However the commission’s arms may not be long or strong enough to enforce its Social Media Rules and Regulations
Popular opinions and general worldwide trends dictate Social media will play a crucial role to sweep the tide of election battles. Perhaps the same phenomenon is expected to play a huge role in Bhutan’s 2013 elections.
The election commission (ECB) has assigned or rather impossible task for the local Internet Service Providers (ISP) (that is, if the draft Social Media Rules and Regulations is finalized), to monitor and trace the identities of social media users, who violate electoral laws among others as per the revised draft social media rules and regulations.
This, local ISPs say is “simply and technically” not possible.
Bhutan Telecom Limited’s (BTL) Druknet general manager Tshering Norbu said “it is technically not possible. That is why some countries had to resort to blocking some of these sites which may be the only option”.
Tashi InfoComm general manager for network operations, Ganga R Sharma said “first, ISPs cannot monitor the usage of each and every internet user since there are thousands of sites outside where such content could be hosted under fake identities. Further, tracing a user is simply not possible”.
The only thing ISPs can do he said was to provide some information about the network from where the content may have originated but would be impossible to track it down to a single computer or a user. “What ISPs can do is take reactive action by blocking access to such sites once it is identified and we receive instructions to limit access to such sites. However, even this is challenging with various loopholes that newer technologies have created,” he said.
“Even with lawful intercept systems in place, such information would not possible to extract,” he added.
A representative of the first private ISP in Bhutan, DrukCom Private Enterprise who chose anonymity said such responsibility is usually borne by the government and not ISPs. “We can’t monitor anything because we are not a monitoring agency. We are a service provider and we are there to give service,” he said.
The TashiCell manager Ganga Sharma said implementing lawful intercept has its own challenges. He explained that lawful interception requires huge investments and unless financial assistance is provided, it would be difficult for small operators like TashiCell to implement.
He said “moreover, there are no guarantees that the information captured by the lawful interception system will lead to the proper tracking of internet users posting malicious content at various social networking sites or blogs”.
The DrukCom official also said the ISPs will have to make a huge investment beyond the company’s capacity to have such technology in place. “Who is going to make that kind of investment,” he asked.
Ganga Sharma said the issue of privacy and existing laws on privacy protection needs to be looked at and see if they are aligned with the rights provided by the constitution. “Who classifies what is appropriate or malicious content and in what context also becomes very important for a young democracy like ours,” he said.
He said ultimately it was important to weigh in the benefits versus the undesired aspects of social media sites. “If blocking access to such sites or attempting to trace the user identities creates better democracies, we should definitely go ahead and implement it. If not, I think it is also important to realize that people are smart enough to separate the grain from the chaff,” he added.
The DrukCom official said personal detail such as identity of a social media user cannot be disclosed easily. “How can we disclose until and unless it is ordered by the court because nobody can release any information without the court’s intervention”.
Television anchor and an active social media user Namgay Zam said “generally speaking, yes, it is unethical as you abuse someone’s personal rights, but if the person appears to threaten national security/interests than it is not a question of ethics, obviously”.
Though the draft mandates ECB to order the ISPs to block particular websites in case of violations on the contents of a website, the DrukComm official said it is not a “simple” job to do so and said it had to be done by a “central authority”, not the ISPs. “It is very difficult because the moment you block one, there will be tens and hundreds of new sites coming up and who do you think will monitor that.”
Asked if the ISP shall write to the social networking sites if ECB orders to do so, he said social networking giants like Facebook and Twitter will pay little heed even if local ISPs write to them given the fact that ours is a small country. “They are governed by the laws of the country where they are located and not by Bhutanese laws.”You could put a threat on them that it is not allowed in Bhutan but by the government and not by us,” he added. He explained that unlike countries like India and China, the market is very small and negligible in Bhutan which doesn’t cause any ‘worry’ for them.
BTL’s Druknet general manager Tshering Norbu said “If we are instructed by ECB and other law/regulation enforcement agencies, DrukNet will have to block the sites, but people may find ways to get around”.
He said “it will carry more weight if ECB directly writes to them (social networking companies) for which we are willing to help”.
TashiCell’s Ganga Sharma said the ISPs can block “known” sites. “However, ECB rules applies to content which could be hosted not only at social networking sites like facebook, twitter, google+, etc. but also on a lot of blogs. ISPs cannot monitor and control content on these thousands of sites. Such a move is not only technically challenging but also highly resource intensive,” he added.
MoIC Secretary Kinley Dorji suggested enhancing professionalism rather than imposing rules. “I would be careful about rules and regulations because then you can look a little draconian and not only that, you can be impractical,” he said on national television recently.
He said it’s about “people” and not that specific medium of information or media and said it is important to educate and train people. “It’s professionals that will develop professionalism, not laws and penalties,” he added.
Namgay Zam said “there are some technical difficulties the ECB will face, especially, on the tracing bit, but I hope they do not have to resort to that. And that no social media user will have to face penalty for misconduct”.
Chief election commissioner Dasho Kunzang Wangdi said the ISPs should be able to afford the technical capacity and refrained from making any further comments. “Let it be between ECB and ISP,” he said.
The draft states that “the ECB Social Media Policy Rules and Regulations 2012 will ensure proper usage of Social Media by the ECB, election officials, Political Parties, Candidates and their supporters as well as the media agencies in all matters related to elections, during or outside the Election Period”.
Prevention and control of any violation of the Electoral Laws in the use of Social Media in elections is one of the main objectives of the social media rules and regulations.
It is also included that a distinction shall be drawn to differentiate between an anonymous posted letter, from that of a matter on social media concerning anonymous or fake identities, given that the latter has more reach and “can be traced to a reasonable extent to merit investigation.” Stakeholders can report violations with evidence of “any abuse and misuse” of social media to ECB.
Following a discussion session on the draft ECB Social Media Policy Rules and Regulations 2012 on 6th September, 2012, it is now available on the ECB’s Facebook page for comments and feedback.