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An Open letter to My Esteemed Readers

Friends,

Of late, you might have been in the midst of many revelations and exposes, both nationally and internationally. Every country had its own epoch-making and mind-stirring revelations. Some of them were referred as scams, others flipside of governance structure, a third category has been dubbed as concocted fantasies, and fourth were termed as political vilification. In the U.S., it was the unfortunate incident of data harvesting and sharing clandestinely that shook the digital world. Everyone is holding Cambridge Analytica (CA) as the villain of the day. The name of Facebook also figures prominently, though its chief executive swears its innocence and claims that the IT behemoth was trapped into the present situation. If you are limiting the operational space of the entity (CA) euphemistically calls itself as a Think Tank registered in the UK, to the US, EU and India, you are mistaken.

 

Friends, you may search for countries, where CA has been working or is alleged to be working, you will be in for a big surprise. Their name appears in several other places for the wrong reasons. CA appears to have influenced elections held in Africa, South Asia, Latin America and what have you. Does it mean digital devices should be abhorred? Does it mean digital devices can be manipulated? Does it mean that the increasing pace of digitization should be discontinued to ensure a free and fair world?

 

Before answering these questions, let me, as a preamble, dwell on some of the basics. It is not the first time that human ingenuity and discoveries have found dual uses for technologies. Technology is neutral. It is the mankind, who uses the technology and tries to bend it to suit their selfish ends. Atomic fusion can create devastating destruction and at the same time presents hugely beneficial devices for the mankind. That is the paradox of technology.

 

Let me take this analogy to other areas. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is rewriting how people think and act. It makes life easier for many and at the same time is perceived to create hardships to an equal number of people, who may lose their employment opportunities. Yet, it can help people in undertaking hazardous tasks. AI also will create numerous employment opportunities. While in one sense it replaces people, in another sense it replenishes the human civilizations. The use of AI to help the mankind is unleashing newer realms and horizons.

 

Let me come to the subject. Does the recent breach of trust carried out by using technologies affect the pace of digitization in the world? I feel that it will never impact the technology. Here, we have to distinguish between two things – technology and the mindset of technology handlers, who put the technology to unsavoury use. A mobile phone can give the fisherman the latest weather forecasts as to when he should go fishing in the sea, when he should not, likelihood of heavy rains so that he can return to the shore before it gets intensified. The same mobile phone can help a terrorist to do overt and covert actions.

 

That said, we should work towards eliminating the misuse of technology. Those who have developed the technology also have a responsibility to develop safeguards. Next in importance is finding adequate systems to secure the cyber world from hacking and other unholy practices.

 

Digital systems are meant to bring about greater transparency and to ensure accessibility to the people vital services, which are part of governance. There will be heavy backlash, if such benefits are jeopardized. People will lose faith in the system and will refuse to become a stakeholder in the digital world. Recently, one might have read about three important websites of the Indian Government, which were hacked. The reasons are still not clear. But many people say that it was an organized attempt by some of the neighboring countries to hack into the vital information and database kept by the government.

 

Of late, Bitcoins are being talked about and many countries allow parallel operations of such systems. A number of companies have sprung up across the world to deal in Bitcoins, which, according to the experts, is highly speculative and ephemeral. These are operated through digital platforms and they are sort of parallel operations in the money market, away from the watchful eyes of the regulator – central banks. Yet, we do not have a system to regulate these operations or prevent them. No government has come out with a policy framework to deal with the situation, though they claim that such systems are highly speculative. It is high time an international understanding and a policy framework either to regulate the system or to nip it in the bud itself. A wait-and-watch approach will negate the whole purpose of restoring the faith of the people in the digital world.