ICTs in general

Wikileaks and the hypocrisy of the US administration?

Whistle-blowing is a powerful check on corruption, and it is why moves in Iceland to make it an international center for investigative journalism publishing, by passing the strongest combination of source protection, freedom of speech, and libel-tourism prevention laws in the world are so fundamentally important for everyone interested in the freedom of expression. Called IMMI for short, this clip from Al Jazeera’s Listening Post covers it in detail (and includes a clip from me suggesting why it is even important for journalists in Sri Lanka).

So what does this have to do with Wikileaks? An article published in Salon makes the link. Glenn Greenwald in The war on WikiLeaks and why it matters notes,

WikiLeaks editors, including Assagne, have spent substantial time of late in Iceland because there is a pending bill in that country’s Parliament that would provide meaningful whistle blower protection for what they do, far greater than exists anywhere else.  Why is Iceland a leading candidate to do that?  Because, last year, that nation suffered full-scale economic collapse.  It was then revealed that numerous nefarious causes (corrupt loans, off-shore transactions, concealed warning signs) were hidden completely from the public and even from policy-makers, preventing detection and avoidance.  Worse, most of Iceland’s institutions — from its media to its legislative and regulatory bodies — completely failed to penetrate this wall of secrecy, allowing this corruption to fester until it brought about full-scale financial ruin.  As a result, Iceland has become very receptive to the fact that the type of investigative exposure provided by WikiLeaks is a vital national good, and there is real political will to provide it with substantial protections.

Glenn’s article I consider essential reading for anyone interested in securing the freedom of expression online, and combatting corruption and the nefarious activities of defence and intelligence industries.

The article is anchored to a document from the CIA on how the U.S. Government can best manipulate public opinion in Germany and France — in order to ensure that those countries continue to fight in Afghanistan. It sounds as if it comes out of a movie script, but the content is real. CIA report into shoring up Afghan war support in Western Europe, released on 26 March 2010, is a classic whistleblower expose, bringing to light outrageous tactics to influence polity and society in favour of US strategic interests. In sum, Cold War redux.

Small wonder then that Wikileaks is looking at IMMI in particular and Iceland as a safe haven for its operations.

A cruel irony
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s speech, earlier this year, on internet freedom, including the freedom of expression online, was celebrated globally as an unequivocal policy statement against online censorship. And yet, As Glenn’s article in Salon notes, Wikileaks is currently hated in US intelligence and defence circles, because it provides a platform to expose, name and shame outrageous practices that violate human rights.

The Pentagon report also claims that WikiLeaks has disclosed documents that could expose U.S. military plans in Afghanistan and Iraq and endanger the military mission, though its discussion is purely hypothetical and no specifics are provided. Instead, the bulk of the Pentagon report focuses on documents which embarrass the U.S. Government: information which, as they put it, “could be manipulated to provide biased news reports or be used for conducting propaganda, disinformation, misinformation, perception management, or influence operations against the U.S. Army by a variety of domestic and foreign actors.” In other words, the Pentagon is furious that this exposing of its secrets might enable others to engage in exactly the type of “perception management” which the aforementioned CIA Report proposes the U.S. do with regard to the citizenry of our allied countries.

Emphasis in original.

That the US government is, to put mildly, upset with Wikileaks is well documented. But the question must be asked, how congruent is this behaviour with Hillary Clinton’s high-brow ideals for internet freedom expressed in her speech? If the US says one thing, and does another, it becomes a model for repressive countries to justify their own actions to curtail and contain content online.

I have just donated US$25 to Wikileaks to help it continue the work it is doing to uphold values that the US Secretary of State believes in enough to base policy on, and the US military and intelligence services vehemently oppose enough to shut down Wikileaks over.

I encourage you to contribute too.

ICT for Peacebuilding

IGP now wants to “suspend licenses” of porn websites in Sri Lanka

An order by the Inspector General of Police in Sri Lanka, the same chowderhead who once said women could record themselves getting raped through mobile phones, now wants to the Director General of Telecommunication Regulatory Commission to suspend the licenses of 12 websites which were exhibiting nude photographs.

