Balancing national security and growth

Posted on September 28, 2010  /  4 Comments

Coming from Sri Lanka, a country that endured a thirty-year war, this is nothing new. But it appears that the same issues keep coming up, and we keep making the same mistakes. Pakistan shut down mobile phones for elections. There were serious discussions in Sri Lanka about disabling mobiles within a certain distance from army camps, which meant that pretty much all of Colombo would have been a dead zone for mobiles.

Now India wants the ability to listen into every conversation/text/email exchange on every Blackberry in their territory. If only the security people are listening. But we all know that all sorts of other people will get access to this information too. Field day for the other kinds of spooks.

The best defense against terrorists is wealth. If more people have it, there’d be fewer people willing to become terrorists in the long term. If there is more wealth, governments will also have more resources and can afford to replace things like the WWII rifles used by Indian law enforcement in 26/11.

Few doubt that India has valid security concerns. In recent years, attacks against India have included the use of sophisticated communications technology — as when the terrorists who stormed Mumbai two years ago communicated with their Pakistani handlers by satellite phone and the Internet. Or when Chinese hackers infiltrated India’s military computer networks this year.

But critics say that India’s security efforts, which they describe as clumsy, may do little to protect the country, even as they intrude on the privacy of companies and citizens alike.

“They will do damage by blocking highly visible systems like BlackBerry or Skype,” said Ajay Shah, a Mumbai-based economist who writes extensively about technology. “This will shift users to less visible and known platforms. Terrorists will make merry doing crypto anyway. A zillion tools for this are freely available.”

Full story.


  1. Nationwide mobile shutdown was introduced in Bangladesh during national election at the end of 2001. Reducing political powers’ ability to mobilize disruptive elements was the goal. Thereafter the authorities kept on switching-off mobile networks in designated areas where by-elections were held.

    Fast forward to December 2008.

    Bangladesh was again holding national election after seven years. This time the authorities started scratching its head. The entire administration becomes dysfunctional if there is no mobile phone. It has been silently embedded in the government’s DNA during 2001 to 2008. The power of mobility was concentrated within the powerful curtails in the early days. Downward TCO made upward growth and the entire governmental system unwittingly joined the mobile’s meteoric ride.

    The election was held peacefully in 2008 without mobile blackout.

    This is the miracle of affordable mobile voice services. But it is yet to happen with data. South Asian governments will behave once they extensively use data communication systems in their day-to-day businesses. Until then we will have to live with their nuisance, as we have been tolerating the western governments’ hegemony in their airports for the sake of so called security.

    There shall be no investors’ exodus in India, Indonesia, UAE or anywhere due to those authorities’ reading Blackberry mails. EBITDA margin respects no values, let alone civil rights. Look at the fireworks of western companies’ profitability out of China. Long live capitalism!

  2. Prof. Samarajiva,

    What is your reaction to Mr. Gotabhaya Rajapaksha’s new regulations? Don’t you think they will curtail the mobile phone growth in Sri Lanka?

  3. Whether you have one SIM card or ten SIM cards it makes no difference if you want to use one for criminal purposes. If a Muslim man can marry seven wives why cannot he buys a SIM card for each of them? Defence Ministry orders and TRC unaware.

    Earlier such news items were discussed in this web site. Now they are more interested in news from Russia. Perhaps they learnt after seeing what happened to SF.

  4. Sorry about the delay in responding. Been out of the country and have not still seen the announcement, though I have been told it attempts to discourage multiple SIM use.

    I participated in a related debate in the local papers 2-3 years back. There was some discussion on this site as well. I will summarize the key principles (not all were accurately reported in the press at the time):
    1. LIRNEasia and other research shows that people have a need to use multiple SIMs, for reasons of coverage and to obtain the lowest possible prices, especially in terms of affinity group pricing.
    2. The fact that consumers use multiple SIMs exerts a healthy pressure on suppliers because they know that the costs of switching suppliers is very low.
    3. Therefore, there is no public policy justification for cracking down on multiple SIM use. However, we must, in this terrorist age, give due consideration to security concerns.
    4. In terms of security, the principle that every SIM should have a registered owner is paramount. In the same way that every motor vehicle has to have a registered owner, it is important that every SIM has a registered owner. The registered owner may lend his/her SIM to others to use (as one may do with a motor vehicle), but has to be responsible for actions taken with the SIM.
    5. In the same way that we do not prohibit a person/company from owning more than one motor vehicle, we should not prohibit persons/organizations from owning more than one SIM.
    6. The Pakistan Telecom Authority has implemented a database system to allow people to register their SIMs and also to see what SIMs are registered under their names. This would be good model for Sri Lanka to emulate.