ICT for Peacebuilding

Blurred lines: Surveillance and ethics

I was invited to deliver a short-talk, as part of a public discussion looking at ‘Cross Cutting Dynamics of Online Democracy: Mainstreaming Internet Freedom and the Right to Privacy in Sri Lanka”, at the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) on 21 March 2017.

The programme can be downloaded here. The panel included old friends Nalaka Gunawardene, Subha Wijesiriwardena, Jayantha Fernando and others.

Partly because the title I was given from BASL was indecipherable, and partly also because I wanted to identify threats and opportunities on the horizon and not just what jurisprudence and the legal system had to deal with today, I opted to focus on the role, nature and scope of surveillance in Sri Lanka, as we know it, and implications for personal privacy. In the presentation I also focussed more broadly on the intrusive nature of web, cloud and social media services, siphoning ever increasing information produced by us for a process of monetization that is essentially the commodification of personal data.

Covering the rise of psychometric targeting, the passive yet pervasive harvesting of personal data by corporate entities, I also looked at AI technologies that now have the capability to mirror the discursive patterns of actual humans.

Noting the rise of a post-privacy world, at least related to traditional notions of privacy (I didn’t talk about the far more complex theories around differential privacy and big data, championed by the likes of Apple and Google), I also noted that the concern post-Snowden in particular is that States and corporations now have the ability to track or target individuals at scale. I flagged the atrocious nvestigatory Powers Act 2016 or Snoopers’ Charter in the United Kingdom as an example of how legislation today seriously eroded personal privacy.

I then showcased, based on court records in Sri Lanka as published in The Internet as a medium for free expression: A Sri Lankan legal perspective by senior lawyer J.C. Weliauma, how ISPs had pushed back against TRC directives to have blanket bans on websites, including YouTube, ostensibly because they carried pornographic content.

Looking at a story I did for Groundviews in 2015 (), I demonstrated how under the Rajapaksa regime, state authorities were deeply interested in procuring technologies that could covert infiltrate and surveil targets selected by intelligence authorities, which given the context at the time, would have invariably included journalists, civil society and human rights activities.

Towards the end of the presentation I also flagged serious concerns around the lack of data privacy laws in Sri Lanka in relation to the proposed electronic national identity card (e-NIC) project, particularly when as noted online, an entity leading the development of it, is also associated with and owned by the Ministry of Defense. Subsequent discussions during the panel suggested that this has changed, but the e-NIC project remains mired in confusion and secrecy.

Noting concerns around ‘smart cities’ and MoU’s with service providers based out of China to undergird the ICT aspects of proposed urban development in Sri Lanka, I noted there are significant privacy concerns around (though I didn’t mention it by name at the session), a world where the Internet of Things (IoT) increasingly controls and influences aspects of our lives.

I ended by referring to the Matrix, and feared many in the audience wouldn’t know what I was talking about or when I showed Neo, a central character in the trilogy, who I was referring to. The point I made, in homage to Neo’s role, was that instead of going with blind faith and acceptance towards a future where our privacy would no longer exist as we know, value and seek to protect it today, we needed as citizens or even consumers to be more aware of what we sign up to, install, use and publish on. I urged the audience to question everything, and noted that at the end of the day, digital rights and privacy was inextricably entwined with issues around citizenship and governance under a new constitution, promised to Sri Lankans later this year.

ICT for Peacebuilding

Fast Company’s World Changing Ideas 2017: Finalist

‘Corridors of Power’, a path-breaking project marrying constitutional reform and theory with architecture, is a finalist in Fast Company’s World Changing Ideas 2017 awards, under the Urban Design category.

As noted online, “Fast Company sifted through more than 1,000 truly impressive entries to find the ones our panel of judges thought were the best combination of creative problem solving and potential to change our world for the better. [Fast Company] crowned 12 winners–along with 192 finalists.”

Conceived of and curated by me, in close collaboration with leading constitutional theorist Asanga Welikala and renowned architect Channa Daswatte, ‘Corridors of Power’ through architectural drawings and models, interrogates Sri Lanka’s constitutional evolution since 1972.

