Afghan people face an impossible choice over their digital footprint

Nighat Dad at New Scientist: “The swift progress of the Taliban in Afghanistan has been truly shocking…Though the Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid told the press conference that it wouldn’t be seeking “revenge” against people who had opposed them, many Afghan people are understandably still worried. On top of this, they — including those who worked with Western forces and international NGOs, as well as foreign journalists — have been unable to leave the country, as flight capacity has been taken over by Western countries evacuating their citizens.

As such, people have been attempting to move quickly to erase their digital footprints, built up during the 20 years of the previous US-backed governments. Some Afghan activists have been reaching out to me directly to help them put in place robust mobile security and asking how to trigger a mass deletion of their data.

The last time the Taliban was in power, social media barely existed and smartphones had yet to take off. Now, around 4 million people in Afghanistan regularly use social media. Yet, despite the huge rise of digital technologies, a comparative rise in digital security hasn’t happened.

There are few digital security resources that are suitable for people in Afghanistan to use. The leading guide on how to properly delete your digital history by Human Rights First is a brilliant place to start. But unfortunately it is only available in English and unofficially in Farsi. There are also some other guides available in Farsi thanks to the thriving community of tech enthusiasts who have been working for human rights activists living in Iran for years.

However, many of these guides will still be unintelligible for those in Afghanistan who speak Dari or Pashto, for example…

People in Afghanistan who worked with Western forces also face an impossible choice as countries where they might seek asylum often require digital proof of their collaboration. Keep this evidence and they risk persecution from the Taliban, delete it and they may find their only way out no longer available.

Millions of people’s lives will now be vastly different due to the regime change. Digital security feels like one thing that could have been sorted out in advance. We are yet to see exactly how Taliban 2.0 will be different to that which went before. And while the so-called War on Terror appears to be over, I fear a digital terror offensive may just be beginning…(More).

“We do not feel safe”: A Kabul-based crisis alert app struggles to protect its own employees

Q and A with Sara Wahedi by Hajira Maryam: “Ehtesab, a Kabul-based startup, emerged out of a personal security-related incident that Sara Wahedi, a former Afghan government employee, experienced in May 2018. After witnessing a suicide bomb attack firsthand, Wahedi rushed home, where she could see militants roaming the streets from her balcony. The city was put on lockdown for 12 hours and left without electricity. No one, Wahedi said, knew when the electricity would be restored or when roads would be cleared. The authorities were of little help. 

“Since that moment, I kept pondering about the idea of accountability and information provision. I jotted down a few words in different languages for accountability, namely Dari and Pashto. That was the moment the term Ehtesab came to my mind.” 

Ehtesab means “accountability” in Dari and Pashto, and the app, formally launched in March 2020, offers streamlined security-related information, including general security updates in Kabul to its users. With real-time, crowdsourced alerts, users across the city can track bomb blasts, roadblocks, electricity outages, or other problems in locations close to them. The app, which generates push notifications about nearby security risks, is supported by 20 employees working out of the company’s Kabul office, according to Wahedi. 

Despite the company’s single-minded focus on security, the Ehtesab team was caught off-guard by the sudden collapse of the Afghan government over the weekend. “It was inevitable that there would be a significant shift in governance … but we weren’t expecting the Taliban to come in within the first eight hours of the day,” Wahedi said….(More)”.

Open Data Politics: A Case Study on Estonia and Kazakhstan

Book by Maxat Kassen: “… offers a cross-national comparison of open data policies in Estonia and Kazakhstan. By analyzing a broad range of open data-driven projects and startups in both countries, it reveals the potential that open data phenomena hold with regard to promoting public sector innovations. The book addresses various political and socioeconomic contexts in these two transitional societies, and reviews the strategies and tactics adopted by policymakers and stakeholders to identify drivers of and obstacles to the implementation of open data innovations. Given its scope, the book will appeal to scholars, policymakers, e-government practitioners and open data entrepreneurs interested in implementing and evaluating open data-driven public sector projects….(More)”

Public Brainpower: Civil Society and Natural Resource Management

Book edited by Indra Øverland: ” …examines how civil society, public debate and freedom of speech affect natural resource governance. Drawing on the theories of Robert Dahl, Jurgen Habermas and Robert Putnam, the book introduces the concept of ‘public brainpower’, proposing that good institutions require: fertile public debate involving many and varied contributors to provide a broad base for conceiving new institutions; checks and balances on existing institutions; and the continuous dynamic evolution of institutions as the needs of society change.

