PM bats for open and free internet for all amid raging global debate: Holds fruitful meeting with Modi | Sunday Observer

PM bats for open and free internet for all amid raging global debate: Holds fruitful meeting with Modi

After an eventful week in Sri Lanka, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe left for India earlier this week for a four-day visit.

The highlight of the visit was his meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his speech at the 5th Global Conference on Cyber Space.

The Prime Minister’s meeting with his Indian counterpart was held when the two countries have ambitious plans on several important economic development projects, including the plan for the development of the Mattala International Airport.

India has also offered to develop the Trincomalee Port and the East Container terminal of the Colombo Port.

Although the full details of the discussion were not made available to the media, both parties indicated that the talks were centered on development and expediting action on bilateral economic partnership programs.

Modi meeting

“Held talks with the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe,” the Indian Prime Minister posted on Twitter, soon after meeting his Sri Lankan counterpart.

“A strong economy in Sri Lanka starts with strong relationships with our friends around the world. In New Delhi with @NarendraModi to boost our partnership for our people,” tweeted Wickremesinghe.

“Neighbourhood first. PM @narendramodi received Sri Lankan PM @RW_UNP at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, both countries share strong and close relations based on mutual trust and respect,” Raveesh Kumar, official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, tweeted after the two leaders met.

However, the Indian media, including the Deccan Herald, said, the two Prime Ministers discussed New Delhi’s $200 million offer to Colombo for control of the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport in Hambantota in southern Sri Lanka for the next 40 years.

They said, the meeting between the two leaders was significant as Sri Lanka was one of the major recipients of development credit given by India, with a total commitment of around $2.63 billion, including $458 million as grants.

“Modi and Wickremesinghe also discussed the proposed investment by India in the development of Trincomalee Port, a strategic deep-water port on the east coast of Sri Lanka as well as in the East Container Terminal at the Port of Colombo,” Deccan Herald, quoting sources, said.

PM meets Indian President Kovind, and Sushma

The Sri Lankan Prime Minister, accompanied by Law and Order Minister Sagala Ratnayaka and Secretary to the Prime Minister Saman Ekanayake, also met Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, on the same day.

After the meeting with Modi, the Prime Minister also had discussions with Indian President Ram Nath Kovind, at the latter’s official residence, ‘Rashtrapathi Bhavan’.

“India is keen to strengthen the economic pillar of its relationship with Sri Lanka. There is a lot that can be achieved, given the synergy and economic complementarities,’’ Kovind said after the meeting, reiterating India’s firm commitment to partner with Sri Lanka on projects of mutual interest.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s speech at the cyber conference also drew the attention of world leaders and many a global expert as he made a strong statement in support of Net Neutrality and open internet.

Wickremesinghe said he was against state orchestrated blocks and other forms of restrictions on cyber space and the policy of the national unity government was to facilitate unhindered access to the internet.

Batting for open internet

“When we were political activists of the opposition in Sri Lanka before January 2015, we had to undergo political adversity that included the blockage of ISPs, which prevented dissident voices from speaking freely online. When we came to power, we made good on our promise to ensure freedom to use the Internet by removing state-orchestrated website blocks and other forms of restrictions on cyberspace.Every segment of society was encouraged to speak freely online. As we understood, it was one important way of building inclusivity not only on cyberspace but also in society at large,” said Wickremesinghe, and quipped, “As a result, today, I have become one of the most disreputable and maligned persons in Sri Lanka!”

Stressing that the idea of Net Neutrality had come “under serious challenge in many parts of the world, including the United States” Wickremesinghe lauded India’s steps last February to ban zero rating by ISPs. The statement in the wake of the US federal communications commission unveiling a plan to repeal net neutrality rules it introduced in 2015.

The principle of net neutrality mandates that all traffic on the internet is treated equally and that ISPs cannot slow down, speed up, or give preferential treatment to certain applications or services, an action that distorts competition.