The exhibition depicts Sri Lanka’s tryst with constitutional reform and essentially the tension between centre and periphery. The exhibits include large format drawings, 3D flyovers, sketches and models reflecting the power dynamics enshrined in the the 1972 and 1978 constitutions, as well as the 13th, 18th and 19th Amendments.

The exhibition premiered late 2015, was taken around Sri Lanka in 2016 and will also be taken to key cities over the course of 2017. To our knowledge, nothing along these lines has ever been attempted or created before.

More details here. Content from the exhibition is also archived here.

A dedicated website for the project will be launched in April.

ICT for Peacebuilding

Identifying & combatting Fake News: A primer

I was recently asked to put together a presentation on the fake news phenomenon for discussions with leading journalists and media institutions in a developing country, with extremely poor media literacy but strong growth around social media use, on how to both identify misleading content and also stem its flow, reach and influence.

###

In addition to Slideshare (embedded above), a Google Drive folder has the presentation as an Apple Keynote (which I used to create the slideshow), Microsoft PowerPoint and PDF. Obviously, the PDF will not show the videos that are embedded into the presentation, which in order to understand the fake news phenomenon, are important to watch. Access the material here.

I’ve made this presentation made for widescreen (16:9 aspect ratio) laptops and HD projection, but will obviously scale down to lower end laptops (4:3 aspect ratio) and projectors. The presentation of fake news covers, inter alia,

  • The definition of Fake News
  • President Barack Obama’s warning around Fake News
  • How Fake News has become an industry and a profile of one of its key producers
  • Fake News in Afghanistan over Facebook
  • The reason why Fake News spreads so much and goes viral over social media
  • What technology and social media companies are doing to combat Fake News
  • What media organizations are doing to combat Fake News
  • What governments and multi-national entities are doing to combat Fake News
  • The future of Fake News, including voice and video manipulation in real time
  • The role of media literacy in combatting Fake News
  • Simple tips for spotting Fake News and checking the veracity of content consumed over the web and social media
  • Endeavours from around the world anchored to counter-speech and combatting the spread of rumours
  • New technology platforms to combat the spread of rumours
  • The role and responsibility of consumers in addressing Fake News

The presentation has embedded videos, all of which are under 4-5 minutes and are integral to the discussion around Fake News. They play locally, and in fact, the whole presentation can be conducted without any connectivity whatsoever.

While my presentation covers most of the current discussions and trends around fake news, it doesn’t go into media literacy or media literacy training too much, which is a different thrust entirely.

This presentation follows work around identifying and combatting fake news for a number of years, in Sri LankaMyanmar and elsewhere, including primary research on the spread of hate speech online and over Facebook in the Sinhala language. As the ICT4Peace Foundation also notes, it is a problem that resonates more deeply and broadly than just countries in the West,

Hope this presentation is useful in any lectures or workshops on a phenomenon that will only get more sophisticated and pernicious in the years to come.

ICT for Peacebuilding

Corridors of Power: Constitutional Power and Architecture

Delivered a short presentation today to the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom office in Colombo on ‘Corridors of Power’, an exhibition I curated with Channa Daswatta and Asanga Welikala that explores Sri Lanka’s constitutional evolution through architecture.

The exhibition was first shown late 2015, and in 2016, was again shown in Colombo, in addition to Jaffna, Kandy, Batticaloa and Galle. The presentation, made for those visiting Sri Lanka from FNST’s headquarters in Berlin, Germany, gave an overview of the exhibition, the amazing responses to it and around constitutional reform writ large from outside of Colombo (covered here) as well as plans next year to build on it, including a new website, taking it to more places around Sri Lanka and also developing the original idea into a more democratic, web based model that can result in citizen-driven models around perceptions of constitutional rule that can be scaled even to the level of public parks.

Uncategorized

Fake news in Myanmar: Social Media verification workshop

Cross-posted from the ICT4Peace Foundation website.

