Blocking SMS when it is needed most

Posted on February 11, 2008  /  7 Comments

Many of us have our own stories how SMS helped in an emergency. Here is mine.

I was at the National Book Exhibition at BMICH on September 12, 2007 evening when a tsunami alert was broadcast.  It created instant chaos. I did not have access to a TV or a radio. By then the mobile voice channels were congested.

So it was SMS that I used to:

(a) Find accurate updates about the alert
(b) Make sure my family members are safe and
(c) Inform my family that I am safe

All above was critical for me to decide on my next steps. I did that within 10 minutes, learnt it was low risk, decided to shop for some more time (anyway they closed early on that day) and went home avoiding rush hour traffic.

I dare not to think what I would have done if SMS services were cut off at that very moment. I would be helpless having a communication device in my hand that does not connect me to anybody.

But that is exactly what the Sri Lanka Telecom Regulator plans to do, as I learn from this Sunday Times news item. It quotes DG of Telecom Regulatory Commission saying, “This is simply due to the understanding between the phone service providers. There were many text messages which were going around creating unnecessary public fear. The TRC works closely with these operators and they are ready to support and take preventive measures in situations like this”

Are rumours the only information passed by SMSs? Is SMS the only channel that spread rumours? Do we have to cut the neck of the goat to take its head out of the pot?


  1. Well it all depends on how valuable the “pot” is. If it was for national security, well the inconvenience caused to you is immaterial.

    Cooking the same cabbage twice?

  2. National Security can be defined in any which way one wishes to. The point is there is no right or wrong definition. Who is right depends on who is more powerful. So in this case the DG will always be right. But the point is not that.

    Why do people use phones? What is the greatest benefit of having a phone? As a part of our 5 country [Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Philippines and Thailand] study of over 8,500 people at the Bottom of the Pyramid [BOP: Socio-Economic Classification D and E] we asked them to rate the perceived benefits of direct access to a phone. What we really wanted to know was how important it was for improving efficiencies in their daily life and how it translated in to an economic benefit. But what we found [not surprisingly though] was that it was ‘the sense of security’ that was most valued. People said the phone gave them the ‘ability to act in an emergency’. 1 being direct access has ‘worsened’ and 5 being ‘improved’; people in every country in the sample rated this aspect almost at 5. So that is the point.

    So shutting down SMS at times people are desperately seeking a sense of security with respect to their loved ones and is looking for that ability to act in an emergency [well, personal emergency of course] particularly when phone lines are jammed, goes to denying the fundamental need of having a phone.

  3. Hakim,

    Who issued you the license to define things the way you want? (You have misinterpreted my statements elsewhere, I will come into that but this point first. I am glad that LIRNEasia has brought out this issue. When I read Sunday Times I was wondering why nobody talks about it.)

    I think you have serious trouble deciding what is meant by ‘National Security’. Man, National security is the security of everyone in the country. Do you think blocking SMS will ensure the security of the people?

    What you probably mean by the term ‘National Security’ is ‘VIP Security’. VIPs are a gang of parasites living on graciously spending public money and only a tiny section of the society. I do not care too much for these people. What is more important is the security of the people, not stupid VIPs.

    So even *if* we assume blocking SMS will ensure VIP security (mind you, there is not a single piece of evidence to support that!) I see no reason why we compromise ‘National Security’ for ‘VIP Security’.

    Finally, this is a democratic society and I decide whether blocking SMS is immaterial or not. I do not want any stupid bureaucrat sitting elsewhere taking decisions on my behalf.


    Your problem I think, is your inability to understand anything that does not fall within the short spectrum of comprehension. I see you have misinterpreted a comment I have posted elsewhere in your blog. I do not think such acts will fall within the ethics of blogging.

    If you do not agree with somebody it is okay at argue, but gross misinterpretation of statements (without giving no opportunity to correct it) is not game.

  4. Hi Hakim,

    Thanks for your input, but as the story goes, cutting the neck of the goat did not actually save the pot.

    I understand an SMS can make a mobile phone to vibrate, which can be, at least in theory, used to trigger another electronic device. But even a ring cut can do the same, so why cut only SMS? Why not cut voice?

    Then again why cut SMS after an event? Closing stable doors after horse bolts? Are we?

    Perhaps you have an explanation.

  5. h5fzkr55qsncmw55ysbqvujo_main-shooting.gif

    This photo taken immediatly after the shooting incident at Illinois University yesterday, shows two individuals busy with sending SMSs. Perhaps to inform their family about their safety. Imagine what would happen if SMS services are blocked at that moment.

  6. For the first time in recent history Rajapakse government has taken a firm standard that terrorists should be addressed in a language that they understand.

    We have already liberated East and it is only few more miles we have to go to see the end of mass murderer Prabhakaran. As long as Rajapakse government delivers that we do not mind what hardships we have to undergo. It is the prize we should pay for Parbha’s head.

    So go ahead TRC, we do not mind even you stopping SMS forever. We have live without SMS for 2,500 years and surely we can live without it in future. It will also do good by stopping pro-LTTE Maharajas robbing money stupid Sinhala people by conducting crazy parades like Super Star.

  7. Dear Real Sinhalaya,

    “Governments bad. Rebels Worse.”