IGF 2021 – Day 2 – Podcast "Internet For All But Privacy For Me (Live Podcast)

The following are the outputs of the captioning taken during an IGF virtual intervention. Although it is largely accurate, in some cases it may be incomplete or inaccurate due to inaudible passages or transcription errors. It is posted as an aid, but should not be treated as an authoritative record.



>> We all live in a digital world.  We all need it to be open and safe.  We all want to trust.

>> And to be trusted. 

>> We all despise control.

>> And desire freedom.

>> We are all united. 

>> The digital revolution will empower, connect, inform and save lives.  At worst, it will dispower, disconnect, misinform, and cost lives. 

>> ALEXANDRE AMARAL: Hi.  My name is Alexandre Amaral, and you're listening to “Digital Rights Explored: Digital Fights, Global Perspectives.”  If you're listening to the podcast, this is a special episode we're recording here as part of the United Nations Internet Governance Forum here in Katowice, Poland.  And we're really excited, because this is the first time that we have a live audience here with us.  So, that's going to be exciting.  Thank you, everyone, for joining. 

So, it's going to be a very interactive discussion.  We're going to have a Q&A at the end.  So, if you're excited to ask questions, just wait a little bit.  We're going to have a little bit of a narrative beforehand.  But then at the end, everyone's going to have a chance to hop in, ask their questions.  Because here at the podcast, we explore some of the most relevant digital rights violations of our time.  And yes, both citizens and protectioners listen to it to engage in a discussion about their digital rights.  So, we talk at grassroots level with people who have personally been affected by violations.  And today, those people are coming from Myanmar and India.  We also interview experts to draw parallels of what's happening in a broader digital context.  And in doing so, we try to find possible solutions to these challenges.  So, in this episode, our focus is on "Internet For All But Privacy For Me." 

And as people get online and use digital technology to communicate with each other, they're encouraged, or even forced, to share significant amounts of personal information.  But what happens when this data is collected?  And what happens when this data gets into the wrong hands?  We're seeing that government bodies, while digitizing their services, are also violating citizens' digital rights by surveilling them, criminalizing people on their data and violating their right to privacy. 

So, today we'll begin by checking the situation in Myanmar, where citizens face three checkpoints where their digital devices are being checked by the military.  And I'm going to invite our first guest of the day, Annie Zaman, to join me.  Annie has firsthand experience on how in closed societies and dictatorships, digital security can be closely related to one's physical security.  She's been working on the ground in Myanmar and throughout the coup and now is helping journalists and citizens there since the situation is too dangerous to keep themselves safe.  So, Annie, thank you so much for being here!  I'm really excited to talk to you. 

>> ANNIE ZAMAN: Thank you so much, Alex.  So, here we are talking about Myanmar.  And what we have seen since the coup on February 1st, 2021, that so many rights of the citizens in Myanmar have been curved when the coup came and martial law was later declared. 

Initially, what we saw was that the first day of the coup, all the jammers suddenly became active.  And initially, like, all the phone services were blocked, internet was blocked.  Then later came the nightly nine‑hours internet shutdown.  Then came some days when there was no internet.  And suddenly, like, Myanmar saw that became such a big industry for, like, you know, growing industry for telcos in 2013, it suddenly shrank, like no one was able to communicate with one another.  And the main reason was that the military took over and wanted to surveil everyone. 

And the surveillance system, the whole coup actually gave them a free hand to monitor all the information of people with the support of the telcos.  Myanmar has like four or five different telcos.  Only two resisted that time.  One was Telenor and the other (?).  But otherwise, everything was being surveilled, be it your telephone calls, be it your WhatsApp or Facebook messages.  Also, there is like lots of information out there, and many people have digged down that since 2019, Myanmar has brought unlawful surveillance equipment which were, actually in 2019 and '20, telcos were asked to actually install these surveillance spywares.  And again, it was only Telenor which came out publicly and said, okay, we don't want to have that.  We don't know about other telcos, how they managed and what they were doing, but Myanmar, overall, when we talk about, like privacy or internet freedom or freedom of expression, things have gone really down, as they go in, like, closed societies, plus when there is dictatorship. 

>> ALEXANDRE AMARAL: Yeah, and now, they're not only keeping their surveillance online to try to get the grasp on the citizens, but they're also going manually on the streets checking people's phones and doing police checks to make sure that those citizens are not participating in protests and so on.  So, how exactly is that happening, Annie? 

>> ANNIE ZAMAN: So, what's happening, because as I mentioned, now there is a dictatorship there, there is martial law, and it's not only one side alone now; it's like, both parties, like pro-democracy militias, quote/unquote, and the military that has weapons.  Both the sides are very active on the streets.  Where I was living, for example, in Yangon City, every 300 meters by June they had military checkpoints.  So, physical security was very much more in danger. 

Of course, digital security is important, but when someone with a gun is asking me for my phone, I have no other choice to hand over my phone, and then it jeopardizes everyone else who is connected to me through that simple phone of mine.  So, there was a point that we all stopped using our smartphones and keeping them at home, and we all went back to Nokia 3310, and that also actually made the military ‑‑ the people who used to stop us -- very angry, that, "Why are you using this?  Why don't you have a phone with pictures?" for example.  And we have talked to many people in Myanmar, many pro-democracy citizens, who were stopped and surveilled.  And unfortunately, some of them kept their phones, their phones were used as something against them, you know?  All the information they had, the pictures they have taken, or for example, on the internet, Facebook, or Viber is very much used in Myanmar.  Three‑finger salute pictures, or anything else people were moving, any information shared became something that was used against them in these military‑run courts right now. 