###

WhatsApp-Android-e1441334577402.jpg

An informal workshop on verifying news and information spread across social media was held recently at Phandeeyar in Yangon, Burma, led by the Foundation’s Special Advisor, Sanjana Hattotuwa. Amongst the confirmed participants were:

Media and Media Support Organizations
  • Irrawaddy
  • BBC Media Action
  • Kumudra and Modern Journal
  • Democratic Voice of Burma
  • Myanmar Journalism Institute
Civil Society Organizations
  • PEN Myanmar
  • People in Need
  • Burma Human Rights Network
  • Myanmar ICT Development Organization
  • Center for Diversity and National Harmony
  • Women Peace Arakan Network
Funders, Researchers, INGOS
  • Andaman Research and Advisory
  • Peace Support Fund
  • The Swedish Burma Committee
  • Fortify Rights
  • Humanitarian Dialogue Center

Covering Google, Error Level Analysis for images, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and other topics, the workshop was anchored to the source evaluation module of a longer course run by the ICT4Peace Foundation on the use of new media in crisis management. The workshop also drew on Sanjana’s experience of countering-rumors and violent extremism in Sri Lanka. Participants were alerted to several leading social media verification guides, frameworks and best practices from the likes of the BBC, Columbia Journalism Review, Nieman Reports, First Draft news and other sources.

Those attending had a range of questions around content, technical issues, platforms, apps and use case scenarios, at a time in Myanmar where the spread of misinformation and disinformation campaigns and content is rife. Sanjana’s workshop ties in with activities done with Phandeeyar in the recent past around countering violence extremism online and the production of counter-speech to combat the rise of hate and dangerous speech in the country.

ICTs in general

President, PM, Parliament, MFA, Cabinet, Central Bank & News.lk: Searching via Google

screen-shot-2016-11-06-at-11-38-57-am

Created a new Google custom search engine (after the reception to the first made yesterday) covering key government websites.

Access it here.

The search engine indexes everything on:

  1. President’s Media Division – http://www.pmdnews.lk
  2. Official Website of the President – http://www.president.gov.lk
  3. Presidential Secretariat – http://www.presidentsoffice.gov.lk
  4. President’s Fund – http://www.presidentsfund.gov.lk
  5. President’s Wikipedia entry –
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maithripala_Sirisena
  7. PM’s Wikipedia entry – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ranil_Wickremesinghe
  8. PM’s Office – http://www.pmoffice.gov.lk
  9. Cabinet Office – http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.lk
  10. Parliament of Sri Lanka – http://www.parliament.lk
  11. Official Web Portal of the Government of Sri Lanka – https://www.gov.lk/welcome.html
  12. News.lk (official news portal) – http://www.news.lk
  13. Central Bank of Sri Lanka – http://www.cbsl.gov.lk
  14. Ministry of Foreign Affairs – http://www.mfa.gov.lk

Whereas the reason for creating the custom search engine for the Government Printing Department was the fact that the search functionality on that site was dodgy at best, here it is because, for example, the President of Sri Lanka has no less than four official websites. These four have content updated at different intervals, covering different issues – what’s on one, isn’t what’s on the others. This was brought into sharp focus when after the President’s speech to the UN General Assembly, three different versions of the speech were on three different official websites.

The custom search engine also searches all the images on these sites. It will benefit journalists and researchers the most, and others including the diplomatic community who want to search through the myriad of PRs, speeches, statements, announcements, reports and other material in Sinhala, Tamil and English. The custom search engine also searches within PDFs.

Uncategorized

Department of Government Printing: Searching via Google

screen-shot-2016-11-05-at-9-57-06-am

Sri Lanka’s Department of Government Printing website is a trilingual resource for Gazettes, Extra Gazettes, Bills, Acts and other information, including official Tenders, since 2004.

A major site redesign in 2016 made the site easier on the eye, but seriously impacted discoverability of information on the site. The search functionality on the site isn’t uniform, is really badly implemented and not very visible.

The site is regularly visited by lawyers, academics, students, researchers and others who frequently search for and need this information. To help them, I’ve created a Google Custom Search Engine that indexes all the content on the site, across Tamil, Sinhala and English.

Access the search engine here.

screen-shot-2016-11-05-at-10-00-10-am

Everything that you do on Google, you can do here. All the content on the Printing Department can now be searched based on relevance or date, and in Sinhala or Tamil as well. A short video of the custom search engine at work is embedded below.

Please pass on to others who may find this useful!