x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Recent assault cases trigger debate over use of modern media

Technology allows everyone to be monitored, but are we as a society ready to embrace such openness for the overall greater good?

One act of extreme road rage that went viral on social media has caused a nationwide uproar amongst officials, citizens and residents alike, who have been united by one message: this cannot and will not be tolerated in our community.

But questions must be raised about the arrest of the man who recorded the attack. If found guilty, the man behind the camera faces up to three years in prison on privacy and defamation charges - greater than the potential one-year sentence for the attacker.

The first thing that I thought about when I heard "invasion of privacy" was pretty simple: if a person chooses to commit acts of public (emphasis on the word public) disturbances, don't they essentially waive the right to privacy? But the law is the law, and two wrongs don't make a right. And yet, we have to believe that the law is there for a reason, to protect the citizens and residents of the UAE.

The law clearly prohibits capturing or recording audio or images through any type of device in a public or private area, categorising it as an "assault on the sanctity of an individual or family's private life". I am not a lawyer or a member of the judiciary but I assume the law was put into effect to cater to cultural sensitivities and protect people who are going about their day-to-day lives, rather than protect an attacker or someone who is disturbing the peace. The important question we must ask ourselves as a country and a community is where we draw the line between cultural sensitivities and accountability for one's actions, especially in public.

The fact is that anyone committing a crime has already brought shame to themselves, their families and their communities, whether or not someone is recording. But should a recording be made, things can get quickly out of control and the lives of many can be affected above and beyond the original act made public. Just consider how the driver who was attacked feels about the fact that thousands upon thousands have seen him being beaten and humiliated.

There needs to be some element of control regarding recordings in public; the question is how much control? Authorities clearly stated that the road rage incident is a crime. The crime was recorded, authorities were notified and the attacker was arrested that very same evening. What if that incident had not been recorded? Would authorities have been notified? Would justice have prevailed? Or would everyone have just gone about his or her day like nothing happened? Many may call this a great collaboration of citizen journalism, technology, community and public authority, coming together for the greater good of society.

When does an act of recording a crime shift from the person who filmed it being penalised for a breach of privacy to being rewarded for an act of public service? What if the crime had been a hit and run, robbery or kidnapping, and a passerby was able to capture the criminals or their car on video camera which would help authorities to make an arrest? Would that end in the film-maker being arrested?

I believe that each member of society has a role to play in the safety and security of their community. And there is room for balancing that role. The Abu Dhabi Government has released an application - Abu Dhabi Guard - that allows anyone to record or take pictures of any incident in the city and upload it on to their system. The case would then be passed on to the relevant department to handle the situation. Also, Abu Dhabi Guard allows you to pin the exact location of the incident, gives you a file number so you can follow up with the investigation and, more importantly, the case would not be closed until the person who reported the incident is satisfied with the outcome.

This application may not be ideal in all situations, specifically in emergency or abuse-related incidents, and leaves out the important aspects of public education, freedom of expression and community pressure which have been shown to play a significant role in the outcome of some incidents. But the application causes a little less immediate pain for the person recording and a little less long-term pain for the victims and families involved.

Did the person behind the camera break the law? Yes. Does the public think uploading the video on Youtube was ethically wrong? Most say no, but you would be surprised at the amount of people that wish he had gone to authorities with the video rather than uploading it straight to YouTube. However, with law makers saying that even if the man recording went straight to authorities with the video he would still have been arrested, that might have not been a good idea either and might not make a lot of sense to us. But I feel that support from authorities and the community would have been much stronger.

Also, as with the recent case of the alleged rape of a Norwegian woman in Dubai, who has been pardoned, the power of international media and the impact they can have on the direction a story takes is another aspect to consider. An appointed spokesperson or authority that can respond to allegations in a timely way and proactively keep all parties updated on facts, laws, and procedures is needed. The best way to silence critics and protect our reputation is through transparency and information.

With all the technological and social tools at our disposal, anyone caught doing anything at any given time could potentially be seen by millions of people around the world. Are we as a society ready to embrace such openness for the overall greater good and deal with the bad situations along the way? One thing is for sure: we are about to find out.


Khalid Al Ameri is an MBA candidate at the Stanford Graduate School of Business

On Twitter: @KhalidAlAmeri