Monday, March 31, 2014

Internet censorship will result in computer hacking

Censorship of the internet in the Gambia is causing other potential hazards, not only for the government but for the business community, hazards that will come to haunt them in the future in the form of lower government revenue from the ITC sub-sector, including the internet provider's bottom line.

Since the government's drive to block the extremely popular internet calling and messaging apps, like Skype, Viber and Vonage, there has been a flurry of underground activities, involving mainly young people, in learning the sinister trade of computer hacking. These young men and women have parents and friends who live abroad and they use these applications to reduce the cost of accessing the internet.  Now they see a government they once supported turning against them by making it difficult to access useful application.

Internet censorship disproportionately affects young people because they  use modern communication tools more than their parents or grand parents.  It is incomprehensible that the regime cannot see this, especially when Gambian youth formed the backbone of the ruling party's base support.  That support is eroding faster than ever imagined, partly as a result of what they see as government's heavy handedness.  They are a frustrated group of young voters who are resorting to other measures to have access to the internet and the calling and messaging applications.

Realizing the potential dangers of the new policy, the government spokesperson tried to distance the Jammeh regime from the blocking of Skype and similar applications by suggesting that the idea was the internet operators.  Privately, internet providers are vehemently denying the charge, and are quick to point out that it the very same government spokesperson who denied that there was any blockage of the internet.  As a private operator opined "he (the government spokesperson) speaks from both sides of his mouth, so don't mind him."

Computer hacking is a threat to both government and the private sector.  It is a potential source of cyber criminality, resulting from a shortsighted policy of a government obsessed with controlling information.  The new policy, as we have said in earlier blogs, has unintended consequences with far greater threat to The Gambia than those posed by Syke, Viber and Vonage.  The internet providers, as well as business community in general, are worried about the effects of these futile attempts to block access that requires huge resources in a struggling economy.