An applaudable step has been taken by the Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf government with the aim to make Pakistan digitized. The Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan inaugurated the “Digital Pakistan” project in Islamabad a few days ago. The point of greatest admiration is that from the galaxy of shining stars and the diasporas living abroad, a star decided to come back to Pakistan with a vision to make this motherland digitized for the betterment of the country as a whole. Tania Aidrus, an MIT graduate and a former senior executive at Google, resigned from the prestigious post and started working for her vision with the Government of Pakistan.
Even though, the step for digitization is commendable and according to the modern-day needs, as the nouveau digital technologies are being invented not every day but in every minute. To compete with the technologically-advanced world, Pakistan need to make its contributions for the digitization of data. As the technologies like many Crypto currencies’ Block-Chain, Big Data, Artificial Intelligence Algorithms, Robotics, Cloud Computing, Machine Learning, Machine-to-Machine (M2M) Communication- all requires the huge sum of digitized data to be used for the digital goods and services. The digitized data once available, can be used in any way for the services to the public and ultimately for the betterment of society as a whole.
To make lives easy and raise the quality of life in the modern world, the concept of E-Governance, E-Commerce and E-Banking are being implemented on a large scale with all the resources available. For instance, from civic and public services to the banking, business, commerce and trade- none of the area of governance and governments could be ousted from digitization. Digital technologies have been originated and also being implemented in many of the countries around the globe. For instance, Estonia, a tiny country in Europe has made much of its services and everyday government and non-government, civic and household services digitized and online. So much so that from alpha to omega in Estonia can be done online by using the internet and digitized data. Similarly many other countries not only have taken initiatives to make them more and more digitized but also rely on the data available online 24/7.
Pakistan already is way behind in this race. However, the appreciable fact is that the country has the second largest tech-savvy youth in the world, and the total estimated size of the IT industry is more than $2.8 billion which is sky-rocketing day by day. There are millions of IT-professionals and freelancers too. We are the fourth largest freelance market with more than 1 million of freelancers offering their services to the well-known multinational companies. Broadband subscribers in the country has reached in several millions and ranks at number four in terms of broadband Internet growth in the world. There are more than 152 million mobile users in Pakistan; making it one of the few most technology-aware countries of the world. So, all the prerequisites are already available in Pakistan which are considered essential for digitization.
Moreover, by digitization, complex issues of the country can be tackled with much clarity and precision. For instance, corruption is considered to be to top-most issue and is an entangled menace in Pakistan. As the Prime Minister himself has declared many times that the country has become so much corruption-prone that from the ruling elites to the middle class and from middle class to the lowest echelons of society has immersed into the murky dungeon of corruption and malpractices. Another advantage and source of revenue is freelancers’ earnings which are paid in dollars online. However, they can’t get directly the payments because of inexistence of system of proper online payments like that of Pay-Pal and other alike online payment services in Pakistan. Only this very sector could add thousands of dollars in revenue to the country’s economy.
Currently, the data in Pakistan is almost zero digitized, save that of NADRA. Much of the data is printed on pages and office files, which remain in the offices under the supervision of a designated employee/human being. This creates many problems as the data has to be handled personally with human hands. That is very slow, requires strenuous efforts, human resources and there always remain loopholes for the data to be manipulated by the concerned authorities for bribe-taking, corruption and even for blackmailing.
However, the point of serious concern here is that the digitization process is comparatively easier than securing the digitized data, linked with the internet, a system spreading along the globe. The digitization can be a hindrance rather than a boon for Pakistan if not fully secured. As in the world of internet, the online data is never saved and can never be made fully impregnable and insuperable. The collection of data is something easy; data security is something tremendously tough. For instance, in the recent past the international sensitive data not only been accessed but also being made available to everyone online. Wiki-leaks, Panama-Leaks, Paradise-Leaks and many other renowned security breaches of the online data are some of the incidents raising questions for the cyber-security concerns.
Spying has a long history, but by hacking is comparatively a new phenomenon. All the security agencies spy by hacking and gather information digitally. For example, Edward Snowden, former agent of the CIA, a peerless hacker, who is as much talented in hacking that if a mobile phone is switched off, he can be able to turn it on without any notice of the user, then he can call to anyone while ones phones is in one’s pocket, sitting at any corner of the world. American government offered him a salary of PRs. 1.3 crore for his hacking services. Julian Assange, Beadley Manning, Jacob Appelbaum, Hamza Bandelladj, are some name from a long list who have been involved in breaking all the online security measures and firewalls and eventually hacked information.
For Pakistan, as recently a Brigadier of the Pakistan Army was hanged till death after proven guilty of espionage. Few others were also given punishment on uncertain charges. Now, if we pause for a while and introspect that how can it be safe when all the NADRA database with several new such databases are made open and public, keeping in mind the reality that Internet can never be error-free. There always remains a room of evasion for the data to be accessed by the enemy which is linked with the internet.
This is the realm of 5th generation warfare. The hybrid war, psychological warfare, information warfare and Cyber warfare are all the rage. The strategic, political and regional dynamics of Pakistan is much different from other countries and this land has been epicenter of Proxy-Wars. It is a “Security State” with an arch-rival India and almost-always-angry neighbors like Afghanistan at the borders. Moreover, Pakistan is the only “Muslim” Nuclear Power in the world and this reality is not digestible for big powers as well.
Now, when all the citizens of Pakistan who are finger-printed with their identities and detailed information made public by online system of databases, it can be dangerous for security reasons. For instance, if only NADRA’S database is made a public good and open up it for goods and services of private sector as well, the security risk becomes inevitably dangerous as the CIA, RAW, MOSAD and other agencies could even have access to the data of Law Enforcement Agencies, army personnel, nuclear stockpiles, civil military security agencies like IB, FIA, ISI, MI, CTD, police and all others. Although, the Pakistani IT professional are all the way to protect the sensitive data but there always remains possibilities for hacking.
Finally, as everybody use smartphones so does the military personals, National-level nuclear scientists, Missile Program Engineers and agencies’ agents. However, their identity and social circle usually remain shrouded in mystery and in secrecy, still all the IT professionals and ethical-hackers are of the opinion that once you are linked with the internet and cellular networks, there are always chances of getting an access to personal data by the expert and wily hackers.
For instance, a few years back the “Black-Berry” smartphones were considered to be much secured and encrypted, but the company went bankrupt. In today’s world, Apple’s iPhone is considered to be fully secured, uniquely encrypted and hack-free. However, a Russian hacker named Jan Krissler made it happen to recreate the fingerprint of a German defense Minister from a photograph. The same hacker defeated Apple’s fingerprint verification within 24 hours of the release of the iPhone 5S. Hence the question is, is an online data system ever fully impregnable?