Reasoning that the people have been taking their freedom for granted, the Nepal government is preparing to introduce a content filtering system. The government is planning to invest Rs One Billion to implement this system.
“This is to filter the anti-social and derogatory content and content which violates the provision of the constitution,” says Min Prashad Aryal, Director at Nepal Telecommunication Authority.
Aryal shares that NTA has formed a committee along with few industry experts to study the content filtering mechanism. According to Aryal, the team is consulting experts and also studying similar global initiation.
The government has kept this project on the priority in the budget of the fiscal year 2020/21.
“We are researching the modality, technicalities, and cost for this system and working in a way to implement the mechanism within this fiscal year,” says Aryal.
An unrealistic plan without a clear vision
Though the government seems to be prepared to execute the plan, the industry experts do not see it as a feasible plan, and as well as they see it as a pointless expenditure without a clear vision.
ICT expert Manohar Bhattarai views that the government must be transparent to its citizens about the purpose of the content filtering system.
“The government must be able to explain what has compelled them to come up with this idea which requires huge investment,” says ICT expert Manohar Bhattarai.
Nepal government had been talking about strict monitoring and filtering of content for a long time.
“It was more than a decade ago the government showed their concern about content filtering in Nepal. This issue was discussed since videos of 12 Nepalis killed in Iraq went viral,” informs Indiver Badal, former CEO and board member of Nepal Internet Exchange (NPIX).
“The government has been blocking explicit content by complaining the compliance office of various social media companies,” shares Badal.
They have already been limiting the use of problematic internet contents using Domain Name System (DNS) but now they want us to fully control.
“Recently, the government directed the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block the contents,” he explains. “But content filtering is not easy as it sounds. ISPs can’t see encrypted detail URLs and content even if they try,” he says.
He also views that Rs One Billion will not be enough and they will need a large chunk of amount for this technology.
“International traffic of Nepal is 1 terabit per second (TBPS) that is 1000 gigabits per seconds (GBPS) per second. This means that the technology will need to filter 1000 GBPS in real-time. This will cost will be very high as the system need to be kept smooth without affecting the speed of the internet. Also, as the internet traffic is doubling every year, we will need more infrastructure every year,” he shares.
He says that we need deep packet inspection (DPI) technology to identify, monitor, and block the content, which is quite expensive technology for Nepal.
“Countries like China, Bangladesh, and Pakistan have been using DPI to control freedom of speech in the name of illegal content. But the people use virtual private network (VPN) platforms, due to which their government has not been able to keep complete control of their citizens. So, even if the government intends to curtail freedom of speech and information, there are many back-end ways to access the blocked sites,” he shares.
ICT expert aligns with Badal’s thought and says “The investment which the government is planning is unjustifiable. It is because the ones who create problematic content can find another way around.”
Focus on creating internet education could be a better way
In the beginning, the internet was not a need but a privilege of a few. With invention over time, the internet has come up as an essential communication tool that has become inseparable in the everyday life.
“The purpose of bringing internet cannot be equated or compared with present-day time. Despite all of its benefits, the internet also has been making negative effects on wider society. But we can’t deny the fact that it has empowered people,” shares expert Bhattarai.
Badal opines that the government must work on educating people on utilizing the internet for productive purpose and using it with the right intent. “They should educate parents to use tools to monitor and control internet surfing of their children,” opines Badal.
There are already some laws for restriction and governance of internet content that are yet to be passed. Some of them include Copyright Act, Electronic Transactions Act, Privacy Act, Criminal Code, and IT bill.