Firstly, none of the websites the IGP has got all hot and bothered about are registered in Sri Lanka, but a simple whois search would be as alien to the Police in Sri Lanka as peacebuilding is to the incumbent government.

Secondly, why this sudden love for the rule of law? Websites in Sri Lanka are arbitrarily banned and blocked without warning or any due process, despite flat denials by government when asked about their censorship regime in place for web media. Tamilnet remains blocked on all ISPs in Sri Lanka. Recently, another website was blocked in Sri Lanka for showing images of the President’s son, which was very conveniently on the same day the site reported the egregious public statement of a highly placed goon in government and close friend of the President. Subsequent reports circulated over email that these photos were doctored and the report on the President’s son was false is reason to hold the journalists accountable for libel or conduct investigations into their false reporting, not shutdown an entire site.

The Island notes the CID started the investigation into the pornographic sites following a written complaint lodged by the IGP Jayantha Wickramaratne. While it’s heartening the IGP is concerned about our morals, I would much rather judge for myself the content I view on the web. There’s a real danger here of setting a precedent of blocking and banning website for website defined and seen as unsuitable by the incumbent regime’s set of puritan values, as noted by Foreign Policy with examples from China and Bahrain. In August 2008, there were news reports of an even wider, more intrusive net filtering regime proposed by the President. A the time, it was reported that the TRC had gone to the extent of demanding ISPs to ”filter the websites featuring Obscene/phonographic (sic) /sexually explicit materials”.

As Lirneasia notes tongue in the cheek,

Criminal Investigation Department, working on a complaint by the IGP revealed these sites contain pornographic images and video clips of men and women, possibly Sri Lankan. They also suspected an international conspiracy to tarnish the image of the country, reported, Divaina. One may term the act anti-protectionist, because while the local production is blocked the vast majority of international porn sites still remain open.

Post-war Sri Lanka needs to worry more, at the very least, about the abysmal freedom of expression in the country than strengthening, widening and worsening existing informal and formal censorship of media. Honestly, shouldn’t the Police be far more concerned about the dozens of dormant investigations into acts of murderous violence against journalists since this President took office?

But if the IGP really is serious about eradicating pornography on the web like dengue, he should ban Google too. A simple search brings up over 800,000 pages and a couple of hundred sites in addition to those above that if the Divaina is to be believed, is are all part of an international conspiracy to tarnish the image of the country.

ICTs in general

Internet censorship in Sri Lanka

UNHCR’s RefWorld features a report from Reporters Without Borders (RSF) that raises fears over a regime of Internet censorship in Sri Lanka broader and deeper than what exists at present. There is an element of hyperbole here – calling Sri Lanka an enemy of the Internet is, as yet, far too premature in light of the violent and far more pervasive web censorship in regimes such as Iran, China and Saudi Arabia.

However, concerns over the general tendency of the Sri Lankan state today to censor information deemed inconvenient, whether it be on the web or in print, are validated by examples provided in the report and other evidence.

Since the escalation of fighting in the country at the end of 2008, news posted online has increasingly become the target of restrictions. The website of Human Rights Watch is regularly inaccessible, which has given rise to a general fear of Internet censorship, which until now principally hit websites seen as pro-Tamil Tigers. The defence ministry released a report on 11 December 2008, on its website, defence.lk, in which it called reports on the Sinhala service of the BBC World Service “diabolical lies”. The BBC journalists are accused of being accomplices in Tamil Tiger propaganda, when they raise the plight of civilians living in combat zones.

The news website Lankadissent chose to cease operating on 10 January 2009 for fear of becoming the target of reprisals. The highly critical publication employed journalists who had lost their jobs after the closure of the newspaper Mawbima, under official pressure. The experience of the website TamilNet served as an example. In 2005, the website’s editor Dharmeratnam Sivaram “Taraki” was murdered because his coverage of the political and military situation was seen as hostile by the government. His killers have not been found and the site is blocked inside the country. The editor of the site E-thalay.org (http://www.ethalaya.org), Kumudu Champika Jayawardana, was the target of an ambush in 2007 after he became the target for pro-government militia because of articles posted online.

