Special Signal 7

8 Sep, '06

Do we even care for privacy in Bahrain at all?

I honestly don’t think so, and the biggest culprit is our government.. the very same one that has been assuring us that with them forcing the issue of “smart cards” which not only contain biometric information, but your criminal, financial, and medical records amongst others which could very easily be open to abuse without the legal framework to protect this information and criminalise its abuse; the very same government that is bending over backwards to assure us that the “electronic voting” they are ramming down our throats is a safe and proper thing to do “in a democratic country”; the very same government who openly stack thousands of patient files out in the open and readily available to any passer-by to browse through, has now gone one better. Yes, it is unbelievable but true.

A good friend of mine went to buy some khobbiz (unleavened Iranian bread, one of the staple foods in our community) this morning, and like any khabbaz (baker) offered him the freshly baked bread on a piece of paper. Traditionally, that piece of paper was until recently a page out of a newspaper or magazine, but as the ink sometimes adds to the flavour of the bread, they opted to now put the bread either in a nylon bag or on plain paper. That plain paper could be – quite frequently it seems – taken from reams of perforated paper used in dot-matrix printers, as they can put the bread on the unprinted side.

That paper could contain anything imaginable of course. But considering the organisations that still do use dot matrix printers would indicate the nature of those printouts.

If you would spend a little time thinking about it, you would probably have arrived at the conclusion that it must be an organisation which has to handle a huge volume of data, and that printout could be used as the output of a big data-mining operation. The organisations who do this could either be a financial institution, or the government.

As financial institutions, we hope, have very strict confidentiality procedures, they would naturally either shred or burn any printout they generate. In fact I know this is what they do. The government however seems to be uncaring for this privacy thing. So rather than properly disposing of printed information, they just recycle the generated and expended paper by giving that to other users in the community, like bakers for instance!


But what of the information printed on them? Surely that could not be of a sensitive nature, right? I mean, that information cannot even be worse than a bunch of x-rays with full medical records left in corridors of hospitals for any passer-by to pick up and know the most intimate details of patients past and present, could it?

YES, unfortunately it could.

Click on the following picture for a larger version for instance. Unlike the government, I have chosen to conceal the identity of the affected persons and their addresses thus respecting their privacy (I have the original paper, should an official want to view it, but then, they could just as easily go to the Barbar khabbaz and pick up inches thick reams of the same thing for themselves, and get good bread while they’re at it):

Special Signal 7 - small
A printout dated 20 Jan 2004 from the Ministry of Electricity detailing
List of Poor Families Accounts of Special Signal 7″

What does this particular page show? Well, records of what seems to be “makramahs” or “gifts” given by the King or the Prime Minister to the poor families in Bahrain which wipes out their electricity and water bills, complete with full names, account numbers, amounts given and full addresses of their homes! Thus, shaming those needy people and treating them like dirt: we’re going to bestow our graces on you, and then kick you in the nuts as you bend down to collect them. We’re going to give you a charitable donation, but will be at pains to publish your unfortunate circumstances to the public. We’re going to shove your faces in the dirt while receiving our benevolence. We’re going to make sure that you understand what a worthless piece of turd and what a useless waste of space you actually are.

Is this what “Special Signal 7” actually mean? Demeaning your own citizens and countrymen by publishing their unfortunately circumstances like this? Completely disrespecting their honour and dignity by not having the correct procedures to ensure the destruction of records once they are printed and become unneeded? Especially records of such a sensitive nature?

Even if my gut feeling about this is completely off base, and “Special Signal 7” is an innocuous internal phrase or code used in the computer program which spewed these pages out rather than the code for Royal handouts given to the poor from time to time, would a document that is labeled “Poor Families Accounts” be just given away in such a manner?

Is this a way to run a shop, department, company and government ministry for goodness sake?

Shame on you.

Shame on the government, and shame on the Central Statistics Organisation, and shame on the Ministry of Electricity and Water, and shame on that useless and decrepit parliament that aided and abetted you in demeaning people like this; by caring more about their pension than they did about privacy laws, about press laws, and about criminalising the abuse of private information.

Charity, when given, should not be done in a way that demeans the receiver. How else could the dignity of the person be maintained?

Shame on you.

Filed in: Human Rights
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Comments (16)

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  1. bahraini4eva says:

    It’s very unfortunate that our government is so disrespectful and demeaning to their own country men and women. It’s sickening and saddening to see this type of private information be put out in public. I would like to say I’m hopeful to see change in the future, but given the fact that we are dealing with this ridiculous government and parliamentary blocs, I have no hope at this point!

    Shame on you indeed!

  2. David Bailey says:

    You are right again Mahmood. I am going to use this blog in my IT class next week. We are starting a chapter about privacy that covers databases, protections, govt and private action etc. This will give the students a real case to look at. Something close to home.

    Would you be interested in coming in as a guest speaker one day? Talk about blogs, freedom of information maybe answer some questions from the kids? Let me know.

    I just want to add that I love reading your blog everyday. I have the Coffee Cup plug in for Firefox and you are in there with The New York Yankees and Rantings of a Sandmonkey. Keep up the excellent work. (I am very jealous of your garden btw.)

  3. mahmood says:

    Thanks David! Yes I would be interested in coming and talking to your students. Anything to get people to think that their privacy is something to value, maybe then when they grow up they will ensure that incidents like these won’t occur on their watch.

  4. The Joker says:

    I wish it stopped there, at electricity bill write-offs! This khabbaz in Adliya used to give you your bread along with the Ministry of Interior’s daily criminal report.

  5. Attn: D. Bailey,

    Hi there, I was just wondering if you used to teach in Al-Bayan School for a while between 1996-1997, if so, then, I was one of your students 🙂 Small world, huh?

    I think it would be great to teach students about blogs and the importance of information privacy.

    Wishing you all the best,

  6. nobody cares about privacy here,
    my friend got his smart card ID slip few days ago, the username and password were printed outside the slip :p
    i did a small research for my graduation project, about IT ethics, the results were ugly

  7. mahmood says:

    Mohammed, it would be great if you would actually share that research. It should be quite enlightening.

  8. Mahmood, i hope you’re noy in 64k mode :p
    send me your email 😉

  9. F says:

    Government documents, that are destined for the bin, should be shredded.
    All bank documents are shredded.

  10. mahmood says:

    Mohammed, it’s mahmood at mahmood dot tv

  11. Nawab of Kabab says:

    Am glad you brought this issue of privacy out in the open, and hope it generates enough debate and discussion to warrant some serious re-think. Smart cards are nice, but are there enough safeguards to prevent abuse… that’s what I’m worried about, and that’s what should be the main concern.

  12. Waheed says:

    Thank you Mahmood for your insight and highlighting this issue every now and then.
    We are both in the same boat, I am dealing with the same issue in my blog in Arabic and you are mastering it in English.
    I am pretty sure that CIO and its staff are inefficient at all to handle a small IT project in a bakery as they will manage it so badly, so how can we trust them in projects like eVoting and Smart Card??
    I hope you don’t mind if I quote you in my blog about this issue.

  13. mahmood says:

    Not at all Waheed and thank you for the citation.

  14. mahmood says:

    Waheed, I’ve just added your blog to the aggregator at bahrianblogs.org

    Welcome aboard!

  15. Waheed says:

    Thank you again Mahmood, I couldn’t get into bahrainblog.org! is it banned in Bahrain :)??
    I won’t be surprised if it is.

  16. mahmood says:

    nah, you just need to pluralise it (your left out the ‘s’)! 😉

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