Democratic governments are just as likely to restrict civil liberties as despotic systems are, if not safeguarded by citizen vigilance and protection. The gatekeepers of our transitional republic seem to have got it into their heads that the internet is too free and must be regulated.
The pattern is impossible not to notice. It started with the infamous ban on 'pornographic and objectionable sites' last September. Then some Internet Service Providers (ISPs) who said they couldn't monitor subscribers were jailed. Now, the government is monitoring browsing details of high bandwidth subscribers. Ostensibly, it is to control illegal call bypassers, but it may not be long before the government starts getting too intrusive, riding on these same provisions to monitor more personal information including the private emails you sent out this morning.
The Nepal Telecommunication Authority (NTA) has directed ISPs (Internet Service Providers) to provide information of all subscribers who use a bandwidth of 1Mbps or more. The Nepal Police work closely with NTA technicians now in a joint taskforce to scan web details of users to identify VOIP racketeers.
ISPs gave in reluctantly and are providing the police with MRTG data of subscribers for network traffic monitoring. The government accused some ISPs themselves of illegal VOIP, making the controls necessary.
That's all fine. The problem is that this seriously infringes on the right to privacy of subscribers. Why should private internet users be subjected to profiling to nab a few bypassers? Is the police intelligence capacity so poor that it doesn't know the scamsters in this town? Rather than going after the bypassers, why not legalize VOIP instead so that consumers can make cheaper calls? 1 Mbps is not a big pipe, and innocent users can be easily harassed (or extorted) by an opaque government machinery.
MRTG data only allows monitoring the browsing patterns of users, but could be a stepping stone for the government to introduce censorship and intrude on private correspondence in the future.
The government's argument is that it wants the information to fight crime, terrorism and porn. But the way in which internet users and their activities are being tracked (the most recent is the requirement of ID cards to use cyber cafes) the government's motives are suspect.
Last year, the NTA made it mandatory for ISPs to install filtering software to block websites that are 'obscene, seductive and corrupt social morals'. Any content threatening 'religious harmony, national security, and goes against values and beliefs of the state' were deemed objectionable enough to be blocked.
The kind explanation is that the government only wants to protect us from objectionable content and maintain law and order. But the fact that popular sites like huffingtonpost.com and even scientific journals like springer.com were on the list of blocked URLs raises alarm bells because of the state's sheer incompetence and ham-handedness.
The government chose not to use legal methods to enforce this ban, unmindful that it was a violation to constitutionally guaranteed right to privacy and free expression. "It is simply not acceptable for the government to bypass legal channels and introduce such regulations by orders. Laws restricting the freedom of expression can be passed by parliament alone," says human rights lawyer, Santosh Sigdel.
One of the safeguards against privacy infringements can be data protection laws. These are necessary because the government is looking at the use of smart cards with full information on individuals. The government may well demand ISPs produce any user data it wants, but there should be laws to ensure that the data are not misused to target individuals.
That the government managed to enforce such controversial decisions without much opposition tells a lot about the lack of public awareness about privacy issues. All unchallenged governments, democratic or despotic, exhibit the same oppressive tendencies. The question is what are we as citizens going to do about it?
1. Mr. Poudel
The question is what are we as citizens going to do about it?
Well, I will tell you what we will do... surf porn and masturbate... and expose our children to them and sexualise them... do you not realise that Nepal has one of the worst records anywhere in the world of adults exposing children to pornography? My neighbour's son was shown a porn movie when he was 7 years old by his friend's older brother... suffice to say, he tried to rape girls even when his penis was not fully functional, he tried to grope his elder sister and got a nice spanking. I wonder what he will be like when he is 12/ 13... because in his mind he has made the association that all women are like that porn whore...
You will say "Oh! it is the parent's job to protect their children". But how the hell can a parent protect against sexual predators in the computer labs, the older pupils at schools who show it on their mobiles, those who intentionally leave porn pages open in internet cafes...
And you invoke 'right to privacy and free expression' as your defense. Protection of free expression - NO WAY. I don't want some pervert jerking off in front of my children at school claiming it is educational and s/he has the right to free expression. Expressions need to be controlled and even speech need to be restricted. It is an embarrassment to walk the streets of Kathmandu with my mother because of all the foul language, cussing, cat calls, the dirty glares people stare you with (and all that for a man walking with his mother!)...
You cannot and should not be allowed to do what you want, to express what you want (and please don't give me that liberal humanist bull crap - do what you want as long as you don't hurt anyone - this is a license to mentally manipulate anyone who doesn't want to do what you want, but ends up doing it anyway because of your manipulation).
The funny thing is that you will be the one in the near future who will be complaining that there is no security when all hell starts to break loose (e.g. women getting raped in public places, like in Italy, one of the beacon's of liberal democracy - they had to mobilise the army to protect women in public parks because so many of them were getting gang raped... lol).
Well, you could as a 'liberal' argue that many independent women these days fantasize being dominated and raped (plenty or research available to prove this), and so they need to be serviced as well, but that does not justify the act even for a libertarian does it? Fantasy is one thing, reality something else. You are trying to establish that one should have no influence on the other. But it does.