>> ALEXANDRE AMARAL: Yes.  And in fact, you interviewed one young woman, an activist who was taking part in these protests.  And what happened to her was exactly that.  She was coming back from a protest.  She had pictures on her phone.  She got arrested.  And she had to endure this complete denial of freedom of ‑‑ it's not even freedom of speech.  It's even freedom of thinking because you're not private to keep your own thoughts, your own information on yourself.  So, can you tell us a little bit more about her before we go to her audio? 

>> ANNIE ZAMAN: This young 16‑year‑old girl I got to know through a network I was running, a safe house in Myanmar.  And I got a call one day that, “Okay, have you read about this person?”  And I was like, “Yeah, she was one of the few people who was interviewed after being released from the detention.”  Unlawful detention she had.  And she was under age, and somehow, I think, again, like the technology as well, we say it's like a double‑fold.  Same with these masks.  That really saved many pro-democracy activists and Generation Z, that people couldn't see their faces.  But anyway, this girl, her pictures went viral.  Her interview went viral that would happen in the detention center. 

She was underaged.  That was one of the reasons that she was released.  We don't know what really happened, you know.  But five days she stayed in the infamous detention center.  So, I think it's better if we hear her clip how she describes her ordeal, and then we can go further. 



>> OLIVIA: Everyone was protesting, and everyone was on the street.  And then they make the protest illegal and that they would shoot us if we ever protest again.  But we still protest.  Whenever they came to cure us and separate us, we just ran back through the streets and hide.  It was like the whole men.  The next day we came back and were walking on the platform of the road.  Two military trucks got in front of us.  All the armed soldiers ran over then and told us to get down on our knees, face to the grounds.  They went guns against our head, told us to give them our phones right away so we can't text a message.  So, they took our phones, and they just force us at gunpoint. 

>> ALEXANDRE AMARAL: I was the one who edited this part, but it's quite shocking to hear it again, even, isn't it, Annie?  Because this testimony from Olivia, which is an alias name that we're using so she doesn't get exposed, it just shows you how powerless you get in such a situation where someone points a gun at you, and you just have to give them all the information they need.  So, in that sense, we can see how digital security and physical security, they are very much interconnected.  Is having information in your hands becoming dangerous? 

>> ANNIE ZAMAN: I think in situations like this where our physical security's jeopardized, you know, and we have to keep less and less information on our digital gadgets, and how again, you know, it's a very thin line, you know?  We don't need to store things, for example, on the phones or on our laptops.  We started doing trainings with pro-democracy activists and journalists and frontline defenders.  Journalists whose job is basically to keep this information and keep gathering the testimonies.  They were also putting their life in danger by keeping this, you know, all the information. 

So, it was very difficult to, A, first make people realize that keeping all the information on your phones about Pro-democracy or anything which is anti‑Junta, anti the military, it will put you in danger, your loved ones in danger, the people you're working with in danger and the whole pro-democracy movement in danger.  Because as Olivia mentioned, there are many other testimonies where we are being informed that they just take your phone and then they find out who else is on your phone, contacts.  Even the contact list becomes so difficult.  So, we kept on people when we were evacuating people, for example, we kept telling them that, delete any foreign, you know, for example, anyone's name when that name sounds very foreign.  Put it into like Myanmar names.  Because many people who came out from detention said they were being asked repeatedly, "Who's funding you?  Who's funding you?" This paranoia against foreign funding is very much there in Myanmar as well. 

So, in many cases, they came out and gave this testimony.  And the phones and pictures.  We get used to putting our memories in, whatever, I would take a picture here or there.  And these people who were, like, being arrested, and later they have, like, some of them, of our colleagues and friends have been like now sentenced for many years just for keeping these pictures of, for example, three‑finger salute, pictures or portraits in their phones.  So, it became like, you know, how much information you need to keep with yourself.  So, we keep telling people to delete.  Consume, delete.  Consume, delete.  Consume, delete.  And this is one of the ways to keep yourself safe. 

For example, right now at the airports as well in Myanmar, they ask you to check your phones, and they run, like, something on your laptops as well.  So, yeah, that's what's happening in Myanmar. 

>> ALEXANDRE AMARAL: Which is quite a paradox, isn't it?  Because it seemed when the internet first came, the more information we could access the merrier.  But having access to that information doesn't necessarily mean that you should keep it with you nowadays. 

>> ANNIE ZAMAN: Exactly, yeah.  Keeping ‑‑ what I have learned in the last ten months is, A, I keep changing my digital ID.  B, I don't keep as much information to myself.  And C, I don't want to be connected to anyone who I don't know. 

Earlier, like I think ten years ago, we wanted to make our networks grow by just writing blogs.  I wanted, like, more people.  Over the time, I think we all have learned it the hard way, that we don't like meeting strangers in our daily life as well, so who do I want to include into my digital circle?  And things are very dangerous for example.  If someone is friends with me, they will get to know like all the people I'm working with. 

>> ALEXANDRE AMARAL: That's the case we heard from Olivia as well. 


>> ALEXANDRE AMARAL: We have another quote separated from her, to know exactly what they're after, what kind of information we need to protect. 