“Net neutrality lowers the barriers of entry by preserving the internet as a fair and level playing field and helps more businesses and entrepreneurs thrive online,” said the Sri Lankan Prime Minister, adding that Sri Lanka is “committed to make progressive and revolutionary steps” towards ensuring net neutrality.

“I am also aware that India, the world’s largest democracy with the second most populous internet user base, took a critical step in this direction when it issued regulations in February 2016 to ban zero rating,” he said.

When the Prime Minister appreciated India’s step to ensure net neutrality, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was also in the audience.

“Human civilization has now entered the age of data dominance. Cyberspace, as we know it, has become a repository of information and knowledge - a key determinant of wealth creation, human development and social transformation,” the Prime Minister said.

Data dominance

He added that this has dramatically changed the way we think, the way we behave, and the way we live – all in an unprecedented manner.

“But at the same, this exponential growth of the internet, has posed fresh challenges to human society at large,” he explained.

“Among these, we find, that the accepted and traditional definitions of liberty, individual freedom and human rights have come under challenge due to the ever-increasing, wide availability of information and accessibility of data.”

This confluence has now arrived at the point at which we have to strike a balance between individual freedom and the free flow of information and data – and the way I see it, ‘good governance’ in cyberspace will play a pivotal role in striking this balance.

In any sphere – be it politics or cyberspace – we find that transparency is an integral component of good governance,” the Prime Minister said, adding that ensuring ‘transparency’ was a top priority on the Sri Lankan government’s reform agenda.

It is important to understand that the use of open data does not compromise the idea of security, given that they can contribute to the gathering of more significant and accurate intelligence.

“For instance, back in 2011, a supercomputer was able to pinpoint Osama Bin Laden’s location with startling accuracy, at a time when human experts thought he was in an entirely different country”, the Prime Minister said, referring to an instance where the University of Tennessee’s researchers fed news articles up to April 2011 into the ‘Nautilus’ supercomputer, and it was able to correctly predict Osama Bin Laden’s location in Pakistan within 200km. This was the time when many believed that Bin Laden was hiding in Afghanistan.

He said it was a good example to underscore remarkable advantages posed by open source data analysis for security purposes. The Premier added it could be way more effective than collecting and using data in a clandestine manner, without a well-specified target, infringing on liberty and individual freedom

The Prime Minister’s insightful views positioned him strongly as an advocate and a promoter of open and free internet, amid a global debate over the matter.

President drops bombshell

President Maithripala Sirisena, on Friday, dropped a bombshell when he addressed a public meeting in Nikaweratiya where he said he was ready to give up his position and fight with the masses against corruption and malpractices.

“I am ready to give up my position if there is undue criticism of my actions against fraud and malpractice,” the President said, stating that the sole responsibility of the government was to usher in a new political culture.

“It’s easy to break away and depart. But it’s hard to maintain unity,” the President said, stressing the need for unity among the key stakeholders of the ruling coalition.

“I urge those who criticize me not to act as political toddlers. It’s high time they carry out their act together and behave like mature political leaders fulfilling their responsibilities,” the President added.

He said, the voters rejected President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the SLFP-led government at the January 2015 election because of the corruption of the former regime and warned that the present government should not fall prey to the same mistakes.

“As the government of SLFP did wrong things, the SLFP candidate (Mahinda Rajapaksa) lost in 2015. If the UNP is doing the same faults and mistakes being in the government, people will not approve that,” he said.

“The people elected a new government, expecting a correct program which would change the corrupt system of governance. Everybody should be ready to start a correct journey to fulfil that expectation of the people.”

“The politicians should love the country and the people, without acting according to their political powers and private agendas,” he said adding that he will always act with “patience and equanimity” because of his experience in politics.

He focused on the 19th Amendment to the Constitution which was passed with the help of SLFP members of Parliament at a time the UNP had a minority in the House and said it was a key piece of legislation towards ensuring good governance.