The book explores the strength of these ideas through case studies of 18 oil and gas-producing countries: Algeria, Angola, Azerbaijan, Canada, Colombia, Egypt, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Libya, Netherlands, Nigeria, Norway, Qatar, Russia, Saudi, UAE, UK and Venezuela. The concluding chapter includes 10 tenets on how states can maximize their public brainpower, and a ranking of 33 resource-rich countries and the degree to which they succeed in doing so.

The Introduction and the chapters ‘Norway: Public Debate and the Management of Petroleum Resources and Revenues’, ‘Kazakhstan: Civil Society and Natural-Resource Policy in Kazakhstan’, and ‘Russia: Public Debate and the Petroleum Sector’ of this book are available open access under a CC BY 4.0 license at….(More)”.

The Tech Revolution That’s Changing How We Measure Poverty

Alvin Etang Ndip at the Worldbank: “The world has an ambitious goal to end extreme poverty by 2030. But, without good poverty data, it is impossible to know whether we are making progress, or whether programs and policies are reaching those who are the most in need.

Countries, often in partnership with the World Bank Group and other agencies, measure poverty and wellbeing using household surveys that help give policymakers a sense of who the poor are, where they live, and what is holding back their progress. Once a paper-and-pencil exercise, technology is beginning to revolutionize the field of household data collection, and the World Bank is tapping into this potential to produce more and better poverty data….

“Technology can be harnessed in three different ways,” says Utz Pape, an economist with the World Bank. “It can help improve data quality of existing surveys, it can help to increase the frequency of data collection to complement traditional household surveys, and can also open up new avenues of data collection methods to improve our understanding of people’s behaviors.”

As technology is changing the field of data collection, researchers are continuing to find new ways to build on the power of mobile phones and tablets.

The World Bank’s Pulse of South Sudan initiative, for example, takes tablet-based data collection a step further. In addition to conducting the household survey, the enumerators also record a short, personalized testimonial with the people they are interviewing, revealing a first-person account of the situation on the ground. Such testimonials allow users to put a human face on data and statistics, giving a fuller picture of the country’s experience.

Real-time data through mobile phones

At the same time, more and more countries are generating real-time data through high-frequency surveys, capitalizing on the proliferation of mobile phones around the world. The World Bank’s Listening to Africa (L2A) initiative has piloted the use of mobile phones to regularly collect information on living conditions. The approach combines face-to-face surveys with follow-up mobile phone interviews to collect data that allows to monitor well-being.

The initiative hands out mobile phones and solar chargers to all respondents. To minimize the risk of people dropping out, the respondents are given credit top-ups to stay in the program. From monitoring health care facilities in Tanzania to collecting data on frequency of power outages in Togo, the initiative has been rolled out in six countries and has been used to collect data on a wide range of areas. …

Technology-driven data collection efforts haven’t been restricted to the Africa region alone. In fact, the approach was piloted early in Peru and Honduras with the Listening 2 LAC program. In Europe and Central Asia, the World Bank has rolled out the Listening to Tajikistan program, which was designed to monitor the impact of the Russian economic slowdown in 2014 and 2015. Initially a six-month pilot, the initiative has now been in operation for 29 months, and a partnership with UNICEF and JICA has ensured that data collection can continue for the next 12 months. Given the volume of data, the team is currently working to create a multidimensional fragility index, where one can monitor a set of well-being indicators – ranging from food security to quality jobs and public services – on a monthly basis…

There are other initiatives, such as in Mexico where the World Bank and its partners are using satellite imagery and survey data to estimate how many people live below the poverty line down to the municipal level, or guiding data collectors using satellite images to pick a representative sample for the Somali High Frequency Survey. However, despite the innovation, these initiatives are not intended to replace traditional household surveys, which still form the backbone of measuring poverty. When better integrated, they can prove to be a formidable set of tools for data collection to provide the best evidence possible to policymakers….(More)”

Can social media, loud and inclusive, fix world politics

 at the Conversation: “Privacy is no longer a social norm, said Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in 2010, as social media took a leap to bring more private information into the public domain.

But what does it mean for governments, citizens and the exercise of democracy? Donald Trump is clearly not the first leader to use his Twitter account as a way to both proclaim his policies and influence the political climate. Social media presents novel challenges to strategic policy, and has become a managerial issues for many governments.

But it also offers a free platform for public participation in government affairs. Many argue that the rise of social media technologies can give citizens and observers a better opportunity to identify pitfalls of government and their politics.

As government embrace the role of social media and the influence of negative or positive feedback on the success of their project, they are also using this tool to their advantages by spreading fabricated news.

This much freedom of expression and opinion can be a double-edged sword.

A tool that triggers change

On the positive side, social media include social networking applications such as Facebook and Google+, microblogging services such as Twitter, blogs, video blogs (vlogs), wikis, and media-sharing sites such as YouTube and Flickr, among others.