>> OLIVIA: I cleared some pictures on my phone, but I still have some photos that I was three‑finger saluting, holding the protest sign.  So, they started to interrogate us.  They were writing down all the contacts of people on the phone, and they took separate shots of the conversation, every detail about the person I was chatting or texting to. 

They want me to tell every single one of their names and address.  I feel very overwhelmed and furious.  I was thinking, like, this can't be legal.  They can't just check my phone like this.  But then I remember, oh, wait, we are in Myanmar, and they are the military.  Of course, they can do that. 

Another officer, right after he came inside, he stood in front of me and he shouted at me aggressively and tried telling me that he could call me right there all over my body and nobody would see me again. 

>> ALEXANDRE AMARAL: Yeah, so, it's heartbreaking, isn't it, Annie, because you get inside people's heads so much when you suppress their freedom of expression and their privacy that they feel like they can't share anymore, they can't express any dissent, even to their friends, their family members, because they might be putting themselves at risk.  So, in a citizen's perspective, what can be done, for someone who's facing a similar situation where they're facing those violations of the very basic digital rights?  What can we do to protect ourselves? 

>> ANNIE ZAMAN: It's a very tough question and situation.  I must stress upon this.  Because Generation Z, that's like those on the forefront and still on the forefront of democracy movement in Myanmar, they all are like, they're digital kids, you know?  They are, like, digital nomads.  They didn't have to switch from like phones to letters, paper letters.  They have never done that.  So, their whole communication their whole life, they are global citizens in Myanmar and they are very much similar to what any young kid in Europe is.  So, for them, snatching away this whole, like, freedom, it's like really traumatic for them.  B, they really believe in the values, the core values of democracy, and they want that. 

You have listened to Olivia and you have talked to her.  It's astonishing.  It's amazing, you know?  Very positive that she knows her basic fundamental human rights, or, like, she was annoyed that why are they doing it, but ‑‑

>> ALEXANDRE AMARAL: "This can't be legal."  She said it. 

>> ANNIE ZAMAN: Yeah, and they're just taking it away.  So, the young people I follow or talk with, for example, on Instagram or on ‑‑ they're very active on Instagram.  There's a whole generation, for example, on other, like, they use telegram a lot now in Myanmar, for example.  And what they do is, they all are, like, digital savvy.  They use VPNs a lot, and they try to ‑‑ again, we all ‑‑ we don't keep any information to ourselves.  Neither do like whoever we interact with. 

Sadly, what's happening in Myanmar today, there are more than 400 telcos.  What do you call them?  Boosters, they are being destroyed.  And there's so little, like now we have so little informal sources of people who are connected with the world, and that's what the Junta wanted.  Things have gone so bad in the country that people are no more connected.  A, there is a big fear.  You don't want to get caught.  Everyone knows that there's unlawful surveillance there. 

Back in the day, in 2019, there are like reports have come out.  We have all the evidence that the military has bought surveillance spywares, and they asked the telcos to install them.  And we have seen what has happened to a Norwegian company, Telenor, when they refused to install anything or budge against, like, whatever the military wanted, and that was the only telco in Myanmar that in the first two weeks of the coup kept making the public statements that this is the pressure we are facing from the military. 

We don't know about the others.  That means they were cooperating.  So, from the day one, we knew that, okay, our phones are being tapped, so everyone moved to, like, more secure ways.  But then we don't even know about, like, bigger companies, be it Facebook, be it Twitter.  We can't vouch for them.  But at the moment, the good news, we think, is like Facebook or Twitter, they're very much people at the moment, they have learned from the past.  For example, Facebook has done really outrageous things when the Rohingya crisis happened.  So, we hope they have learned and they're not cooperating with the military Junta, and that's how it apparently looks like. 

But coming back to this, that how individuals can, you know, it's very difficult, you know.  This public ‑‑ when you are living in closed societies, when you know your human rights are curtailed and you don't have ‑‑ you're not treated as a human being.  So, digital security, you know, digital rights or freedom is like a very difficult to get to that level.  It's only like we can support these people for bringing their testimonies on the public platforms or do some advocacy that more and more companies.  Of course, I'm sure some people listening to this, they know by court the whole campaign, which is led by Generation Z in Myanmar, and many people are not using the military.  For example, MPT is one telco people are not using that, and they were using Telenor, but now Telenor had to be sold to a Lebanese M1 business, which is also very shady.  But it's like, you know, very difficult right now in Myanmar.  And I don't see, like, what's the end of it. 

For example, we also tried using like Thai, thinking, but Thailand is not a very open society when it comes to laws and ‑‑

>> ALEXANDRE AMARAL: Tricky, anyway. 

>> ANNIE ZAMAN: Yeah.  So, I think the whole region, it's, like, very difficult for us to ‑‑ we really have to reflect upon, like, what is privacy and how in closed societies, where there's, like, any way you don't have any human rights left, it's like dictatorship. 

>> ALEXANDRE AMARAL: But that's what we're going to try to do.  We're going to try to reflect on how we can try to find what we can do, even in difficult situations.  I'm going to get back to you, Annie.  I think it's brilliant, the work that you're doing.  And Olivia's a very courageous person for being here with us and sharing her testimony.  So, I'd like to thank her once again. 

But now we're going to get another case story.  So, if you have questions for Annie, write them down.  We're going to get back to that part.  We're going to see another part of the region now, which is India.  I hope that we have here our next speaker, connecting virtually, because we're going to talk about another aspect of the surveillance, which could be considered, which is the ID systems that are being implemented in India, the Aadhar system, which is not necessarily a digital violation in the sense that they're getting our information, but it could be a much broader and potential issue at scale.  So, I hope that our speaker is there.  Osama Manzar, are you there, my friend? 