RSF does not cover the example of http://www.outreachsl.com, shut down after the incarceration of journalist J.S. Tissainayagam. There are specific fears of web media censorship I have also covered here, framed by the devastating erosion of the freedom of expression and media freedom in Sri Lanka.

ICTs in general

SLT blocks Tamil websites

Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT) has blocked access to the following websites as of today from its ADSL network:

Reports I have received indicate that these are still accessible on Dialog.

All ISPs in Sri Lanka have repeatedly blocked access to Tamilnet.com, but actions today indicate that the scope of websites being blocked that are perceived to be pro-LTTE is increasing apace.

ICTs in general

Sunday Leader and Psiphon win Freedom of Expression awards, but in UAE you can’t access one

foe-awards

After reporting that it was shortlisted in late March, I’m happy to see that the Sunday Leader has won the journalism award in the 2009 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Award. The Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression awards honour those who have made outstanding contributions to the promoting of free expression. As I noted in my previous post, the award is richly deserved.

Also interesting is that Psiphon won the Economist New Media award at the same ceremony. An mp3 of how Psiphon explain how he helps people around the world to avoid censorship and surveillance can be download here, featuring Nart Villeneuve.

psiphon-in-uae

A ready example of why there is still such significant variance between and within countries over the freedom of expression, in print, in broadcast and online.

ICTs in general

Online dissent and the future of extremism in Sri Lanka

“… Thus while the government is trying to position Singapore as a Media Hub for the fast-growing new media technology and development, home grown talent often face harsh official harassment. Singapore’s netizens are moving to redefine the terms of the island state’s political discourse – whether the government welcome them or not”.

Kalinga Seneviratne, Asia Media Report 2009

Kalinga’s sentiments are resonant in Sri Lanka as well, in this our official year of ICT and English. Over the course of 2009 alone, I have been informed of and visited over two dozen websites and web based social networking initiatives that highlight facets of the war and humanitarian concerns in Sri Lanka. They are all very well designed and most of them are compelling narratives that, at first, do not at all appear to be what they essentially are – partial narratives serving parochial ends. A select few are show signs of emerging as effective platforms for engaging the unlike-minded online. For example, a few readers may know Pissu Poona, an anonymous identity on Facebook – one of the world’s best known and most used online social networks – that has befriended nearly 200 individuals at the time of writing and regularly points to content on the web that critiques and analyses the Sri Lankan conflict. Pissu Poona is a site for some interesting debate and as a post which generated a lot of responses noted,

“just a reminder that this space is our space for debate and discussion. it is to challenge you (and me) to think about issues and perhaps question our own beliefs and prejudices. Let us not lose sight of the fact that our communities are polarized now more than ever and unless and until the dialogue is started again the mistrust and suspicion will continue to grow. Pissu Poona is an attempt to re-initiate the dialogue that war has cost us.”

On the other hand, as Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the UN in Geneva Dayan Jayatilleke recently noted,

“Pro-Tiger Tamil students, mainly from Canadian campuses are walking from Toronto to Chicago in order to get on the Oprah Winfrey show. Now that’s a pretty neat gimmick. They have a well designed website. The Sinhala students who have the sophistication to pull something like this off are uninvolved in the struggle because they are alienated by the elements that tend to dominate equivalent networks, while those who are heavily involved in the “patriotic” struggle do not make the most Oprah-friendly material.”

Given that the peaceful negotiation of conflict and amplification of critical dissent on and through the web is an area of significant personal interest, I found Dayan’s encapsulation of the current growth spurt of web based pro-LTTE advocacy very interesting. Ironically however, for the pedestrian apparatchiks of the Rajapakse regime as much as the trade unionist fighting for her rights, the human rights defender, the traditional journalist and the Tamil nationalist vehemently opposed to the LTTE yet unequivocally committed to the equal treatment of all Tamil peoples – the web poses a real challenge.  Equally and for all of these types, the web is alien terrain. Its unfamiliarity breeds hubris, which in turn leads to the gross under estimation of the web’s potential for transforming polity and society, for better or worse.

Read the full article in my Sunday Leader column today.