minimum wage in Hong Kong would be much higher. Foreign domestic helpers are not entitled to a minimum wage. So lets say that one applies to become a permanent resident – they are immediately no longer employable as a foreign domestic helper and need to be paid minimum wage.

As an employer, would one pay them the significantly higher minimum wage, or would they just make such a person redundant and hire a fresh immigrant at the fixed foreign domestic helper contract rates? It’s a no brainer really, especially with the economy in free fall.

I think that domestic helpers will quickly understand that the economics of becoming permanent residents of Hong Kong simply don’t make sense, and excepting the handful who are qualified for other jobs, they would soon find themselves out of work with poor prospects.

Update: It has been pointed out to me (thanks, Taha) that live-in domestic workers are not covered by the minimum wage ordinance. This changes the situation quite significantly, in that there is no economic barrier to taking up PR.

However, I still think that the fearmongering that is being propagated here in Hong Kong is probably unwarranted. According to the current immigration system, there is no right for PRs to bring their family members to live in Hong Kong. I have been through the process three times, and I know from my own experience (and that of others) that in order to bring one’s dependents (including spouse), one needs to show sufficient income to support them, as well as having adequate housing in which the dependents can reside.

The vast majority of domestic helpers would be unable to satisfy those criteria.

Finally, for the avoidance of doubt, I will just mention that no foreign domestic helper will become a PR automatically. This is a status that must be obtained by making an application to do so, having satisfied the relevent criteria.

Hong Kong should explain the aim of National Education

In today’s South China Morning Post, my letter appeared, the text of which is reproduced below:

Explain aim of national education

With the heated debate regarding the government’s proposed national education curriculum, too many people are jumping to knee-jerk conclusions without really understanding what shape a national education programme might take.

Indeed, the government prematurely asks the public for feedback without explaining to the public what, in fact, national education means.

China, as one of the world’s oldest civilisations, has much to offer us from studying its history. A truly comprehensive national education curriculum would not only celebrate this history but also critically analyse it, offering students the opportunity to arrive at their own conclusions and affording them a forum to share these conclusions in a discussion-based setting.

If fostering patriotism is one of the goals of this curriculum, this should be applauded. However, let us be clear that true patriotism creates a desire for continuous review and improvement of governance.

The government must make clear its intentions.

Are we seeking to enrich the next generation and provide them with the necessary tools to become the leaders of tomorrow or is the administration acting on instructions to cultivate conformity in thinking?

The latter will inevitably lead to political regression and intellectual stagnation.

Ali Ebrahim, Mid-Levels

Crack down on telemarketers

In today’s South China Morning Post, a letter of mine appeared in the Letters section (page A12), the text of which is reproduced below (with some links added, for easy reference):

Crack down on telemarketers

Today, with so many different channels of communication, we are deluged with unwanted marketing. I wholeheartedly welcome the news that Hongkong Post is launching an opt-out sticker scheme for certain unaddressed circulars (“One way to stop some of that junk mail”, August 25).

However, the real menace is not mail, but telemarketing calls. Telemarketing is the most inconvenient type of marketing because it requires active participation by the receiver, at a time that is convenient to the caller. Why should the public be expected to adjust to the schedules of telemarketers who are selling a product that they most likely do not want or need – and one which they certainly did not solicit?

A few years ago the telecoms watchdog OFTA launched the “Do-not-call” register for pre-recorded messages. It is now high time that it extended this register to include non-recorded – that is, live – calls.

This is hardly a novel idea: do-not-call registers in other countries typically make no distinction between pre-recorded and live telemarketing calls.

This would cause a hue and cry from telemarketers, who would claim they provide a useful service that brings benefits to consumers. Yet that is nonsense; the only beneficiaries are the telemarketers themselves and the companies they represent.

The theft of property is an offence punishable by a prison sentence. I wonder if telemarketers could provide a convincing argument why we should tolerate the theft of our time.

Ali Ebrahim, Mid-Levels

For those who are interested, I’ve uploaded a scan of the relevant page.

eJamaat and Data Retention

My religious community, numbering approximately one million worldwide has a centralised system for almost everything (both religious and non-religious). One of the non-religious centralised systems that has really irked me over the last couple of years has been the eJamaat system which is maintained by the religious administration.

The eJamaat system (update: now called ITS or Idaratut Ta’reef al Shakhsi) contains personal biodata (name, DOB, address, education, business details, levels of religious learning, blood type, family trees/relationships) of almost all community members worldwide. This system is mainly used to gather data about the community and also to perform registration for attendance of reglious events or sermons. Now – the administration seeks to make entering passport information mandatory as well.