>> OSAMA MANZAR: Yeah, hi, everyone. 


>> OSAMA MANZAR: Everyone on the site and everyone who is virtually there. 


>> ALEXANDRE AMARAL: Osama, let me introduce you before you go on.  He is a dearest friend of mine, also an expert here at the Media and Information Literacy Expert Network.  It's great to see you.  He is the Founder and CEO of the Digital Empowerment Foundation in India, bringing digital literacy to rural parts of the area, with more than 1,000 locations, if I'm not mistaken, throughout India.  So, Osama, thank you so much for being here with us. 

We've been listening about this Aadhar system, which is this one number that unites the lives of the people in India, which is not ‑‑ you're not required by law to have it, but without it, you can't access education, you can't enroll in universities, you can't go to hospitals, and you can't, you know, even open a bank account.  So, what are the implications of this Aadhar ID system for the citizens in India? 

>> OSAMA MANZAR: Well, that will be a long tutorial for the audience there.  But what you said, that you can't do anything without other, is actually, the dichotomy is that you can't do all of this without Aadhar.  But the practical system is that, you know, there is this called UID, unique ID, or Aadhar, as it is.  By the way, Aadhar's meaning in Hindi is "the foundation," you know?  So, practically, what is happening is that it is being motivated, it is being advanced, it is being marketed, it is being spread that everybody should have this unique ID. 

As for the law, the law, itself, says you don't need to have ‑‑ I mean, you can say, no, you don't want to have this, but practically, everybody's, or governments certainly take pride in saying that they have reached out of 1.35 billion of population, they have reached 1.2 billion, or something like that is already been done.  People have been enrolled as having unique ID.  So, that's the way it started.  But gradually, to make it even more useful or more relevant, more, you know, practical, government has started linking it to every need, and then it became a kind of harassive culture, that each and every office, each and every administrative office, each and every organization has started asking people that we need to have your ID to be in place, whether you have a bank account, whether you have admission in the school, or wherever you go.  So, basically, that one number became your most popular existence or belonging of you. 

But the flip side of this entire thing is that, as you know, India has got about anywhere, depending which statistics you are looking for, but anywhere between 300 to 500 million poor people, you know, who are actually dependent on various government entitlements or those, you know, so they can't survive without ration, they can't survive without health access, they can't survive without it.  So, these are the people who are totally dependent on government givings or social welfare; entitlements.  And that is where this entire game opens up, that how they suffer because of the necessity of this unique ID.  I am not even getting into the controversial area where the haves have a serious separate problem of where, you know, it gets into surveillance, it gets into different kind of things, but I am talking about what you call as a soft part, which is 500 million people, poor people who you are saying you can't have your ration without your biometric being identified.  You can't have your pension without your biometric being identified.  Biometric, when I say, biometric is a methodology of post‑machine utilization where you put your finger as an identification, you know? 

And by the way, this is enabling, because you are illiterate, but this is disabling because you don't know how that identification is going to be used.  And I am sure you are going to show it on your podcast, that how many people on the ground suffering, their biometric identity's being stolen, their hard numbers are being spread everywhere.  Even government websites, they hang with their databases.  They are very private.  So many people have taken admission in my school, wow!  This is the name and this is all their numbers!  And then somebody's logging in taking all those numbers and doing something else, you know? 

And then there are stories that you are illiterate, you don't know how to read and write.  You go to a bank account.  You put your thumb, and your bank account is open on the screen, but she can't read it or he can't read it, but the banking correspondent or the person who is providing those services of giving you the money or withdrawing your money is keeping that information and keeping that screen open in another screen, because you just have to do Control‑T to have another window open, and that will be seen by that other person.  So, it's very interesting that, you know, this unique ID, for the lack of any word, I would say is so vulnerable because of so many reasons that it has become a reason for maybe identity theft, sometimes bank account theft, sometimes frauds, sometimes your rights being stolen, your assets being stolen and so on and so forth.  The stories are unlimited. 

You can have books after books, an encyclopedia of having case studies of how people have been, you know.  So, what I'm saying is, actually, it's such a vulnerable number; it's such a vulnerable style of utilization in our Indian society, is that the lesser the case study, the better it is.  It would have been everything. 

Of course, you know, Shruti is going to highlight more recorded stories of privacy perspective and surveillance perspective, but what I am saying is that even for the purpose for which this number was, let's say, released as your unique ID to have an easy life is not actually turning out to be an easy life, because you are vulnerable, because this one number is connecting everything. 

I mean, imagine one mobile is giving you all the information in Myanmar, when it is being taken away by the people.  Imagine your one number is taken away by people, and anything can be done.  So, isn't it very, you know ‑‑ and that number is actually not sacrosanct.  It's everywhere.  If you go to a typical Indian village, out of hundreds of houses, there is one person providing service of banking access or entitlement access or internet access, and if you go to that person's room, you will find that hundreds of UID printouts are kept on the table just like that.  These people come there, take it in their hand.  It's like a post office, which is ‑‑ imagine a post office with all the credit cards, without cover.  Can you imagine?  It is available in every nook and corner.  Imagine all the names on a database on Excel sheet is on the website with your credit card number there, with CVV. 