Social media as a collaborative and participatory tool, connects users with each other and help shaping various communities. Playing a key role in delivering public service value to citizens it also helps people to engage in politics and policy-making, making processes easier to understand, through information and communication technologies (ICTs).

Today four out of five countries in the world have social media features on their national portals to promote interactive networking and communication with the citizen. Although we don’t have any information about the effectiveness of such tools or whether they are used to their full potential, 20% of these countries shows that they have “resulted in new policy decisions, regulation or service”.

Social media can be an effective tool to trigger changes in government policies and services if well used. It can be used to prevent corruption, as it is direct method of reaching citizens. In developing countries, corruption is often linked to governmental services that lack automated processes or transparency in payments.

The UK is taking the lead on this issue. Its anti-corruption innovation hub aims to connect several stakeholders – including civil society, law enforcement and technologies experts – to engage their efforts toward a more transparent society.

With social media, governments can improve and change the way they communicate with their citizens – and even question government projects and policies. In Kazakhstan, for example, a migration-related legislative amendment entered into force early January 2017 and compelled property owners to register people residing in their homes immediately or else face a penalty charge starting in February 2017.

Citizens were unprepared for this requirement, and many responded with indignation on social media. At first the government ignored this reaction. However, as the growing anger soared via social media, the government took action and introduced a new service to facilitate the registration of temporary citizens….

But the campaigns that result do not always evolve into positive change.

Egypt and Libya are still facing several major crises over the last years, along with political instability and domestic terrorism. The social media influence that triggered the Arab Spring did not permit these political systems to turn from autocracy to democracy.

Brazil exemplifies a government’s failure to react properly to a massive social media outburst. In June 2013 people took to the streets to protest the rising fares of public transportation. Citizens channelled their anger and outrage through social media to mobilise networks and generate support.

The Brazilian government didn’t understand that “the message is the people”. Though the riots some called the “Tropical Spring” disappeared rather abruptly in the months to come, they had major and devastating impact on Brazil’s political power, culminating in the impeachment of President Rousseff in late 2016 and the worst recession in Brazil’s history.

As in the Arab Spring countries, the use of social media in Brazil did not result in economic improvement. The country has tumbled down into depression, and unemployment has risen to 12.6%…..

Government typically asks “how can we adapt social media to the way in which we do e-services, and then try to shape their policies accordingly. They would be wiser to ask, “how can social media enable us to do things differently in a way they’ve never been done before?” – that is, policy-making in collaboration with people….(More)”.

The Conversation

Fighting Corruption in Health Care? There’s an App for That

Akjibek Beishebaeva at Voices (OSF): “As an industry that relies heavily on approvals from government officials, the pharmaceutical field in places like Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan—which lack strong mechanisms for public oversight—is particularly susceptible to corruption.

The problem in those countries is exacerbated by the absence of any reliable system to monitor market prices for drugs. For example, a hospital manager bribed by a pharmaceutical representative could agree to procure a drug at a price 10 times higher than at a neighboring hospital. In addition, those medicines procured by the state and meant to be dispensed freely to patients often appear for sale at hospital-based pharmacies instead.

These aren’t victimless crimes. The most needy patients are often the first to suffer when funds are diverted away from lifesaving treatments and medicines.

To tackle this issue, last year the Soros Foundation–Kyrgyzstan and the International Renaissance Foundation jointly conducted the Health Data Hackathon in the Yssyk-Kul region of Kyrgyzstan. Two teams from Ukraine and three teams from Kyrgyzstan—consisting of coders, journalists, and activists—took part. Their goal was to find innovative solutions to address corruption in public procurements and access to health services for vulnerable populations.

Over the two-and-a-half-day effort, one of the Ukrainian teams developed a prototype for a software application to improve the e-tendering platform for all public procurement in Ukraine—ProZorro.

ProZorro itself revolutionized the tender process when it first launched in 2015. It combined a centralized database of online markets and was made accessible to the public. Journalists, activists, and patients today can log in to the system and scrutinize tenders approved by the government. The transparency provided by the system has already shown savings of more than a billion UAH (US$37 million). However, the database is huge and can be tricky to navigate without training.

The application developed at the hackathon makes it even easier to monitor the purchase prices of medicines in Ukraine. Specfically, it will allow users to automatically and instantly compare prices for the same products—a process which previously took many days of manual effort.

The application also offers a more intuitive interface and improved search functionality that will help further reduce corruption and save money—savings that can be redirected towards treatments for people living with HIV, cancer, and hepatitis C. The team is now testing the software and working with the government to introduce it early this year.

