Friday, 17 June 2011

Stupidity runs the full gamut in the federal government

In the past few days, I was watching two events unfolding here with some disbelief. To say that they were two separate and unconnected events would be wrong. Somehow, they were inter-connected events and the common thread running through them must be the mishandled bureaucracy of government. I'm referring, of course, to the heavy-handed attempt by the federal government to impose censorship on the Internet and the sheer wastage of funds in the name of tourism.

There's a lot already being mentioned in the Internet about the blocking of the 10 websites and the award of a RM1.8 million contract to an advertising agency to promote some facebook pages, so what I'm going to say here isn't new. They are just my observations of developments.

And the first is, and I've mentioned it before, spending the RM1.8 million on the facebook pages is irresponsible and scandalous. According to James Dawos Mamit who is the deputy minister in the Ministry of Tourism, RM1,758,432 was spent on developing six facebook pages to promote Malaysia’s tourism. To people who uses social media websites, this is complete nonsense and to prove a point, someone set up a free Curi Curi Wang Malaysia facebook page to challenge the ministry's contention that it cost them RM293,072 to have set up their Cuti-Cuti 1 Malaysia facebook page in May.

A race then started between the two facebook pages to see which one could garner more "likes". The Cuti Cuti page had a 20,000 headstart but within 24 hours of Curi Curi Wang Malaysia's launch, the number of "likes" had already reached the 20,000 number. As I write, Curi Curi Wang Malaysia has attained more than 92,500 "likes" compared to Cuti Cuti 1 Malaysia's 35,900 "likes". (And as at 11pm, the number of "likes" has exceeded 100,000.)

Personally, I do not know how to interpret these numbers. On the surface, it indicates a wide dissatisfaction out there among Internet users to perceived sillyness and abuses of government funds. But I suspect many of the facebook users who had clicked on their "like" buttons were just jumping on the government-bashing bandwagon. Were they actually concerned over the issue or were they just simply clicking "like" because their friends on facebook were doing it? And how many of these people who clicked "like" are actually registered voters who will go out to vote in the next general elections? I wouldn't be surprised if more than half of them turn out to be ineligible to cast their votes!

So the question is, should the federal government be concerned over this facebook debacle? Of course, it made the Tourism Ministry looked like a complete dunce now. There are noises at the federal level but I believe they will just look back at this episode and say to hell with us, the actual people who showed concern over the continuing abuse of public money.

And regarding the blocking of the 10 Internet sites, I still hold the opinion that blocking them is tantamount to Internet censorship. Someone asked me whether it was wrong to block sites and I had answered: "Yes, it is wrong because it just shows that the MCMC, and by extension it also means the federal government, is taking the easy and lazy way out by penalising the legitimate users of these services. Instead, they should be taking action against the illegal violators. Should be easy to identify the violators since MCMC have all the resources at hand, unless they are so stupid that they don't understand ABC from XYZ." For good measure, I also want to say that there is no such concept as "violation of privacy" in this country. Our privacy has already been violated. Long time ago.

Anyhow, arising from this blocking - or censoring - of the 10 Internet sites from usage by Malaysians, a group of international vigilantes calling themselves Anonymous brought it upon themselves to hack into the Malaysian government's official websites, claiming that they wanted to teach the government a clear lesson. "We fear that if you make further decisions to take away human freedom, we are obligated to act fast and have no mercy," they announced. And what did "no mercy" mean to them? Bringing down at least 41 government and government-linked websites on Thursday (16 June) morning. That's all. They might just as well go tell it to my daddy!

But I'd just like to ask them one question: what good do they think that they have achieved by targetting the government websites? Do they really believe that the federal government would repent and lift the censorship on these 10 websites? Anonymous would be thoroughly naive if they believed that they had swayed the government's thinking. If at all, the only result from this sheer waste of their resources is to expose the Malaysian government websites' woeful lack of Internet security. The government wouldn't tell Anonymous in public but I'm sure privately, they are saying "thank you very much for teaching us where to close our computer loopholes." 

I would tell Anonymous "bah, go get a real life." There must be more destructive things they can do than just hacking into websites. No wonder that the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) just shrugged it away, claiming there was "little impact."

Nevertheless, I'm delighted that this episode has put the Information Minister up for public ridicule. I can't imagine anyone could be so confident that their computer systems were so secure. The day before the attack, he was quoted widely as saying that the government was taking the necessary cyber security measures to prevent hacking of the government's official website. Local cyber security officials, Rais Yatim said, referring to the MCMC, "were on the case." Yes, I'm sure he was also on the case.

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