>> ALEXANDRE AMARAL: Which I think is impressive, isn't it, Osama?  Because when we're doing the interviews, first, the cases start piling up.  When we were preparing for the podcast, we found a number of case stories so easy.  And all these people, they had all those other, piles of other on the table to show for, that they had it, you know.  They had the trust of the citizens, but if they wanted to do something with it, they potentially could, and that could impact a lot later on down the road. 

But I just want to highlight that first case story that we brought exactly from India, because we went to the very rural areas where you have your centers and you have the connection to those people, to find out how this plays out in their real lives.  So, we have here the testimony of Shakti, who we're going to bring dubbed to English. 

>> SHAKTI: I am from the district in Rajasthan and this is supposed to be one of the most backward regions of the country.  If any government official gets assigned to this place, they actually think that it's a punishment.  People here are unaware about government schemes and entitlements, and they're very untrusting of people who are educated, because over the years, they have been cheated again and again by educated people. 

There is a person named Suresh who runs a center.  What he did is he applied for pensions for people who have actually passed away already.  He took their cards, put his own fingerprint there, put his own mobile phone there, and whenever money would come into their account, the money from the government pension, he would just go and withdraw it.  In fact, not only people who are dead.  He started doing this with people who are alive as well.  He would apply for their pensions.  He would take their Aadhar number, but he would put his own fingerprint.  And when asked, you know, why my money hasn't come, he would say, the pension hasn't started yet or the government hasn't released the money yet. 

However, there came a time when there was a man who was about 70 or 80, and he had passed away.  So, his son actually went online and he checked the status of the account, and he saw that money is coming in every month, but it's getting withdrawn, and he had no clue where it's getting withdrawn from.  But the thing is that this man was an information activist.  So, he took all the documents, filed at the banks, you know.  He just got all the information out, and then he took all of that information and filed a case against him. 

After a proper investigation was conducted, it was found out that he had done a fraud of six Lakopees, so he was jailed for six months and released.  And the government canceled his license because of all of this.  So, he opened another in the name of someone else.  And in fact, he has restarted his center, and he's still running that center. 

>> ALEXANDRE AMARAL: So, Osama, that would be ironical, if it wouldn't be tragic, right?  We see this case of this middleman committing fraud, and not even people don't realize it, but also, he's able, even after getting caught, to continue it.  So, if we think of digital, first, it's a brilliant thing.  I've been there to India, visiting some of the villages with you, and you give people access, especially the most vulnerable, to their rights.  So, in order to get their entitlements, their ration, their food, their money, they need to, you know, go and press their ID there, so they have this mobile scheme where they select one person in the village where they're able to, you know, connect people, even the illiterate, to be able to access those schemes.  But in the name of ease of use, if you compile all that into one single ID system, and people don't have the education or the digital literacy to go after it, it seems that the government is telling everyone, in order for you to have your rights, you need to, you know, know the basics of digital.  But I don't see anyone providing people that awareness or that education so that they don't get exploited, which is a bizarre thing, if you ask me. 

So, how should we look at this, Osama, from a citizen's perspective?  What sort of solutions are out there?  What could be done?  Is it awareness that we need to raise?  What exactly do we need to look at? 

>> OSAMA MANZAR: So, it's very interesting, you know.  We always think that digital is just a technology or digital is just a means to do some things, but we don't take digital as a cultural embedding or a change of culture into the system that we make policy for, and that's ironical.  I will give you an example of 66A.  It's an act that was created to actually ‑‑ a very bad act from the perspective of freedom of expression.  And under that, police was asking anybody who was even commenting on something which is, let's say, not acceptable to the government.  And then, gradually, the government changed, and then that act was withdrawn. 

And the irony is that, even now, the Government of India's many police departments, cybercrime experts, they arrest people in the name of an act that doesn't exist.  I mean, it has been withdrawn and doesn't exist.  So, what is very important is that when we make a policy which has got digital included into it, it's very important to look at the cultural part of it, the social part of it, the practices, the ecosystems, and how do you do it?  You know, that's very, very important. 

For example, doing digital literacy and not doing digital safety is not going to work, you know, because digital literacy is going to enable you to share all of your data, but digital safety will not make all those data safeguarded, you know, or behind the firewall, or not shared, you know?  It's something like when you get a credit card, you very clearly said that don't store those numbers anywhere.  You just memorize it.  That's an instruction.  That's the tutorial that you get.  But we don't get any tutorial for any new digital policy that we make.  There is no awareness about it.  There is no tutorial about it.  There is no literacy about it.  There is no educational part of it.  I mean, you tell me how many schools and colleges or education systems that we have embedded with the curriculum of having digital literacy, digital culture, digital society as a part of the curriculum of understanding, you know? 

So, we are certainly ‑‑ and this is basically on the government who makes policy.  I mean, you cannot make something in the name of ease.  And recently ‑‑ I'll give you another example.  When the pandemic was there, when it was made mandatory that everybody has to take vaccination, it was also made mandatory that you have to go through a portal, online portal, to register yourself to get that vaccination.  Now, tell me how many areas of the country is connected, even on the statistical data of India, internet still hasn't reached 40% or 50% of Indians.  Then how can you make something mandatory, the gateway of which is internet, you know, for taking vaccination?  And ultimately, that happened, you know.  Government ultimately, themselves, said that it is not possible.  You can walk into the hospital or the local, you register yourself there locally face‑to‑face and you get your vaccination.  Then we will put the data on your behalf.  I mean, and when you are putting the data on your behalf, then we don't know what kind of data are being put.  And without that, it is not possible.  OTP is another barrier. 

