Independent media websites hacked in Sri Lanka?

On the same day The Island newspaper cited net terrorism (sic) as the cause for an outrageous gaffe in its Children Section came news that the Lanka Dissent website had been hacked into. I don’t for a moment believe that The Island was a victim of Internet “terrorism” but as an excuse it’s credence was strengthened at a time when questions are being increasingly posed as to whether the government of Sri Lanka is actively targeting independent media on the web. 

The Lanka Dissent website makes a rather serious claim in this regard:

The Defence Ministry recently set up an electronic media observation unit at a building adjacent to Standard Chartered Bank in front of the President’s House in Colombo to monitor websites reporting on the situation in Sri Lanka.

LD learns through reliable sources that this particular unit staffed with electronic and IT experts, is experimenting on how to disrupt websites.

It gives no further sources or proof to back up this claim, which if true is very disturbing. Further, the LD letter isn’t very well penned, shows no real understanding of the term “hacking” (it’s not always a pejorative term) and the four key points it makes can be seriously contested.

Point #1 on the website is conjecture and just conspiracy theories. Tissa languishes in jail, but his website is still up on the web, though its (for obvious reasons) not been updated from early March. I don’t know enough about Point #2, the “hacking” of the Daily Mirror poll, to comment. However, online polls unless carefully setup are often the targets of those who wish to skew the poll in their favour by repeated voting. So this may not have been “hacking” at all. Point #3 is so convoluted that it barely makes any sense. Point #4 on the alleged travails of The Island to wrest control of its emails from “hackers” is to me very suspect when juxtaposed against the incident that brought this supposed case of “net terrorism” to light

Anyway, LD’s emails have been broken into and it sees this as signs of growing web media repression. 

We wish to stress that this cannot be a ‘lone hacker’ enjoying his/her exploits. We have reason to believe this is an attempt in blocking local news going out into the local and the international community. This is an attempt at suppressing the remaining independent part of the Sri Lankan media and thus a serious infringement on the right for information and expression. Perhaps the beginning of official hacking in suppressing total dissemination of information.

There’s an element of hyperbole there, but as the Free Media Movement notes in a statement released today, LD’s concerns must be taken seriously in the larger context of media censorship and attacks against the press in Sri Lanka. It warns that if true, web censorship places us in the same league as China and Russia, which ain’t a place we want to be at or descend to. 

The FMM urges the authorities to immediately clarify the existence and nature of the electronic media-monitoring unit by the Ministry of Defence as noted by Lanka Dissent.

Thwarting independent media especially on the web and Internet is brings us in line with the reprehensible censorship and thinly veiled government sponsored hacking of countries such as China and Russia, now friends of Sri Lanka. Further, it is simply not possibly to shut off access to independent journalism unless like Myanmar after the Saffron Revolution, Information and Communications Technology in the entire country is shut down.

Though Tamilnet is still blocked and high powered members of the Government have called for outright bans on independent media, there’s a very active SL blogosphere and other independent media websites don’t seem to have been touched. Yet. Anyway, wouldn’t it just be more effective for a Government that certainly has no qualms in doing so to just physically roughen up or kill journalists it doesn’t like with a view to silencing dissent? Plausible deniability doesn’t work with IP blocks. 

As the FMM points out, it’s really quite difficult to shut down information flows and ICTs today. It’s easy on one level – a Government can just pull the plug – but it’s impossible to hide that you’ve done it. Every citizen is a potential reporter today. You’ll have to go down the path of Myanmar and shut every cellphone, ISP and shoot every carrier pigeon to completely halt information flows. Hell, even then information will get out. 

I may be very wrong, but I don’t think this regime is foolish enough to block websites on a large scale. Not because it doesn’t want to do it, but because it’s got more effective means at its disposal against those who promote inconvenient truths.

For starters, just ask Iqbal Athas or J.S. Tissainayagam.

3 thoughts on “Independent media websites hacked in Sri Lanka?

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