Why does it irk me? It’s not because the system is not needed or because it performs no useful functions. In reality, there is a real need for this system and it is effectively used to manage registration for events. It irks me because of the administration’s compulsion for collecting data that is not required just for the sake of collecting it. Further, there is no disclosure as to how the information is used and no information about what steps are being taken to secure our personal data. For starters, communication is unencrypted because SSL is not used to secure HTTP conversations so any data entry is inherently insecure, especially if you do so over a public wifi signal.

When this system was first set up, I requested a copy of eJamaat’s privacy policy. It is not publicly listed anywhere and I never got a response. From this I can infer that either they don’t have one, or that it is not available for public viewing. In some jurisdictions the collection of this kind of personal data without a published privacy policy that meets certain guidelines is actually outright illegal (see below for details on relevant legislation within the UK).

I am genuinely concerned that if this data was to fall into the wrong hands, it would be a treasure trove for individuals seeking to engage in identity theft. With information including full name, father’s name, mother’s name (including maiden name), DOB, passport information, photographs, address, blood type, information about health conditions, business details, educational qualifications it is frankly quite scary to imagine what could happen if this information was stolen by a third party or misused by those with access to the data. Identity theft would be the tip of the iceberg.

It would be reassuring to the community if important information was disclosed (and more importantly followed) regarding what steps are taken to secure the data, under what circumstances data will be shared with other parties, if users will be informed in the case of a data breach, and also why data like passport information is required (personally, I can’t see a legitimate reason for this).

I think it would be naive to think that feeding all this information into a black box with no accountability is a good idea and that there will never be a major breach of confidentiality. With the scope of data contained, it is quite plausible that someone could call a bank and successfully obtain account information and effect transfers, or apply for a library card by post in someone else’s name.

I hope someone can demonstrate that my concerns are unfounded, but I doubt that will happen.

For those who are interested, the Data Protection Act 1998 is the most relevant piece of legislation in the United Kingdom to this discussion (and other countries may have their own equivalents). Accoring to the ICO, there are eight basic principles, which is to make sure that personal information is:

  • Fairly and lawfully processed
  • Processed for limited purposes
  • Adequate, relevant and not excessive
  • Accurate and up to date
  • Not kept for longer than is necessary
  • Processed in line with your rights
  • Secure
  • Not transferred to other countries without adequate protection

[Source: Personal data, Personal rights – Data Protection Act (DPA) – ICO]

The page on legal obligations imposed on data controllers is also interesting:

  • Do I really need this information about an individual? Do I know what I’m going to use it for?
  • Do the people whose information I hold know that I’ve got it, and are they likely to understand what it will be used for?
  • If I’m asked to pass on personal information, would the people about whom I hold information expect me to do this?
  • Am I satisfied the information is being held securely, whether it’s on paper or on computer? And what about my website? Is it secure?
  • Is access to personal information limited to those with a strict need to know?
  • Am I sure the personal information is accurate and up to date?
  • Do I delete or destroy personal information as soon as I have no more need for it?
  • Have I trained my staff in their duties and responsibilities under the Data Protection Act, and are they putting them into practice?
  • Do I need to notify the Information Commissioner and if so is my notification up to date?

[Source: Personal privacy, legal obligations – Data Protection Act (DPA) – ICO]

Update 16 November 2008: I have been requested by a legal advisor to Dawat to temporarily remove this post while some issues are being worked on. Certain representations have been made which paint a positive picture of what is going on behind the scenes and if this is followed through it will be a very positive development for all eJamaat users.

Update 23 September 2009: eJamaat now has a privacy policy in place (see also locally archived copy dated 23/09/2009) which addresses many of the concerns stated above. It is good to know that positive steps are being taken and users are being told why data is being collected, why, and who will process it, and also how to opt out, and it is also being made clear that the entering of passport information is optional and not mandatory. The privacy policy is not perfect, it does not address how the data is being kept secure, but it is a step in the right direction.

Given that I was requested to remove the post only temporarily until action was taken, I am quite comfortable to put the entire post back online in the knowledge that action has already been taken (and there was ample opportunity to do so) and I hope that the privacy policy will be vigilantly enforced and that steps will continue to be taken to protect the privacy of eJamaat users.

