Op-Ed: Digitally Disadvataged

Digitally Disadvantaged

A report realeased by the World Bank says that Nepal has slipped in global Information Technology ranking; placing 131st out of 138 surveyed.The report considered three factors-overall business environment, regulatory structure and existing infrastructure, to evaluate nations.

For Nepal to be ranked near the bottom is unfortunate. Our political system has been paralyzed for years now. This environment of chaos and lack of policy consistency is impeding growth and development across the board-from technology to education, agriculture, social services and anything in between.

While rest of the world is galloping away in information technology super highway, Nepal is stuck in digital middle ages. There are no national guidelines or laws on vital issues such as data security and privacy, digital rights management and media ethics.

Private and public businesses are eagerly embracing latest technology and tools to attract new customers and please existing ones, but lack of proper laws and safety procedures is forcing them to operate in a technology black hole.

Misadventure experienced by a national daily of repute exposes the pitfalls of working in such an environment.

As there are no accepted guidelines or laws to regulate user privacy and online data management , a huge controversy erupted when an unsuspecting user’s public tweet was published-without prior notification or consent.

The newspaper did publish a public tweet, it is free information; but the way the entire episode was handled has exposed major flaws regarding how our media organizations use and view online information.

The most glaring omission on the media organization’s part was their failure to recognize that even if a public tweet is public information, publishing it without prior notification or consent is intrusive. Especially so because the person here is not a public figure and their tweet did not pertain to matters related to national or international interest.

Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites are increasingly being used by journalists around the world and also in Nepal. But unlike in the US or in Europe where media houses have established code of conduct regarding online information gathering and usage; our newspapers are operating in a vacuum.In this vacuum, it is easy to ignore privacy concerns and venture into ethical minefield.

This episode may not have caused huge public embarrassment to this media because majority of the debate and critique happened online and internet access is still a luxury few can afford in Nepal. Still it has left a stain, however minor, on their reputation.

If there were laws on online privacy and media access, or if the media house itself had taken the initiative to establish a guideline, this mis-step could have been entirely avoided. But such is the general lack of acceptance that data privacy important, that even our most reputable news organizations don’t bother to look into it seriously.

Misstep of this media organization readily came to public attention, what about questionable situations happening in banks, financial institutions, offices where new technology is being used without proper safeguards?

For instance, online banking banking is fast gaining poprlarity in Nepal. It is convenient and also provides cost benefits to the bank; but how safe is the user’s data? There are no laws on online data fraud and identity theft. Most of the major banks offering online and mobile banking have little information on privacy and data safety policy publicly accessable by the users. They also offer very little instructions to the users on avoiding data and identity theft.

As our tech-legal black hole grows, the system remains paralyzed, unable to deal with evolving technology and demands of the people. This inability to embrace advancements and mold existing structures to suit the changes poses severe risk to Nepal’s growth possibility-not limited to technology.

Bhumika Ghimire

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Keith Leslie on Nepal and Buddhism

We have shared couple of posts on a foreigner’s perspective on Nepal. They bring out overlooked aspects of our culture and way of life. Things we take for granted or ignore-always an engaging experience I believe.

I came across a deep and quite lengthy post on Nepal, Buddhism and religion. The blogger is a Keith Leslie, who has adopted Nepal as his homeland since 1983. Maybe I should not call his perspective a foreign one!

Here is his post,

http://lesliechand.blogspot.com/2011/04/bamboo-buddhism-in-nepal.html

I find his take on Buddhism’s (in his words) absence of emphasis on social justice and extreme focus on individual and un-critical reverence to a guru, quite challenging. Never saw that side of Buddhism.

Please read the post. If you are a religion/spirituality kind of person, it is a gripping read.

Digital security,privacy and copyright

Since the “twitter kanda” and the great flurry of tweets on what privacy means and does not mean online; debate on this issue was welcome development.

From vulnerabilities of online banking to lack if laws in Nepal regarding data
security and privacy, it is clear that the country is still an infant in digital world. There have been significant strides, but the basics are still very weak.

In a way, Nepal is in a hurry to catch up, but in that race the fundamentals are being ignored.

Most glaring, apart from lack of sufficient security measures, is the lack of appropriate laws. Looking at current environment of chaos and confusion on Nepali political scene, maybe this is something to be expected. But it does not take away the fact that the people are being provided less than what they deserve and what they are paying for.

Copyright

It sad when creative minds are stifled of their hard earned money and recognition.

Bloggers, writers,singers, actors- all are victims of lax copyrights laws in Nepal which have not been updated to deal with the challenes posed by the information revolution.

But it would be wrong to assume that it is only the artists who are suffering. Some artists, I won’t name them, are engaged in copyright payback.

Recently I was at a party where the artists themselves were selling their own pirated CDs, $10 a piece. The CD cover looked like hastily printed at a home computer covered with a thin plastic wrap.