Another team came up with the idea to let patients monitor supplies of medicine at facilities in real time. If a hospital representative says that a patient needs to buy drugs that should be readily available, for example, the patient can check online and hold the hospital accountable if the medicines are meant to be provided for free. The tool, called WikiLiky, has already been implemented in the Sumy region of Ukraine.

Likewise, one of the Kyrgyz teams looked at price monitoring in their own country, focusing on the inefficient and mistake-prone acquisition process. For instance, the name of one drug might be misspelled in several different ways, making it difficult to track prices accurately. The team redesigned the functionality of the government e-procurement portal called Codifier, creating uniformity across the system of names, dosages, and other medical specifications….(More)”

Solving some of the world’s toughest problems with the Global Open Policy Report

 at Creative Commons: “Open Policy is when governments, institutions, and non-profits enact policies and legislation that makes content, knowledge, or data they produce or fund available under a permissive license to allow reuse, revision, remix, retention, and redistribution. This promotes innovation, access, and equity in areas of education, data, software, heritage, cultural content, science, and academia.

For several years, Creative Commons has been tracking the spread of open policies around the world. And now, with the new Global Open Policy Report (PDF) by the Open Policy Network, we’re able to provide a systematic overview of open policy development.

screen-shot-2016-12-02-at-5-57-09-pmThe first-of-its-kind report gives an overview of open policies in 38 countries, across four sectors: education, science, data and heritage. The report includes an Open Policy Index and regional impact and local case studies from Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Australia, Latin America, Europe, and North America. The index measures open policy strength on two scales: policy strength and scope, and level of policy implementation. The index was developed by researchers from CommonSphere, a partner organization of CC Japan.

The Open Policy Index scores were used to classify countries as either Leading, Mid-Way, or Delayed in open policy development. The ten countries with the highest scores are Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, France, Kyrgyzstan, New Zealand, Poland, South Korea, Tanzania, and Uruguay…(More)

A Guide to Data Innovation for Development – From idea to proof-of-concept

Press Release: “UNDP and UN Global Pulse today released a comprehensive guide on how to integrate new sources of data into development and humanitarian work.

New and emerging data sources such as mobile phone data, social media, remote sensors and satellites have the potential to improve the work of governments and development organizations across the globe.

Entitled A Guide to Data Innovation for Development – From idea to proof-of-concept,’ this publication was developed by practitioners for practitioners. It provides step-by-step guidance for working with new sources of data to staff of UN agencies and international Non-Governmental Organizations.

The guide is a result of a collaboration of UNDP and UN Global Pulse with support from UN Volunteers. Led by UNDP innovation teams in Europe and Central Asia and Arab States, six UNDP offices in Armenia, Egypt, Kosovo[1], fYR Macedonia, Sudan and Tunisia each completed data innovation projects applicable to development challenges on the ground.

The publication builds on these successful case trials and on the expertise of data innovators from UNDP and UN Global Pulse who managed the design and development of those projects.

It provides practical guidance for jump-starting a data innovation project, from the design phase through the creation of a proof-of-concept.

The guide is structured into three sections – (I) Explore the Problem & System, (II) Assemble the Team and (III) Create the Workplan. Each of the sections comprises of a series of tools for completing the steps needed to initiate and design a data innovation project, to engage the right partners and to make sure that adequate privacy and protection mechanisms are applied.

…Download ‘A Guide to Data Innovation for Development – From idea to proof-of-concept’ here.”

How to Succeed in the Networked World: A Grand Strategy for the Digital Age

 in Foreign Affairs: “Foreign policy experts have long been taught to see the world as a chessboard, analyzing the decisions of great powers and anticipating rival states’ reactions in a continual game of strategic advantage. Nineteenth-century British statesmen openly embraced this metaphor, calling their contest with Russia in Central Asia “the Great Game.” Today, the TV show Game of Thrones offers a particularly gory and irresistible version of geopolitics as a continual competition among contending kingdoms.

Think of a standard map of the world, showing the borders and capitals of the world’s 190-odd countries. That is the chessboard view.

Now think of a map of the world at night, with the lit-up bursts of cities and the dark swaths of wilderness. Those corridors of light mark roads, cars, houses, and offices; they mark the networks of human relationships, where families and workers and travelers come together. That is the web view. It is a map not of separation, marking off boundaries of sovereign power, but of connection.

To see the international system as a web is to see a world not of states but of networks. It is the world of terrorism; of drug, arms, and human trafficking; of climate change and declining biodiversity; of water wars and food insecurity; of corruption, money laundering, and tax evasion; of pandemic disease carried by air, sea, and land. In short, it is the world of many of the most pressing twenty-first-century global threats… (More)”.