One further step that I would like to see taken is for eJamaat to publish a list of organisations that they share our data with. In the privacy policy they mention that they only share information with organisations affliated with Dawat-e-Hadiyah but this could be a very extensive list and sometimes the distinction between being affiliated or not is an obscure one.

For example, the site Malumaat.com requires users to register with an eJamaat number and says that if incorrect information is entered then an account is liable to deactivation. This is interesting because it means that any one of the following cases must be true:

  1. Malumaat is able to access eJamaat records in order to verify that the numbers provided are correct. In this case, eJamaat is in violation of their own privacy policy because Malumaat is not an organisation which is affliated with Dawat-e-Hadiyah or Alvazaratus Saifiyah.
  2. Malumaat is not able to access eJamaat records in which case Malumaat is purporting to collect eJamaat numbers for a purpose otherwise than what they state and users have no guarantee about the privacy of their data provided (and in any case should be wary of providing unique personal identifiers to a site which has not issued them in the first instance).

Another point worth mention is that eJamaat, according to their privacy policy, does provide information to third parties. In this case it is legally incumbent upon eJamaat to ensure that the third parties they provide data to are also processing it in accordance with the protections that eJamaat is subject to otherwise the provision of said data to third parties may be unlawful.

One more easy improvement that could be made is to encrypt all website transactions using SSL (preferably EV SSL). At the moment all information entered by users on the eJamaat website is not encrypted and in this day and age there is no legitimate justification for this.

In short, the situation today is much better than it was a year ago, but data privacy is an aspect of data retention that needs to be continually addressed at every step of data processing and data sharing. A “write a privacy policy and forget about it” approach will not yield the correct result. The more users are reassured that their data is being sensibly and lawfully processed, the more comfortable they will be to provide sensitive data.

Hillary

A friend of mine wrote a blog entry about Hillary and I felt like writing a response because there are a lot of things I don’t agree with.

Hillary’s campaign has not been one waged on ethics and grassroots support but rather one that is based on entitlement, poor ethics, and poor planning to boot. A brief note about each follows.

Entitlement
As much as she tries to distance herself from Bill, there’s no doubt that Hillary would be a nothing without him and she’s riding on his coattails.

Women are supposed to identify with her because of what happened to her in the Whitehouse, but would that experience make her a good President? I don’t see why it would.

Poor Ethics
When she’s down, she hits out with negative comments about other candidates and turns the campaign into a cursing match instead of focusing on any substantive issues.

When she’s down her campaign preys on Islamophobia by releasing pictures of Obama in “muslim garb”, that is more African than Muslim anyway. Not to mention totally irrelevant.

When she’s down she wants to throw away the rules and make up new ones so that delegates from states that broke all the election rules get seated anyway. Especially in states where Obama was not even on the ballot.

Sounds like she’s teaching the next generation to denigrate those who disagree with you, if that doesn’t work, make people afraid of them, and if that fails as well, just subvert the playing field.

Poor Planning
How in the world is she going to balance the budget and reverse the trend of mounting debt when she couldn’t even achieve the relatively much simpler task of balancing her campaign budget.

We already know that her solution to debt is to borrow, borrow, and borrow more. Can you say sinking US dollar?

There’s just so much wrong with her campaign and so little that’s right with it that sometimes I wonder how blind some Americans are not to be able to see it.

Islamophobia at Election Time

I’ve been meaning to blog about this for some time now, and it’s really long overdue given how rapidly things are forgotten and how quickly new issues come up. Between the trio of McCain, Hillary, and Obama, I think I’m pretty clear in my mind that Obama has the best vision for the country.

I hate to use the cliché, but McCain really would be just another four years of Bush. And let’s be honest here, I’m pretty unhappy with how the last eight years went, politics wise. Between the two democrats, Hillary is the “republican” and Obama is the “democrat”. What does this mean? First I refer you to the NYT Decision Tree, which I think is an excellent piece of work. What does it tell us? That the well educated vote for Obama, and the less than well educated vote for Hillary.

In short, educated democrats vote for Obama, and uneducated democrats vote for Hillary. That’s no surprise really, Hillary tells great sob stories. People identify with that. Especially uneducated people who don’t know any better.

I might be considered an elitist for saying this, but I strongly believe that educated people make better policy decisions and that Obama’s vision is one that appeals to this crowd for good reason.

This is why I was especially disappointed with the handling of Obama’s “Muslim identity crisis”. He could have handled it so much better. It’s said that one shows their true colours when they’re cornered, and when Obama was cornered his campaign put out statements that were disappointingly anti-Islam and borderline racist.