The company which released these CDs didn’t do it for free. They had invested significant amount of money and time. When an artist engages in piracy, it is a lose lose situation and does not make the injustice-if any, heaped against them by the music companies go away. This just creates a vicious cycle.

For more on Copyright in Nepal, this post at Future Challenges.

Online Privacy

Kantipur printing public tweets of some Nepali tweeps, I see that as a truning point in the country’s privacy and digital security debate. Since then,
number of bloggers, tweeps and journalists have been vigoriously debating this issue and I see that the level of awarness and interest is growing.

It is another story that Kantipur completely ignored readers’ privacy concerns and instead accused them of being “digital refusniks”. But a positive start has been made and that should be embraced.

To take this a step further, there should be an accepted guideline among Nepali publications on what is acceptable to share about their readers- even when that information is public. For instance, going back to the twitter controversy, it would be better to set up a public twitter forum and publish tweets sent to that forum and refrain from fishing around.

Moving forward

So what can be done to make digital security, privacy and copyright a priority? Please send in your suggestions.

Tweet for Cause Nepal

Continuing our effort to publicize the positive happening in Nepal, today we are sharing post on Tweet for Cause Nepal. They are launching an effort to help a children’s home in Kathmandu. Actually, that children’s home is in my old neighborhood! So, please go through this post on their mission and hopefully, you will be energized to support them.

Update April 25,2011

Tweet for Cause Nepal members visited the Pabitra Sewa Samaj children’s home on April 23, Saturday. To read the complete updates, please visit their blog.

Children their study at Tilangtar Secondary School, which is just 5 minutes from my home! It is a public school and has been working very hard to improve facilities. May I request you to support this school too?

A preliminary visit to Pabitra Sewa Samaj (PSS) Nepal, Basundhara

For the #tfcnepal first donation, we were in search of a destination where the amount we collected from our tweet counts could be a help to the needy ones/deprived groups or the orphanage /elderly homes around Kathmandu Valley. We the members of @tfcnepal had a preliminary survey of Pabitra Sewa Samaj(PSS) Nepal, located at Basundhara near Triyog School. We were there to know their needs and whether our motto matches the support we were planing for or not. Whom We met was Ms Dikchhya Chapagai , Chairman/Founder of PSS. A young and dedicated Woman whose life has been devoted to maintain the Fates of various street children from various categories.

There were 22 members altogether being fed and educated by PSS. Dikchhya has been working in this field since her childhood. She explains, the PSS has been running in the school building donated by a Public School nearby and else nothing governmental approches has been heard so far, but the personal helps are the major source of economy to feed those deprived group of children. She further explains, “I have a United States’ Visa posted on my Passport but from the moment I wake up till I go to bed, I don’t have any other intensions behind uplifting the lifestyles of those children and handing over them their bright future. Nothing else matters but she is fully concerned with the continuous support to aid happiness to the faces of those children.

Children there have common surnames and DOB, we heard everyone there being called by different names but the common surnames. For this she explains, all these my children are sons and daughters of the holy land Nepal, so I basically call them all with their common surnames Nepal. And regarding DOB, she says, since a day in a year could be a momento in every childrens’ life, I explain them with their birth dates as Baisakh 01 and celebrate birthdays every year. Further she tells, Seeing children from deprived groups and communities I couldn’t resist their situations and collected them from streets to this orphanage home and give them a new identity for their bright future. This PSS is now under the hands of personal donors and we collect whatever donated by them and use up as the daily use materials.

Amazing to know but all the 21 children (1 elderly granny) living under the shades of PSS were distinction holders and marks above 90% :O (quite impressive). We asked them with their motto in life, the answers we got from most of them was a Social Worker, besides Doctor, Model, Singer and Dancer. See them dancing for usDancers The nearby governmental school where they study has privileged them with a bit schoolarship programmes but they are not having their studies at free of cost. Dikchhya said ‘ for the previous year, I got a donor who donated the sum of money for whole year to all the students and I am hopeful I’ll get one this year too.’ The children were worried about the academic sessions would start very soon and we lack proper books to read and copies to write. We explained, May be we can be a help this time….. Dikchhya smiles 🙂

We further asked, what are your requirements, if we could meet your demands that are very much essential. She explained, We have a stock of Paddy to feed but we lack Edible oil, Biscuits, Noodles, Beaten Rice, Kitchen Utensils (plates, spoons, cups), Slippers, Toothpastes, Toothbrushes, Stationaries (Copies, Pencils, Erasers, Sharpeners), Soaps (Bathing, Cleaning) thats all. Personally @friendycalls donated some Noodles and Juice to the PSS Nepal.

We are too much hopeful that we can be a great help to them this time …. What do you say members… please drop in your views.

If you are really interested in doing something for them, you can certainly bring smiles in their faces by donating your unused stuffs, outfits, books, copies and whatever you wish. You can bring them with yourselves this saturday, 23rd April, 2011 at the Pavitra Sewa Samaj (PSS) Nepal, Basundhara (Near Triyog H.S. School and hand it over to Ms. Dikchhya Chapagai. Your every donations counts in here…… Thanking you all for your great support.
To get the directions to #PSS Nepal Way to #PSS NEPAL
@tfcnepal

This post was shared with permission from Tweet for Cause Nepal. Please follow them at Twitter @tfcNepal for updates.

