Local internet service providers (ISPs) say that implementing some of the Election Commission’s (ECB) requirements in its recently released draft social media rules and regulations 2012, will be close to impossible, given the type of equipment required and associated costs.
A revised version of the draft Social Media Rules and Regulations 2012, released Tuesday, contains additions that require ISPs to implement systems, which not only detect violations of electoral laws on social media platforms, but also to “lawfully intercept” and provide information on the identity of a social media user, either anonymous or not, if necessary.
Lawful interception is legally sanctioned access or interception of communications of private individuals, such as telephone calls or email messages, by a service provider or government organisation.
The social media rules and regulations are being drafted in an effort to ensure social media users, especially anonymous ones, do not compromise ECB’s mission to hold a “free, fair and transparent” elections, next year.
In the lead up to and during the 2008 elections, one anonymous social media user carried out an online campaign against the PDP on the popular but now defunct Bhutan Times online forum (no relation to the weekly newspaper). The opposition leader, Tshering Tobgay, had even attributed PDP’s landslide defeat that year to the anonymous user.
“The technology solutions for ‘lawful interception’ are usually very expensive,” said Druknet GM, Tshering Norbu. He could not provide specifics on the type and costs of equipment that would be required to lawfully intercept communications.
“The only option may be to block them, which some countries have resorted to,” said Tshering Norbu, referring to social media and other websites. “With this too, people may find ways to get around,” he added.
In the past, when websites such as Bhutan Times were blocked, users simply bypassed the block using proxy servers.
After internet services was introduced in 1999, Druknet also maintained a filter to block pornography websites. “It was too expensive to maintain that filter,” said Tshering Norbu. “Then again, there was and is no foolproof system and people could always access some porn sites,” he said. “It wasn’t serving the full purpose, so we did away with it; moreover, internet users felt we should keep the internet open.”
But even if Druknet had equipment to lawfully intercept, said Tshering Norbu, there would still be limitations. “It could be possible to find out what sites the users are on, but it won’t be possible to find out what activities they’re involved with the sites.”
Tshering Norbu also said it would not be possible for Druknet to trace online messages, for instance, posts on the Kuensel website discussion forum, to a particular device.
In reference to the ECB requirements, Tshering Norbu said, “We may only be able to help to the extent we’re capable of with the current resources in place.”
The country’s other ISPs also reiterated that given the high costs involved, adhering to the ECB requirements would not be possible.
Tashi InfoComm general manager for network operations, Ganga R Sharma, said that, while the ISP would like to comply with ECB’s requirements, a private company would not be able to afford implementing such a system.
He estimated that such a system would cost a few million US dollars.
He added that implementing such a system would be possible only if the government provides either the infrastructure or the funds.
And even if implemented, he said that attempting to pin-point to a particular identity would be impossible, and that only identifying up to the level of a particular network or computer may work.
Similarly, managing director for private ISP DrukCom, Rinzy Dorji, said that the requirements are not realistic. “Absolutely not possible,” he said, also pointing out that the ISP does not even have the capacity to block websites, currently. Blocking websites containing content violating electoral laws is another requirement of the revised draft social media rules and regulations 2012.
He said the government would have to supply the equipment if it wanted such a system in place.
The administrative manager for private ISP Samden Tech chose not to comment.
Ganga R Sharma also pointed out that Tashi InfoComm had not been invited by ECB for any of the discussions related to the social media rules and regulations, as a result, preventing the company from providing feed- back that such requirements would be challenging and technically impossible.
ECB Chief Election Commissioner, Dasho Kunzang Wangdi said that all ISPs had been invited, but that only Druknet had showed up. He also added that the draft social media rules and regulations had also been made available online.
Dasho Kunzang Wangdi chose not to comment regarding the inability of ISPs to comply with the requirements.
As per the revised rules and regulations, ECB will also attempt to establish contact with social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, to ensure their cooperation during the election period, in not allowing persons to use the forum or communicate contents in violation of electoral laws.
From KUENSEL on 15 September, 2012.