So, what is very, very important that the more we are getting digital, the more cultural integration is required, social integration is required, and that's not happening, and that's the danger. 

>> ALEXANDRE AMARAL: No, I think that's a perfect consideration that you put us in.  How do we integrate all those layers when it comes to digital literacy, education, into the policy level, and the bigger discussion.  I think that's an essential part.  And that's exactly why I want to invite Shruti to join us also in the conversation.  She's also our guest.  Shruti Trikanad ‑‑ I hope I pronounced your name right.  She is a Programme Officer at the Center For Internet and Society in India and works primarily on issues such as Digital ID.  She did a lot of research as well about how the Aadhar is taking place regarding the court system, the legal system.  So, Shruti, welcome. 

>> SHRUTI TRIKANAD: Hi, Alex.  Thank you.  So glad to be here. 

>> ALEXANDRE AMARAL: No, it's fantastic to see you!  And I was hoping you could give us a little bit of a legal perspective on the sense.  Because if we look at the Aadhar, a lot of data is available in the public domain, which is another aspect that we could discuss.  But what did your test reveal exactly when we focused on the issues of the system, especially regarding to privacy, you know?  We're talking about the importance of citizens being able to protect their personal information, be it in a sense where it's very, very sensitive, like Myanmar, or in India, where this data could be abused if it falls into the hands of the masses.  So, from a legal perspective, how that plays out? 

>> SHRUTI TRIKANAD: Yes.  So, usually, when I think about this, I think of it in two ways.  One would be what the regulatory or legal surrounding of the Digital ID system is, and the other when I'm not really going to talk about a lot, but how the technology, itself, is designed, right?  And this kind of plays back to even what Annie was saying, which is that, regardless of whether there is a rule of law ‑‑ I mean, in some ways, it doesn't really matter what the law is; it matters who is enforcing it.  So, to kind of safeguard that, you have technology that is, like, that enhances privacy by design, for instance. 

So, the main thing I would say there is that we move away from the Aadhar model.  The Aadhar model is a particular kind of system where you have a centralized database, you only have the government being the ID provider.  You make it mandatory.  These are things that are all, like, this is what the Aadhar model's characterized by, and it's quite different from other sort of developed countries, more like Estonia, Canada, UK all have these systems that are very unlike Aadhar. 

So, there you could have, like you move away from a centralized database, have access control that is kind of determined by the technology, itself, and not just by the law.  But when we talk about the law itself, which is, I suppose at this stage the only thing that you can address in the Aadhar system.  How we looked at it, we came up with a framework that kind of tests the environment surrounding Aadhar in three ways.  So, I'll be very brief about this because it is very lengthy. 

The first thing we look at is the rule of law, which is basically whether the Digital ID system is governed properly by one or many laws that cover all aspects of the Digital ID system.  And here, Aadhar we found was lacking in several ways.  One really important way was the purpose of the Aadhar system itself.  So, when it became, as Osama was saying as well, when it began, it was to target the poor population to, like, access the subsidies that they are beneficiaries for.  But now it has kind of absolutely left that focus.  Now it's mandatory for everyone to link their Aadhar card to their income tax filing.  Mandatory linkage to a slew of other things.  So, it's kind of moved away from that purpose, and that purpose also determines exactly, like, a lot of parts of the system itself.  So, one thing that we would say in the law is to not allow the Aadhar system to be used for purposes other than what the data was collected for it, and that is not present in the Aadhar Act right now.  It kind of liberally allows the central government to determine what users are for.  Right now users of Aadhar are used for other laws, like money laundering law, et cetera, all of which we believe should be addressed immediately. 

Another really, really important thing, and this also does address the flaw that Osama was talking about, is the accountability of the administrator of the system.  So, the Aadhar system is administered by the UEIDI, which created the Aadhar system, maintains it, administers it and is also the only regulator for it.  So, all this essentially means is that, regardless of what it does, nobody can kind of hold it accountable because it's the only body that holds itself accountable.  I mean, that makes no sense to me, but there is nobody else that can do anything to them.  And nobody was able to make any complaints in the Aadhar system.  So, even if the fraud that Osama was talking about would occur, you weren't allowed to complain.  The only thing you could do is let them know and they would file a complaint on your behalf, which was something that ‑‑ I mean, if they didn't want to take action, they just wouldn't. 

And we saw that as well when, initially, when the Aadhar ‑‑ when the enrollment was happening for Aadhar, they found that a lot of fraud had happened, a lot of identities were created that were not real, but there was absolutely no action taken against UIADI for that because they are the only ones that can take action. 

>> ALEXANDRE AMARAL: It's a difficult thing because we heard from the example, it took someone who was an activist on access to information to do all the steps, to either file a complaint or something like that.  So, when we look at the legitimacy of these systems, is it really to make it more transparent and maybe give access to citizens to have a hand in that, Shruti? 

>> SHRUTI TRIKANAD: I would honestly say it doesn't seem that way.  And so, even when you talk about the security of the system, initially there were a lot of activists, such as these organizations, that pointed out ‑‑ this is many years earlier ‑‑ that there were a lot of security, like lacunas in the system.  And instead of, I think they're taken which they should, which they try to address the security problems.  They instantly kind of filed charges against a lot of these research organizations, a lot of journalists, to say that they attempted to breach the system.  And we receive from that, there is very little transparency.  It's kind of like the government is on the offensive.  They're just not taking any feedback about this.  They're just kind of instantly going against anyone that says something about the Aadhar system. 

