China to share social media surveillance technology with Sri Lanka | Sunday Observer

China to share social media surveillance technology with Sri Lanka

26 May, 2019

President Maithripala Sirisena during his recent visit to Beijing asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to share China’s latest smart technology to keep social media on tabs, in a bid to thwart international terrorism spreading its wings in the domestic scene.

President’s Media Secretary Sugeeswara Senadhira said during the bi-lateral interactions with the Chinese leader, President Sirisena explained how detrimental it was for the country’s security to keep social media in Sri Lanka especially the encrypted platforms WhatsApp and Viber under surveillance, after Easter Sunday’s suicide attacks which killed over 250 people including foreign tourists.

The police investigations found suicide bombers and their support network conspired the attacks via encrypted messages and voice calls on social media platforms mainly via WhatsApp, a messaging app owned by Facebook. It is widespread knowledge that ISIS uses social media to spread propaganda and recruit members in addition to plan attacks, the experts warn.

“The President said this area was a major hurdle for the local law enforcement authority to crack down on harmful groups from networking and grouping in Sri Lanka,” the spokesman said.

The Chinese President has responded to Sri Lanka’s President’s request positively and had offered to send in a technical team to Sri Lanka shortly to identify priorities and requirements.

“China has one of the best firewall protections to safeguard the country against cyber threats,” Director of Social Media, President’s Office, Sameera de Silva said. “We are lucky to get their assistance, since such technology and software can be very expensive if bought,” he said.

During the bilateral meeting the Chinese President condemned all forms of terrorism and said that he was ready to extend whatever assistance to eradicate terrorism and ensure national security. China has also expressed that they were willing to share intelligence on international terrorist groups with Sri Lanka.

President Sirisena during the discussions invited China to lead the way to wipe out international terrorism from the Asia region. The President was in China from May 14 – 16, to attend the Conference of the Dialogue of Asian Civilizations in Beijing. Held under the theme ‘Exchanges and mutual learning among Asian civilizations and a community with a shared future’, the conference attracted more than 2,000 delegates from 47 Asian and non Asian countries.

“Hate speech and other malicious content via facebook can be monitored and pulled down but the local officials lack tracking know how on fake profiles and encrypted content. Hence, he said messages on WhatsApp and Viber including group activities on these platforms cannot be monitored or traced with the technology that Sri Lanka possess at present, to have surveillance on the dark side of the cyber world. The FBI officials who were here in the immediate aftermath of the Easter Sunday bombings have also pointed out the need to upgrade the cyber crimes wing of the police to tackle international terrorism.

“Ideologically based terrorism like ISIS is waged in cyberspace and it is a serious threat to national security.

It is worse than the form of LTTE terrorism we saw a decade ago,”said the social media head adding that retrieving voice calls made by Zahran, who masterminded the recent suicide attacks and his team was crucial in a court of law but once the call history and messaging history is deleted from a device using encrypted platforms, it will be hard to trace, if at all.

“In such case we need to get help from another country to have access to that data,” he said, and added moreover that certain content on social media, found illegal here can be legal in another country which can be a set back to our investigations.

A local computer emergency readiness team, TechCERT, CEO Dileepa Lathsara said social media has become a threat to national security in many countries yet surveillance can stand in the way of freedom of speech and privacy laws.

“It is a possibility to bind social media profiles to a phone number and track identities,” he pointed out adding that countries like Russia and China have developed their own platforms, substitutes for facebook, twitter and other messaging apps which can easily be traced if malicious content is posted.

He said even the recent IS inspired attack in London was planned via social media but the UK and New Zealand were slow on laws supporting social media monitoring. However, Australia is in the process of introducing laws to support such surveillance and have also begun the Chinese high tech system to monitor people’s actions and movements via mobile phones, the local media reported. The City of Darwin is said to be poised to adopt this smart city technology, which has come under criticism from activists.

Despite the recent massacres, the activists warned against strict surveillance on social media that would strain people’s hard earned freedoms of speech and privacy.

“China is a country with repressive internet controls powered by artificial intelligence and seeking help from such a state to monitor social media in Sri Lanka is a dangerous move,” they voiced. Convenor of Professional Web Journalists Association, Freddie Gamage said the government’s move to clamp down on social media by way of strict surveillance following Easter Sunday’s attacks cannot be accepted as inevitable.

He said, “This would be the easiest way out for the government to control malicious content but it is obviously not the best way.”

Instead of going for draconian measures, he said there must be a proper plan of action to identify and keep tabs on malefactors and punish them, without penalising everyone.


When contacted by the Sunday Observer on the moves to put surveillance on social media and as to what their efforts had been following the Easter Sunday’s terror attacks, a Facebook spokesperson released the following statement:

People rely on our services to communicate with their loved ones and offer help to those in need, and we remain committed to helping our community connect safely during difficult times. Since the attack, teams from across Facebook enabled crisis response tools such as Safety Check for our community and helped people communicate with their family and friends on their safety and well-being. There is no place for hate, violent or extremist content on our services, and we have taken several steps to help prevent the spread of this on Facebook. In the aftermath of the attacks in Sri Lanka, our platform used a combination of AI, machine learning and human review to provide round the clock support and removed content that directly violated our policies. We have also removed any praise or support of the attacks and the individuals and organisations behind them, worked with partners in the region to help identify misinformation, and ensured language support for content review.

We’re also working closely with first responders, law enforcement and non-profits in Sri Lanka to support their efforts on the ground