-Narayan Prasad Ghimire/RSS
KATHMANDU: Use of internet has increased rapidly in recent times in Nepal. Whether for education or communications, business or entertainment, internet has been unavoidable.
Internet penetration has exceeded 100 percent in Nepal too. The crisis like COVID-19 evidently contributed to the increased use of internet, for the people of many professions were forced to stay indoors and develop work-from-home culture.
Together with the huge migration of people to cyber space/internet, issues of their rights and safety concern also emerged of late.
Cyber crimes on the one hand and deprivation of access to and question of internet quality and affordability are other equally important concerns.
The human rights defenders are advocating for utilizing internet as a public space to exercise rights and get benefit from this wonderful achievement. Internet is the enabler of other human rights, they often argue. Their major agenda are protection and promotion of freedom of expression, privacy and data protection online. Similarly, women rights defenders question why discrimination is prevailing on internet too. Cyber harassment of women is nagging problem. On the other, security experts have pointed out the need of augmenting security of critical infrastructures to ensure online safety to all internet users. Those observing policy-making are stressing for multi-stakeholder approach on making and implementing the policy and laws on cyber space/internet, arguing internet warrants cross-cutting attention, education and expertise.
In this connection, the speakers at a programme named ‘Human Rights on Cyberspace/Internet’ put forth diverse views ranging from online safety to digital literacy, human rights promotion and data privacy.
At the programme organized by Freedom Forum in Kathmandu on November 15, FF Executive Chief Taranath Dahal said the programme was organized to foster debate on human rights on cyberspace in Nepal because the issues surrounding internet and cyber were emerging vehemently in recent time. The programme would help provide input to the government to improve the present draft of national cyber security policy. The interface among IT community, rights defenders, government representatives, CSOs, academia and media, among others would function as an important platform to bring to light the pressing issues of internet.
On the occasion, Joint Secretary at the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology Anil Dutt informed that the Ministry was receiving inputs on the draft of the national cyber security policy. So, the inputs from this programme could help better it, he hoped. “Internet is a tool to which we can use it in any way we want. So, it’s positive sides should be explored for the benefit,” he added.
He also informed that IT Bill was pending at parliament for long. “We still have time to amend it,” he assured.
Human rights lawyer Santosh Sigdel viewed internet carries the values set by UDHR and ICCPR. The policy relating to internet must be human rights based, he stressed.
Similarly, IT entrepreneur Bibhushan Bista pointed out the need of talking about net neutrality in Nepal too.
According to Assistant District Attorney Officer at Kathmandu, Shiluka Lingthep, most of the cyber crimes (95%) were perpetrated against women in Nepal. The most invoked law on cyber crime in Nepal is Electronic Transaction Act. She underscored the need of digital literacy and worried that ‘cyber crime’ is yet to be formally defined in Nepal.
Noted IT expert in Nepal, Manohar Bhattarai, said, “Internet’s impact is vehement and unprecedented on humanity. So, this discussion is held at a proper time.” He viewed that cyber security and online safety should be regarded differently. Even the ISPs should be made accountable, he said, underscoring that internet must be neutral and open.
He wondered why Nepal Telecommunications Authority (NTA) was spending huge amount on content filtering. The algorithm of content filtering by TNA must be transparent, Bhattarai underlined.
Senior journalist Babita Basnet said time has come to discuss every issue on internet like FoE, privacy, data protection on internet and digital space in a segregated manner to build further understanding.
Other speakers showed concern over use of ETA to harass journalists. They also asked the Communications Ministry to make policy making inclusive and participatory. Digital literacy also got focus during the programme.