Gotabaya Rajapakse, a former Unix Systems Admin strangely enough, has leveraged the Internet pretty well. One story which has slipped under the rug during these news heavy weeks is his department’s call for an online registry of citizens (citizens.lk). I’m not sure of the legality of this. It’s a pretty wide ranging and intrusive government measure and it was enacted without any Parliamentary or other debate, by an unelected official. It’s only saving grace is that it’s pretty much impossible for everyone in this country to register online as there are probably only about 3-400,000 people with proper Internet. Honestly, if they could simply get every Sri Lankan to connect to the Internet (even in this draconian way) that would be cool. But as it is this will probably go the way of the Internet porn ban. Straight out of the realm of fiction, into farce.
The scary thing about citizens.lk is the racial part. There’s a clear dropdown for race. In most US government and professional situations identifying your race is voluntary. Here I presume it is not. Race is a sensitive issue in any country, but in Sri Lanka, with its unresolved and untended ethnic problem this is more so. Furthermore, I wonder what half Sinhalese/Tamils (Ligers, or Tions) are supposed to do.
It’s also a bit weird how aggressively the Ministry of Defence wields information as power. From shutting down TamilNet, radio stations etc to the Law and Order climate where presses are burned (Leader), TV stations are torched (Sirasa) and journalists shot (Lasantha, etc) – the environment is such that opposing views are pretty well silenced. Furthermore, Gotabaya just yesterday was calling various journalists terrorists on national TV, by name. Into this void he’s launched defence.lk and skillfully used SMS news (like the main Derana) to ration out war news like short eats.
Citizens.lk is the logical extension of checkpoints into digital space. I find it curious that they don’t digitize their own records first, and I don’t see how they can enforce this. Perhaps it’ll be like the drunk driving checkpoints where the cops get you to drive yourself to the station – because they don’t have vehicles of their own. There’s a field for emailing your local OIC. I have seen a only few computers in cop sheds and they’re generally not plugged in.
I’m not taking this especially seriously because it’s technically impossible. Sri Lanka is not a country where the masses are on the Internet. However, with Gotabaya what you have to watch for is intent. He’s floated lead balloons like that memo stating that no one could report on defence procurement or the war at all. Which was never passed. However, there certainly is a climate of violence and terror around media such that he got what he wanted. Coincidentally.
I guess what he wants with an online citizenship database is information, which presumably helps one capture terrorists. Or at least suspects. Or to find anyone you want at all quickly. Which is power. Might be that. It’s a stunning power grab, if it weren’t thankfully clutching at air. The intention is chilling though.
I am, however, impressed that the thing is written in PHP, and uses AJAX. I wonder if Big Brother 2.0 is using MySQL as well.