Ban Facebook: Ar koto talbahana?

Ban Facebook_Daily_Dhaka_TimesKhokon Kamali: I have always used technology as essential to export-import business. You send a detailed work order at night, and by the time you wake up, the client in Europe has processed it using their daytime. Many times, I blessed the inventors of GMT time zones, broadband, Wi-Fi, Skype, messenger, and all the rest.

Some of the older generation remained immune to technology. I could not convince my mother to take up typing. Then, about a year ago, the same time as most of Bangladesh, she discovered WhatsApp and Viber. She took to it for same reason as many others: Staying in touch with relatives abroad (a sister in Malaysia). Soon, mother became expert at sending messages with photos. She also became active on Facebook, making family albums of photos.

These are activities that majority of Bangladeshis now share. Another huge portion uses it for outsourcing business.

But this possibility is not what government sees, they see instead the possibility that a handful of people are using it for planning so-called terror attacks, even though there’s no real evidence (claims via media are not enough).

I had earlier mentioned Naomi Klein’s idea of “disaster capitalism” and how both sides gain through “war on terror.” I forgot to mention the sub-group of security consultants: Government, military, and private.

Consultants, by definition, need to highlight new problems, so they can get big contracts and get paid for “solving” them. Is it one of these consultants who has given the advice that blocking Facebook, Whatsapp, and Viber is going to curb terrorism? I didn’t know my mother’s family photos are a weapon.

I have questions for the security services and consultants. Are you giving the information based on which officials are making statements that don’t have basis in technology? You told the government the block would be absolute. Within a few hours, most people were able to access the services via VPN, of which there are numerous varieties in the world.

The minister said at a press conference that the government can see who is still accessing Facebook and this is against the law. But it’s not true that it’s against the law. Government only blocked these services, they did not pass a law saying these services cannot be used; although after reading this some official may say “let’s pass a law making Facebook illegal.” It’s also not true that the government can see who is using Facebook through VPN, you can only see they are using VPN, you can’t see the data going through it.

Perhaps security consultants are trying to make money by getting the government to buy new spying software (which only these consultants can operate, of course). Now that the American NSA (National Security Agency) has announced that, in the face of legal challenges, they will stop collecting bulk phone data from American citizens, where will the US companies that built surveillance software go? Perhaps they will find enthusiastic buyers in our government. Maybe there are already foreign “security experts” giving our government advice, that guide them to buying this expensive, and now discredited, software.

Another official said that National ID Card will be required to register for Facebook. This would require giving Facebook direct access to our National ID Card database. This is neither technically feasible, nor would Facebook ever want anything to do with this. Why did he say it, why did the media report it without basic fact-checking?

A facebook executive visited the minister, and she has said “Facebook doesn’t accept that there are many things considered defamatory in Bangladesh.” Why has the conversation moved to defamation? Didn’t the government say the block was to prevent violence?

The next day, at another press conference she announced that: “If, after we lodge a complaint that a girl in a village will commit suicide, yet they take four days to remove the objectionable post, then the girl cannot be saved.” When did the Facebook block become about sexual harassment posts in villages?

All the lofty announcements of letters and meetings with Facebook will cause more embarrassment when Facebook doesn’t obey government instructions, as it has done in China and Iran, two other countries that also send letters to Facebook often. No international technology company will allow a government to carry out surveillance on citizens through their service. Certainly not in the post-Snowden era.

You can only force BTRC to follow your orders, because they are not real technologists, only supplicants, but the Internet is not made in, or owned by, Bangladesh — it is global. You can no longer use censorship ideas of the 1980s Ershad period, because we are now in the global, there is no going back.

A news report claimed that, over a hundred IP addresses belonging to militants were identified. But about a year back my head of IT was explaining to me that Bangladesh and other data bandwidth poor countries use “dynamic IP,” which means the same IP is sometimes assigned by ISP’s to more than one person. Has the technology changed in one year such that Bangladesh now has one IP address per person? Or is the law enforcement talking about IP addresses specific to a locality (but my IT head said dynamic IPs are not locality specific)? Somebody is definitely not telling the whole truth.

It also does not make sense that there are “Digital Bangladesh” billboards outside five-star hotels, while we are going through the fifth or sixth block of internet services, first Youtube, then Facebook, then Skype, then WhatsApp, then Viber, then Facebook again. In the last seven years of a government that promised technology freedom in their election manifesto.

The average Bangladeshi is too savvy to fall for fairytales about technology any more. Please take steps for safety, law and order, and justice — all of which we support. Stop scapegoating technology, choking the Internet, and listening to your expensive security consultants.

I read an excellent article on Global Voices recently, in which the main photo was the best. A young student holds a sign up in front of the Raju sculpture demanding all social media apps be opened again. The slogan at the top says it for all citizens of Bangladesh: “Ar koto talbahana?”


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