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  • Ethiopia: Security vs. privacy 09 May 2015 | View comments

  • Maryamawit Engdawork

    Have you ever noticed how many times we go through security inspections in Addis Ababa per day? I decided to count them but gave up as I was going through security check when I was leaving an institution I had an appointment at.

    It is like we get checked everywhere we go: the supermarkets, our office, malls, hospitals, schools and hotels. Sometimes I wonder what they are looking for as it seems the security check is done for protocol purpose only; while in other times I feel like my right for privacy is being violated especially when they frisk me. 

    Ethiopia is a state in East Africa which has been stable for the past years. The state has not been attacked by groups like Al-Shabaab that threaten to attack the nation though they have succeeded in undertaking several attacks that has taken the life of so many civilians in our neighboring state Kenya. Could it have been the security inspections that have kept Ethiopia at peace? Though I cannot give a straight answer to this question I am sure that inspections have contributed to the fight against terrorist as the Federal Police has informed us that this group has failed to execute attacks since the terrorists were caught at different stages of attempting. 

    One thing that surprises me is no matter how much in a hurry one is everyone cooperates to these security inspections that take place even at unexpected places including the streets (security inspections happen on the streets of Addis Ababa once in a while). I believe that we all have to understand why this security checks are done and of their legality as I know many do it to avoid unnecessary confrontation with the officers, especially when the checks are done on the streets. These inspections are legal as the law gives the appropriate authorities to conduct security checks in compelling circumstances and in accordance with specific laws whose purposes is safeguarding national security or public peace, the prevention of crimes or the protection of health, public morality or the rights and freedoms of others (EPRDF Constitution Article 26).

    It is known that security is tight in Ethiopia but recently I have come to know that any intelligence is not taken for granted by the national security of Ethiopia; with informants from different walks of life. Any information is critically examined despite the source or anything you have on you which is suspicious might be seen from points of any terrorist acts. For instance, if one is caught possessing drugs the security will take the matter seriously as consumption of that drug could have pushed the person to be an instrument of a terrorist act and thus a threat to national security. 

    But still I have plenty of questions in my mind about these security inspections. Are those that do the inspection trained? Do they know what they are looking for? Do they give the appropriate information when asked why the inspection needs to be done; knowing that the person has the right to ask for such information? And these are things that need follow up whenever hiring new staffs of these positions are done.

    Especially as Addis Ababa is a destination of many travelers from around the globe there is a need to ensure that foreigners are informed about the purpose of these security inspections. As one conversation that I have had with one security personnel allowed me to learn, many foreigners resist being checked as they come from countries where their bags are checked with an x-ray machine and they go through metal detectors. So at the same time we should upgrade the instruments we use for security checks.

    Therefore our right to privacy has been limited under the constitution and legislations under it for our own safety and we undergo security checks for the safety of everyone. After all safety comes before privacy, so let’s all keep on cooperating as security is something we should not take for granted.

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