And you will be crying 'protect us', 'where are the brave Gorkhalis, we need security'... but what about your mind, my mind, the child's mind? Does it not need protection as well from violent manipulations? Is it not in our minds that we brew violent, pornographic and domineering thoughts before deciding to physically act them out and in the process manipulate our victims into subjecting to our whims? So where is the security against such manipulations?
I am not proposing thought control, but as a society we will fare much better with safeguards and restrictions.
22 JULY 2011 | 12:07 PM NST
2. Bibek Paudel
Great writeup, very to the point and analytic. Like always, I admire NT and its writers for this- writing about socio-technical matters like no other paper does in Nepal, and still doing it the way it should be done. Well done !
Monitoring internet usage in order to curb a couple of crimes (in this case VOIP) sound like a good idea, but the same provisions and laws could be extended later to target bloggers or journalists who speak against the eestablishment. No surveillance should be allowed without a court warrant and a very solid legal basis behind it. This should also apply to wiretapping, espionage, personal communication and other areas.
On the other hand, Nepal's ISP's are no less irresponsible. They recently shut down the internet for some hours in the name of "protest" and then went ahead to lobby internal and international rights groups to support such move of theirs. People who are often ignorant onlookers (in these matters), would do what they do in other cases- assume that the political leaders and government are always wrong and should be ridiculed. They did so. Shutting down internet should be a criminal act, tantamount to blocking highways and closing hospital emergency rooms. The ISPs should have been booked more severely.
If ISPs are involved in illegal activities like the government claims, this kind of provision does nothing to solve it. The ISPs should be more responsible and government should be more far-sighted.
Btw, MRTG has never been explained above, might have been better to do so (Multi RouterTraffic Grapher) or just say "usage patterns" of customers.
22 JULY 2011 | 1:06 PM NST
3. Bibek Paudel
@Mr. Poudel, I like your arguments, and I agree about your description of too many expletives in public places, a big impending social problem in the form of frustrations in people and so on. But any amount of legal or technical measures to try to change this is not going to work.
They are social problems, maybe "moral" problems too. Somehow, the value systems of our society are non-existing or not working. Law or police can't change this. We should identify what kind of society we want to build for our future, and if it is an open, forward thinking and free society, then we should work towards education systems, creating more examples, building trust and so on. The problems you mentioned are correct, the solutions- needs rethinking.
22 JULY 2011 | 1:25 PM NST
The writer is chasing a red herring.
The real question is "Why should VOIP be illegal"?
Make VOIP legal and let people enjoy low price communication, and problem is solved.
It is illogical. Why is it legal to digitise a picture and send it over the internet but illegal to digitise your voice and send it over the interent?
22 JULY 2011 | 2:35 PM NST
@jange: Let me tell you why:
1. Everybody is involved: the daughter Koirala (this is a big group), the telecom companies, the ISPs (yes), and then many others also get a piece of the cake for themselves. There is huge money- I tell you- you can't imagine how much. And there are rumors than in the old-days even some people related to the palace were involved (with devices installed inside the durbar itself). Telecom has so much money, it has always attracted the attention of royal families and sheiks all over the world.
2. If you make it legal, the above ecosystem will be destroyed. You won't get a piece of the cake, or if you do, it will be smaller. You won't be able to charge high rates because competition will bring down the price. You will have to fear about new competitors (including foreign companies) who are not in this right now because either they can't afford the investment (you have to feed many people here) or can't be sure they won't be busted soon (this network is also exclusive).
3. You can hurt small innovators, and all business has to depend on big houses. An easy VOIP system provides individuals and companies of just-out-of-university entrepreneurs the opportunities to design new business models and connect well with people abroad.
Please reply if you need more reasons.
22 JULY 2011 | 6:27 PM NST
6. Arcane and Unapologectic
But what kind of solution do you propose?
Like in Iran and Saudi Arabia, and even China...
Of course No. Yes, pornography has been a problem largely because our brother and sisters are globalized and their ideals are Namrata here at home and Katy Perry at abroad whose asses they admire most. You write in tabloids exudingly: someone's porn is out there to be admired. Write in gossip magazines exultantly: big breasts in kink in Swimming pools is by no means ulterior and retrograde..that's normanl. And, be a businessman showing in your ciggie and alcohie ads conspicuously: some awe-inspiring loins and lips are desirable to be a modern man. Give your son money to night-outs, especially in Nagarkot and Thamel; and to your daughter, give her Rs 1500 in Birthday treats, when she'll slip to her boyfren's rented room.
This is inevitable Catch-22 situation and need profound social thinkers devoted at policy-making at top echelons. Like Russell and Durkheim.
As Russel says, machines are mechanical entities and can be regular unless the Man who has emotions and needs breakthrough. Thus the principal problem is machines out here to justify the inherent erotic behaviors.
