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Sri Lanka: Is social media a threat to national security?

2013-09-30
By Shanika Sriyananda
Sri Lanka social media: Defense and Urban Development Ministry Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa delivers his keynote address on regional security concerns during the September Defense Seminar in Colombo. [Sri Lanka Army Media]

Sri Lanka social media: Defense and Urban Development Ministry Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa delivers his keynote address on regional security concerns during the September Defense Seminar in Colombo. [Sri Lanka Army Media]

Sri Lanka Army [SLA] officials are discussing whether Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms may be a threat to the country’s stability, national and regional security.

“We have seen the potential of this new media to destabilize nations and affect serious change in the case of countries like Tunisia, Libya and Egypt,” said Maj. Gen. Udaya Perera, commander, Security Force Headquarters. He delivered his comments on national security concerns during the SLA’s Defense Seminar – 2013 held in Colombo.

The September seminar focused on “Post Conflict Sri Lanka: Challenges and Regional Stability,” and drew more than 112 delegates from 46 countries.

Social media concerns and non-traditional threats were cited within the larger contexts of threats to the Sri Lanka’s national security. Other issues included:

• Possible re-emergence of terrorism

• Emergence of new extremist groups

• Creation of ethnic divisions and communal violence

• Challenges of maritime security and border control

• Growth of organized crime

• Foreign interference in domestic affairs

“[Social media] is yet another threat that needs to be monitored and identify regional, global and national threats as far as Sri Lanka’s security is concerned. It is becoming more and more clear that the increasing persistence and sophistication of cyber attacks will require solutions beyond the traditional,” Perera said.

Perera said research conducted by information technology and social science professionals indicate that young people are engaging in social media and other web activity. Such activities may require scrutiny by the intelligence community.

Law enforcement agencies worldwide see transnational criminal networks as national and international security challenges, Perera said.

“Transnational criminal organizations have accumulated unprecedented wealth and power through the drug trade, arms smuggling, human trafficking, and other illicit activities that exceed 50 in number. They extend their reach by forming alliances with terrorist groups,” he said.

“But even advanced sophisticated technology in developed countries is not nearly enough to counter this threat,” he said. “The way forward is through intelligence-sharing and cooperation between law enforcement authorities and defense establishments.”

Terrorists ‘are not indispensable’

Perera, the veteran commander who was the director of operations during the final 2009 battle against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam [LTTE], said Sri Lanka delivered a strong message to terrorists by proving “they are not indispensable.”

“Sri Lanka proved beyond doubt that terrorism can be defeated with a well-articulated whole of government strategy and a well-focused charismatic political leadership,” he said.

Perera said the LTTE was defeated by isolating it globally, regionally and locally through the elements of national power.

New trends, challenges and concerns on national security for Sri Lanka are evolving, Perera said.

“In a post conflict scenario state intelligence services have a major role to play in identifying new threats in order to revisit and shape and reshape to meet the challenges of complex and ever-changing security environment.”

Sri Lanka maritime security

Defense and Urban Development Ministry Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and other SLAs high-ranking officials shared experiences on strategies and tactics used to defeat terrorism and discussed broader applicability to other nations.

Rajapaksa, in his keynote address, said maintenance of maritime security is another major important concern of the government.

“As an island, Sri Lanka does not have land borders that it needs to protect, but its responsibilities in terms of maritime security are very great. Preventing various transnational crimes including drugs smuggling, arms smuggling and human trafficking is essential to long-term security,” he said.

Rajapaksa, President Mahinda Rajapakas’ younger brother, said the protection of the country’s maritime assets within the Exclusive Economic Zone is vital to safeguard the Sea Lines of Communication that travel close to Sri Lanka against the threat of piracy.

The defense secretary –a former colonel of the SLA who played a major role in defeating terrorism in the country – said challenges together with issues that affect regional stability are critical considerations because of the impact those challenges and issues will have on the country’s future.

“The post-war period saw significant shifts overall in the modus operandi of the Armed Forces, since there was no longer a requirement for offensive operations. The focus was more on functioning in a passive role that would ensure long-term stability,” he said, adding that the intelligence units were strengthened and expanded, and more use was made of the engineering battalions for reconstruction and national development purposes.

“Sri Lanka’s defeat of terrorism and the subsequent security dividends naturally permeate through the region adding to the much-needed stability. This is a critical requirement in view of the fact that a good part of the world’s energy requirements pass through sea lanes, just a few nautical miles away from our country.”

Is social media a threat to Sri Lanka’s national security? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

 

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Dhammika Dharmawardhane on 01/10/2013 at 10:37PM

Shanika, Internet culture and internet technology have made it so much easier to spy on us and we willingly participate in it. We sign up with these places. Google scares me and I'm on Google. Facebook scares me. I get worried when capitalistic interests are the ones who contain all of our speech. These are giant corporations whose primary motivation is money, which it should be, but when you're talking about economic interests, you're talking about people who may not necessarily be loyal to their customers. So I worry about all of it. I worry that the world's largest bookseller is in court trying to become the repository for the CIA's online records. Do you really want to be buying your books from the same place that stores the CIA's records? For me, it's becoming one global thing which is going to control all of us.