by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Brian Hioe

THE KMT HAS sought to attack the DPP on ostensible concerns about the tracking of protestors after comments by DPP legislator Wang Yi-chuan. Wang’s comments, which were rather vague about their specifics, were interpreted as suggesting that data could be gathered from protesters outside of the Legislative Yuan during the Bluebird Movement protests based on their age and gender.

Still, while the KMT may hope to leverage on fears regarding state surveillance, this is not likely to resonate with the demonstrators involved in the Bluebird Movement. After all, the Bluebird Movement was a series of protests that broke out against what was framed as efforts by the KMT to expand state powers. This would have taken the form of allowing legislators powers to summon individuals, whether private individuals, government officials, company executives, or members of civil society groups for questioning.

Likewise, this took place in the same timeframe as the KMT proposing to revive the Special Investigation Division (SID) of the Ministry of Justice and placing this under legislative authority. The KMT was broadly expected to use such powers to try and target former Tsai administration officials, or other individuals they take issue with, for the sake of drumming up publicity against their political enemies.

Consequently, the KMT is more likely to rally its own base by raising fears about purported government surveillance, rather than appeal to individuals who participated in the Bluebird Movement demonstrations, who themselves are more likely to fear targeting at the hands of the KMT.

In all likelihood, Wang’s comments were a poorly thought out attempt to have a dig at the TPP over the heavily male gender ratio of demonstrations organized by the party, something criticized as in line with the macho political reputation of TPP leaders as Ko Wen-je and Huang Kuo-chang. Still, the attempt by the KMT to attack the DPP about surveillance proves ironic. Firstly, such capacities of surveillance are not due to the DPP, but originate with the powers that the state possesses. If the KMT were to win the next presidential election and, in this way, become the ruling party, the KMT would then be the political party in Taiwan that has access to such powers.

The KMT legislative caucus. Photo credit: Fu Kun-chi/Facebook

Likewise, the KMT is, of course, the former authoritarian party in Taiwanese politics, which proves odd when the party tries to frame itself as defending freedom from surveillance or privacy concerns as based on the rights of citizens. One of the reasons why the KMT’s calls to revive the SID have proven controversial is because as recently as the Ma administration, the SID was seen as targeting political enemies of Ma using its capacities for surveillance. This took the form of wiretapping DPP minority whip Ker Chien-ming and then-KMT majority speaker Wang Jinpyng at a time when Ma was at odds with Wang and aimed to drive him out of the party, framing communications between Ker and Wang as illegal collusion.

In this way, any privacy concerns that should be raised through Wang’s comments is likely to be lost in the KMT’s interest in the issue as a way to target the DPP politically. It was apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic that the government does, in fact, have powers of surveillance based on monitoring of cell phones. This includes being able to tell when individuals were present in specific areas that may have potentially come into contact with COVID-19 cases.

Yet civil society groups generally did not raise issues with the government as a means of head-on confrontation during this time, because of that the public largely was willing to go along with such measures from the government. Indeed, one notes that while the KMT also sought to criticize the Tsai administration over its COVID-19 response, this usually did not take the form of raising privacy concerns, but instead by attacking the Tsai administration as failing to do enough as part of its response, or alleging that certain actions only took place because of political corruption. It proves a challenge for civil society groups to raise concerns about surveillance independent of partisan mudslinging between the KMT and DPP, then.

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