The problem lies in the capitalistic way of thinking too. Say me there lies no relation between capital accumulation and movement to pornography! You know, capitalism literally means you can do anything in any ways possible. Anything you do is materialistically linked with, then, consumption. So it means FREEDOM OH..human rights, individualism, et al. Then, the real hypocrisy is you talk about infringement of others' rights, sometimes. Like for Strauss Khan or ....It means you can't, don't and wish not to deliberate upon the social compact through which we live in a state. Never be in illusion that the UK, the USA, Italy, India (esp. Mumbai) ideal places. Think Nordic lands, especially Denmark, Norway .....The biggest illusion ever has been the way we deify these aforementioned smutty countries.
Look! State means everything you do, you, your property, your historical evaluation, your state's vested interests (welfare, security and identity..as someone says). Does it not need some sacrifice so we reach optimal status where we can maximize our needs? For this, it's also important to know what our aspiration is.
What are needs and aspirations? Why are some professed acceptable and others not? How can we classify some necessary, acceptable and justifiable and others not?
Here comes the problem.
If we think I can't rape someone, or spank others, so what does it mean some sites can't be blocked for children, who, by any socio-legal interpretations, are not fully conscientious, shorn of mature judgement and behaviors, don't know a real difference between her male friend and a stocky man with big penis, and can do any sexualisation for gratification, whether retro, asked or expected (in criminal forms, often)?
Thus, we must block some sites. Hey, as a logophile, I can get many slang words out there in porn sites, or may even be necessary in some queer instances when these brainwashed western researchers and media outlets publish research showing pornography is essential. But something most be sacrificed by us all. I'm really honest, and unlike my friends, I just peek some nude ( not having intercourse) pics that have some aesthetic value. But, I can give up even that form my juniors whom I love, and aspire them to become near-supermen and superwomen.
Thus, regulations must be maintained in humans who are coarse beings at heart. As Mureen Dowd gesticulated, we must clamp down tabloids like Saptahik or even Sukrabar in some sexualizing contents, who, by lowest denominator, pander to the lowest than they pander to.
Clamp down on companies and banks. Clamp down on press that thinks it has nothing to do but write anything it feels emancipating, including curvaceous bodies of so-called hornies. Clamp down on ads that show a girl sliding upon chest of a big-shouldered man in beaches, in total booze. Clamp down any site, which has sexualizing contents.
And for public: if you complain, don't give mobile phones to your children because, unless you are vampire out there, no-one will kidnap your daughter. Don't let her go cybers. Never let her talk about sexually contented things, unless she is 14. And, never try to globalize them and admire Namrata and Katy Perry. Keep your brats at bay. And every tabloids that are manipulable upon us: extirpate them. And, one last thing..For your sons too..thutuno ra mutuno lai ramrari janera prayog gara. My guru said it. So no offence or preaching, yeah!
22 JULY 2011 | 9:42 PM NST
7. Gyan Guru
Now all that's left to do is to create a department of homeland security. WHO's going to man up?
22 JULY 2011 | 10:25 PM NST
voip illegal - why? this is governmental extortion of its people to make them pay exorbitant price for communication. if a shop can run voip and provide such cheap communication, why is that illegal? and it's the latest in technology. when are these moronic NTA bums going to see the light?
23 JULY 2011 | 8:38 AM NST
But the more interesting question is why does the NT prefer to go after the diversion and not the key issue??!!
23 JULY 2011 | 3:57 PM NST
10. Nares H.
While it's uninspiringly true your are arcanest of commie, your take on pornography here is still more foolhardy, unjust and slack.
Your godfather was a member of Soviet-era KGB member. So it's a little surprise you don't ever sling the vitriol to your last saint Gorbachev.
So your version of freedom clearly hinges on freedom of Big Brother in 1984. Not the year, but the most-feared-by-commies novel.
Commies are most understandable in their inputs. While they also think none excels them, they remember faint moments of victories to idolize what they say 'uniformity' among all people. 'Liberation' and 'Utopia' among others.
While your boast grants you a vent to be 'unapologetic', not 'unapologectic, your writing is so worthy of a shrink. It reeks of your convalescent mind.
23 JULY 2011 | 10:35 PM NST
11. Bibek Paudel
Nepal only seems to be following the global best practices (or so you could say :))
American Congress is discussing a bill H.R. 1981, titled "Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act of 2011."
25 JULY 2011 | 12:59 AM NST
12. Rajesh Chaudhary
Every country has its own set of rules to montior the internet access from their network and it is fairly legal to do that. Whatever is done -- its done for a good purpose. ISPs have to pay for what they have been used for and if the user will not provide as much money as their ISPs have to pay --- there is no way the information technology will be rising in near future. The only saddening thing is that the government personall is not educated enough to hand this things and they are now blockign some useful sites and even some research sites. These days we have medical research facilites and everyday there are hundreds of papers publishign and in one way or another, those papers contains the word, "Sex". If the government peronalls do not know how to filter the content; one day will have no access to the papers with the term "sex" -- either its demographic or whatsoever.