And We Get a Memo from Kantipur

Last week, Nepali Twitterverse was abuzz with serious discussion on issue of user privacy, what counts for suitable material for a national daily and media ethics.

For the background information, please go through pervious post Twitter, Silliness Policing and Kantipur.

The discussions started after Kantipur’s Friday supplement published un-protected tweets of a user. A week later, instead of getting a clear message from Kantipur on how they plan to move ahead with their Twitter fishing expedition while respecting rights and concerns of a user; we get a memo(in a form of article written by Sunil Regmi) which is unapologetic, and frankly accuses those who raised privacy concerns of being “digital age refusenik”.

The memo  raises valid questions on responsibility of a user to maintain a certain degree of civility during online conversations. Yes, we accept that. The user who sent death threats  to Kantipur reporter Ashish Luitel should be called out for his insensitive act. And I believe majority of Nepali Twitter users engaged in the debate have done that, without any reservations.

Regmi also asks for Twitter users to accept that un-protected tweets are, well, not protected and thus can be viewed and used by anyone. Fine. It makes sense technically.

But, why is Regmi and his memo silent on concerns raised by Nepali Twitter users who want to know why a national daily of Kantipur’s stature is interested in finishing out  random tweets that contribute nothing to further national debate. I mean, these random users they are trolling are not public personalities, they are not someone nationally or internationally consequential. They are just regular, private citizens. Why peek into their life? Kantipur can’t find better materials to fill that space?

Kantipur has also failed to address its motive behind heaping all the blame on their critics and labelling them “digital age refusenik“, while not accepting their mistakes. Tell me, in which country does a national newspaper get away without any apology or explanation after publishing random, inconsequential conversation between private citizens? That too after the readers have raised serious objection?

To add insult to injury, Regmi tries to school us on international Twitter and digital etiquette by referencing  likes of  Justin Beiber and the IPL! Kantipur believes that a teenage boy, who happens to be famous, is enough to force us to behave in a way that suits their agenda and expectations!

Kantipur is Nepal’s largest selling national daily and a big shot in country’s media and social scene; but please look at the message you are sending to your readers. If you continue on this path of arrogance and ignorance, future will be lot less charming.

Update April 25,2011

Since publishing this blog, I have read number posts on this issue. Here are two of more interesting ones:

ट्विटरमा पत्रकार (Nepali, Mero Report)

Thoughts On Ongoing Issue on Nepali Tweetosphere #TwitterKanda #Opinion (English, Aakar Post)


Yet Another Frenzy: Nepali Leaks and Safety of “Leakers”

MySansar has partnered with Nepali Leaks and they are promising a season of fury against corruption and mismanagement.

“विकिलिक्सबाट प्रेरित नेपालीलिक्सको सहयोगमा माइसंसारले थाल्नेछ त्यस्ता कुराहरुको पर्दाफास, जसलाई तपाईँहरुबाट लुकाउन खोजिएको छ। किनकि पारदर्शिताले नै समाजलाई जिम्मेवार बनाउन सघाउँछ। सूचना तपाईँको अधिकार हो। त्यही अधिकारका लागि हामी डट्नेछौँ सारा जोखिम मोलेर। त्यसका लागि चाहिनेछ तपाईँको साथ।”

Potential “leakers” or whistle blowers are urged to send in documents supporting claims of corruption to Nepali Leaks’ website. They are promised anonymity and data security.

Now, the tough part. I am terrified of this new Wikileaks wannabe adventure taken up by Mysansar.

Yes, it is a great initiative to expose the corrupt and those hurting Nepal’s national interest but I strongly believe that this expose mission is happening in a hurry and could result in serious accident.

First of all, I would like to question MySansar, how are they going to protect a whistleblower? Because Nepal does not have any law guaranteeing safety and security for a whistleblower. In a country where Police can force internet service providers to submit user data so that VOIP operators could be identified, what makes this project safe from such investigations?

In case there is a huge scandal and a Police investigation is launched; and they identify the “leaker”, what kind of responsibility is MySansar going to bear?

Also, are the leakers pre-notified of all the risks they are undertaking? that is lack of legal protection and possibility of public identification? and are they clear on what kind of support, if any, is Mysansar going to provide in such circumstance?

Then there is the question on who are the people who decide what is fit to expose. Mysansar says they have a panel of experts who will judge submitted materials, who are these experts? If the people are asked to risk their security to expose corruption, shouldn’t they know who are these experts and why they deserve to be in such a consequential position.

Like I have said time and again, MySansar is a great outlet and a great resource for Nepalis around the world. But I have serious reservations regarding their Nepal Leaks project. Frankly, I am worried and scared that they are whipping up a frenzy, using unsuspecting people and it could result into serious accident.