>> ALEXANDRE AMARAL: Perfect.  Thank you so much.  I think that's a super interesting discussion, and I think it's not only the Aadhar system in India that were seeing some issues when it comes to that privacy of citizens and personal information and so on, but also on a global level.  So, I'm going to invite to join us here on the discussion also Edin Omanovic.  I can't see you, but I hope you're there.  Edin is the Advocacy Director at privacy international and works on challenging abuses of power by governments worldwide.  Things that Shruti is mentioning, do they happen elsewhere, also?  If we look at the world, is it a common issue, what we're seeing with ID systems, surveillance from governments, getting personal information and so on? 

>> EDIN OMANOVIC: Hi.  Yeah, unfortunately, I mean, there's echoes of these kinds of issues around the world.  I think one thing that was mentioned was the lack of a legal framework, so the lack of a data protection law in India.  Unfortunately, we see that elsewhere as well.  So, these kinds of Digital ID systems are generally proposed by large donors, for example, and governments, particularly in weaker countries, as solutions to a whole range of different problems, whether it's access to welfare or for security reasons, but no real kind of substantive thought given to how this will play out in practice.  And without a well‑written and well‑enforced law, such as the Data Protection Law, there's going to be, inevitably, all these kinds of issues. 

So, to be clear, no ID system is going to ever be 100% secure.  The most advanced intelligence agencies in the world cannot keep their systems secure.  They've been regularly hit.  So, inevitably, this information is going to be leaked.  That's why you need a well‑enforced data rights, and people who have access and knowledge about it and a regulator that can actually take action to actually help people and to protect people's rights. 

In weaker states where these laws don't exist, where these regulators aren't able to enforce the law, these kinds of issues are simply inevitable.  Yet, at the same time, what we've seen is donors and governments rush to these kinds of solutions for a whole manner of things.  And originally, it might start with, for example, let's try and make sure that people have access to welfare, but there's inevitably always function‑keeping.  There will always end up being a more substantive solution in scope.  So, for example, it will become a security thing.  Or enforcement will inevitably want access to it. 

And I think really the first question that should always be asked is, "Why?" Why do we need to build these systems?  Why, if everyone is entitled, indeed, as they are, to a legal identity, why does it have to be a Digital ID system?  Why does it have to involve biometrics?  That kind of question is lacking, because I think often a lot of cases, donors are just jumping to the most sexy, the most kind of high‑tech solution, which is biometric ID systems, unfortunately. 

>> ALEXANDRE AMARAL: Yeah, and I think it comes down, as you said, different countries and different regions are in different parts of the process.  So, where to start might be a different challenge or a different solution, depending where they are. 

I'd like to hear a little bit also about what Privacy International is doing regarding this, and what are the most ‑‑ like, if we had to pick one of the most crucial issues that purposes all these different states and regions we're talking about today, or even others that are happening across the globe, is there one thing that we should, you know, one common thing that we need to tackle urgently before our digital rights will be just out of the box or something like that? 

>> EDIN OMANOVIC: Yeah.  So, I think the pandemic has really just underlined and exposed how interconnected just everything is, the world is, people, civil society groups, governments.  And I think one kind of thread that's running through all this is the role of powerful actors, whether it's companies or governments, that essentially have the power to change all this. 

So, we spoke earlier about surveillance, and particularly in Myanmar.  There are hundreds of companies out there who sell surveillance tools to governments, and it's basically a free‑for‑all.  There's very little regulation over it.  So, we're essentially trying to put pressure on these companies to respect people's rights, to stop selling this equipment, and for governments to step in, because they have the power to actually restrain this industry.  So, there's a lot of things that people can do in terms of protecting their own individual rights, so using encryption, using certain apps, even stopping storing certain data on their devices.  But then, you know, this essentially absolves governments and companies from their responsibility to also look after their rights. 

So, we need to put pressure on governments to actually pass laws and to enforce them, and where they can, we need to put pressure on companies to act as the last line of defense to protect peoples.  And unfortunately, the way that we're going, even not putting information and stopping yourself from storing stuff on mobile phones isn't really going to be enough because governments are increasingly adding data to databases or increasingly demanding that everything that we do, whether it's accessing services, is somehow, the data around that is collected and stored somewhere. 

And then increasingly, it's becoming even more difficult to walk down the street because you have issues, such as facial recognition cameras.  So, I think the risks are becoming a lot higher.  There's a lot more risk in all aspects of life.  But at the same time, what we can do about it is put pressure on international companies and international governments to actually be more aware of how this is impacting people around the world, in particular the most marginalized around the world.  And through coordination, through civil society organizations, through international coordination at a governmental level, there are real opportunities for change, and things are changing. 

>> ALEXANDRE AMARAL: Perfect.  No, I think that's brilliant.  I just want to invite people here in the room and online to pose in their questions.  I don't want to be too selfish.  I know that we have an incredible lineup of speakers and you have some burning thoughts in your heads.  So, get ready.  If you want to come, feel free to come.  If you're in the chat, send a question, and we're going to address that as well. 

Meanwhile, I just want to say that I think that's really interesting, Edin, because since here at MILEN, since we work with media information literacy, obviously, we try to find solutions, and you know, find a way that citizens can fight back for their rights on a bottom‑up approach.  But I think that's not enough, you know?  We have to do what we can, but we also need to focus our efforts in terms of regulation, as you said, on companies and government bodies, because at the end of the day, they should be held to account.  I think that's super that you said.  I think that's super important for us to remember.  Ah, I see we have a gentleman here.  Please, go on.  What's your name, sir? 