Instead of playing clean and saying “I’m a committed Christian, but there’s nothing wrong with being a Muslim in our secular country,” his campaign went all out denouncing Islam as an evil that is anathema to Obama. That anybody who insinuates that he is a Muslim is insulting the core of his very being. From someone who is looked up to as a visionary, I expected a lot better.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have. Conservative Christians and Jews are too important a demographic in American politics and anybody who upsets them doesn’t have a real shot at the presidency. After all, what good is a visionary who is unelectable?

All things considered, I’d still take Obama over the others, by a long shot. But what used to be unadulterated admiration is now tempered by a wariness about his character. He’s not been tested so far; and when push comes to shove, how will he react? I’d venture still better than the others, but should ‘better than Hillary and McCain’ really be America’s benchmark?

An Alternative Universe

Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN) has been working the right side of his brain hard over the last couple of weeks. Aside from making the ludicrous claim that HRC is better poised than Obama to win a general election against McCain because the states she won count for more electoral votes, he’s been using creative math elsewhere too.

Senator Bayh, along with two others, has sponsored the China Currency Manipulation Act of 2008. If passed, this ominous sounding act is poised to coerce the Secretary of the Treasury into finding that China is manipulating their currency and that the IMF should be consulted regarding what remedies can be sought to correct or stop this evil manipulation.

On 3 April 2008, Bayh’s office shoots out a press release where he says:

American companies and workers are put at a major competitive disadvantage when China engages in massive intervention to lower the value of its currency and lower the cost of Chinese goods…This legislation will force the Treasury Department to stop turning a blind eye to Chinese attempts to gain an unfair trade advantage by undervaluing their currency.

This guy is so out of touch with reality that the mind boggles as to where his statistics come from. Let’s take a look at some hard numbers. A year ago today, one US dollar was worth 7.72 Chinese yuan. Today, the Chinese yuan is trading at around 6.98 to the US dollar. While the yuan has appreciated against the dollar by about 10%, this guy complains that China manipulates their currency to undervalue it.

His other claim is that China is working to lower the costs of Chinese exports. I work in the manufacturing industry and get information first hand about what is going on in China. There is not a shred of truth to what Bayh says, and in fact the opposite is true. Between mandating that workers are only allowed to work 5 days per week, or else receive excessive overtime pay, and requiring employers to enroll them in umpteen different types of social insurance, to cutting electricity on certain days of the week, to tightening controls on pollutants, there is nothing going on in China that reduces the cost of anything. The only price pressures are upwards and these are all artificially created by the Chinese government.

Bayh’s facts are so incredibly wrong and at odds with the truth that the only explanation is that he’s living in an alternative universe. The sad truth is that most Americans won’t know the difference and will accept as fact that China is evil and America is the only country willing to stand up to it.

illegal searches conducted by the TSA

The terrorists have already won.

That’s right, they instigated a sense of national fear, duped politicians into passing the unnecessary PATRIOT Act, and have managed to keep Americans scared enough that their leaders (Bush, Rumsfeld, ex-AG Ashcroft, et al.) were able to break down existing protections of personal privacy under the more vague than ever notion of national security. That, and the already opaque US Government has found itself in a position where it can deny accountability for its actions, claim that divulging information would be a threat to national security, and call anyone who challenges them unpatriotic. Really, 9/11 was a gift to the intelligence agencies of the US.

John Barlow has himself experienced (alternate link for those who live in places where TypePad is banned) the extent to which intelligence and security agencies feel they can take liberties. During one of his travels, he was subject to an illegal search of his possessions (the TSA is legally authorised only to search for threats to national security, nothing else), was thrown in jail, and was subject to a body cavity search. I recommend you read his story, which is quite disheartening (to say the least).

When federal agencies feel empowered to take these kind of actions, I wonder what kind of privacy Americans expect to have going into the 21st century? Right now, it’s looking like most Americans are willing to settle for little or no privacy, as long as ‘national security’ (whatever this means) is not breached. By the time people realise what they’re giving up it will be too late.

If the terrorists have succeeded in creating an environment in which its become acceptable to erode personal privacy and relax legal safeguards against government interference in personal life, then I contend that they’ve already won.

my thoughts exactly

There are many reasons I like the British print media more than the American print media. This is one of them. Granted, it’s a tabloid, but I’d like to see the day that an American tabloid has the balls to publish this cover.

I also thought that this was both highly amusing and very telling.