When the Govt Says Cybersecurity, Get Your Head Down, Cos the Koreans Are Coming

Hey folks. Just spent the past week investigating potential sites for my post-nuclear apocalypse survival camp and, uh, “recruiting” nubile young cult… I mean commune members.

East Africa is a touch too close to the Korean Peninsula for my liking, in light of the little palaver that’s going on between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un. I hope that you too have been smartly planning for your immediate future and acting accordingly. Hint: You’re going to want to stock up on as many antiseptics and antibiotics as your bunker can hold. You can thank me/sell me your water rights later.

So it was a surprise to get back to the city and find that my government has signed an agreement with a Korean firm to do something that sounds a lot like interference with our Internet security. This is hardly a Tanzanian innovation: Regimes from the US to the UK, Ethiopia and Rwanda have been intruding on their citizens’ Internet privacy for the past five years or more. We are in good company, if you like that sort of thing.

Cybersecurity in and of itself is not bad. I am currently reading a treatise on cybercrime that is riveting: It is the work of a man who literally started working with the FBI and other security/intelligence agencies back in the 1900s when WordPerfect was the word processor of choice.

Early on in the book, long before we get to the true horrors, he does point out something that we should all keep in mind. Like the military-industrial complex, organised crime is always at the forefront of technology, exploiting it for its own gains. Whatever you think you are scared of thanks to the Information Revolution, the likelihood is that you are neither scared enough nor scared of the right things.

There are some bad hombres out there, real bad dudes and no wall is going to keep them away. And this is why nobody in their right mind is against cybersecurity… per se. So let’s frame this in terms of the problematic word here: Security.

If something carries a name that is too good to be true, that is because it is. If there is an Institute for Peace, you should suspect it of funding arms research. When your government uses the term “security” at you, go right ahead and feel insecure.

My government having an agreement with a non-Tanzanian firm to provide security services is the kind of thing that dystopian nightmares are made of. I don’t even pretend to understand why anything that sensitive could be outsourced, but whatever.

What is important here is that Korea is on the cutting edge of things Internet and South Koreans spend the most time online of just about any country in the world. Seems a bit like overkill to me for them to come to my po’dunk neck of the woods where we have happily enjoyed the wild freedoms of a barely-regulated Internet experience.

I know my government, and I am especially sensitive to the fact that my current head of state is not a fan of “social media.” It is understandable. The Internet was designed to be anarchic, something that no self-respecting conservative African middle-aged statesman can withstand. It has wreaked havoc on autocracies and given people who can access it unparalleled powers of information. And for obscurantists there is but one motto: Information is dangerous. It must be… controlled for the greater good.

Already the sycophants are falling in line. Even in good old liberal Dar es Salaam, people are starting to embrace the idea of “good” and “bad” uses of the Internet – and they don’t mean your average bit of banking fraud or malware dissemination. They are going to come after your porn stash and that lively WhatsApp group chat where people use salty language to say what they really think of the Fifth Administration. All under the broad and cynical guise of “keeping the peace.”

You know what journalists are good at? Being paranoid. I have learned from them how to live as though under constant surveillance, and it really isn’t that bad. Like any habit, a bit of practice goes a long way. It isn’t dystopia if you know how to navigate the misery, the loss of freedoms, the bizarre notion of Koreans remotely sifting through your hard-drive and listening in on your midnight calls to your current squeeze. There’s going to be a lot of blushing going on.

Here’s some friendly if mildly useless advice for the coming tedium of living under Big Brother: Don’t give anyone your PIN number for anything, Samsung Smart TVs can eavesdrop on you and it is technically illegal to have an honest dislike for your Dear Leader at present in Tanzania.

Also, Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump are flirting with the idea of Armageddon. Do get in touch if you are looking for an apocalyptic cult… I mean commune to join. We have room but maybe no Internet, eh?


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