>> Hello.  My name is Asim.  And I was listening to this all interesting conversation.  We always heard the threats throughout our history.  Authorities are manipulators.  They always use the information for their purposes.  If it is corporate, they will use that information to generate more revenues.  If it is authoritarian governments, regimes, they will use it for their control.  These things will keep happening. 

The problem with the digital era is that now it is very easy to connect the dots.  We have one piece of information.  On the basis of that, we can develop the profiling.  Then these algorithms and now, as we talk about the face recognition is connected with that, our biometric data is connected with that, our social network is connected with that, our daily routine of doing things, using Siri, everything is getting captured.  So, it is very easy to identify what we do, what we think. 

Having an Aadhar card might not be a problem because there are national ID cards almost in every country.  Even in Europe we have the residence cards.  The problem is that who has the access to that system, if that system is accessed by the right people or not, and how we can put the policies in place that those systems, that piece of information will not be misused.  That is the key question, what we should ask by ourselves, that how as sitting on the Internet Governance Forum we can come up with such a thought process which we can then, at every stage wherever we are working, we can push it forward that how we can find the right solution which can be implemented everywhere.  Because now we are living in a global village.  Thank you. 

>> ALEXANDRE AMARAL: Perfect.  Thank you so much.  If any other speakers want to comment on that, please, feel free to go as well. 

>> ANNIE ZAMAN: I just want to add one thing to that.  When we talk about solutions, we all know that all these spywares, for example, or any unlawful intercept spywares bring in, in closed societies where we see dictatorship, even in democracy.  But when there are stronger democratic systems and governments in place, there are more safeguards in place available for citizens, and that is what we have learned and we are learning. 

You know, for example, if it comes to the Parliament, to people, there are different layers, rather than when one military guy just at the back door, he gets a deal with someone, and you know, they displace it.  When things are more behind doors, it's more difficult to manage. 

For example, in Myanmar, until 2021, we were not aware that there is some spyware that were bought and telcos have already installed them until, you know, they were bought in 2018.  But we got to know in 2021.  So, I think, of course, like you mentioned that Europe also has ID card systems, but surveillance, you know, in closed societies, I think we see more as compared to countries which have more democratic processes in place. 

>> ALEXANDRE AMARAL: Awesome.  Thank you so much, Annie.  And we have more people lined up to ask you about activist.  I see that we have Ilyaz as a guest in the chat.  If you want to ask your question and unmute yourself, you can do that as well.  Otherwise, I can read it here on the chat.  Okay.  I think you can't unmute, unfortunately.  So, I'll just read your question. 

Annie, first of all, question for you.  What methods the activists are using to try to come up with solutions.  He knows you can't share everything, but any ideas, what can be used in that way. 

And we have a question for Shruti.  Is it fair to say that a big part of the problems of the Aadhar system is due to the seemingly deteriorating rule of law in India?  So, please.  Yeah, Annie, if you want to. 

>> ANNIE ZAMAN: Okay, I'll go ahead first.  For activist question, I think, and Myanmar specific.  Most of the activists, they no more use anything which leads to, like, digital footprints.  That's a very interesting pattern which we have seen, that people have gone to generals and to those areas which are under DEFs in Myanmar.  They are not connected in, like how we see they should be connected and technology should help them.  But it's other way around.  We are coming back to old ways of communications, like more safer ways. 

>> ALEXANDRE AMARAL: Super.  Brilliant.  Thank you.  Shruti, please, go ahead, if you're there with us. 

>> SHRUTI TRIKANAD: Yes, thank you.  Yeah, I would say it is part of the problem, or more, rather, part of the impact of having a system that kind of allows surveillance.  And bridges the relationship between a citizen and a state.  For example, right now a state could easily sort of cut the (?) and you're instantly not able to access a slew of services.  So, yeah, I would say the government in place does impact that a lot, but it is also just how the system allows that to happen which matters, I think. 

>> ALEXANDRE AMARAL: Well, thank you so much, Shruti.  I think that's essentially ‑‑ I know we said we're going to try to bring solutions, but there are even more burning thoughts from everything that you guys are saying here, but I think those are great points to start off.  Unfortunately, we're going to have to wrap up here our session at the Internet Governance Forum due to time.  But I'd like to thank everyone who participated and joined us, our incredible speaker lineup as well. 

This was the seventh episode of Digital Rights Explored Global Rights Digital Perspective, especially recorded here as part of the IGF.  If you like, connect with the podcast, send in questions.  We'd be thrilled to have you all around.  I'd like to thank everyone that was part of here with us today.  We talked to Annie Zaman, Olivia, Osama Manzar, Shruti Trikanad and Edin Omanovic.  Thank you so much for being here with us. 

I'd like to thank our producer, our consultant, the dubbing and special thanks to Leah Bennett for making this possible.  We are grateful as well for the UN people here at the Internet Governance Forum and for the Government of Poland.  Jikuya, I hope that was pronounced right. 

This is brought to you by MILEN, the Media and Information Literacy Expert Network.  We'd be more than happy to talk to you.  Drop us a line.  My name is Alexandre Amaral.  I'm tuning out.  I'll see you next month with a new episode.  Ciao! 


(Session concluded at 1030 CET)