Written by: Hamail Habib

 

There is no denying the tremendous growth and success that the technology sector has undergone. There is also, no scope to refute the veracity of how its fruits literally power the digital world today. However, in this pursuit of success and unimaginable growth, the world has run into some ethical and moral dilemmas, which, over and across time have become too obtrusive for them to be overlooked.

The state of cyber-ethics and cyber-security in Pakistan

The presence and prevalence of a cyberspace opens doors for state and non-state actors and conflict entrepreneurs to feed in on their plans, so much so that the space itself has become monumental to the hybrid war that clouds our lives.

Pakistan’s cyberspace is frequently targeted, whereby statistics report one million cyber attacks on the country in the year 2021 (January – November) alone. Serious data leaks have occurred at banks and extremely sensitive organizations like NADRA and FBR alike. Incidents that not only have the perpetrators to blame but also the extensive use of pirated, cracked, or jail broken software in organizations makes their systems vulnerable to hack attempts.

However, no significant security measures have been taken up to prevent such incidences. The National Cyber Security Policy – 21 was enacted July 2021 to do the needful and yet, there is no significant trajectory established. There is also a National Response Center for Cyber Crime (NR3C), a unit under the FIA, but it has limited funds, labor, and facilities to protect the country’s key national infrastructure.

There is also an absence of efficient legislation to counter the ethical crimes committed in cyberspace. The year 2016 did witness the enactment of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016; however, it fails to encompass many important areas of cybersecurity.

National and formal attention must be drawn to the allocation of greater resources to cybersecurity systems, investing in protecting the country’s digital infrastructure, and research and development in and around cybersecurity.

The demons within: technology ethics and what goes unseen

While we may find it convenient to place the problem outside our digital space, a lot of cybersecurity issues arise from our handling of the digital world, and essentially, how ethically correct, or plainly mindful it is.

As the digitalization of the world burgeons our power to act, we face unprecedented choices and decisions, and similarly, unprecedented moral dilemmas. Efficiency does not equal moral superiority or even correctness, and this is a truth we often find ourselves ignoring. Are we plainly harvesting the low-hanging fruits of AI, for example, or are we actually aiming for good usage as reflected upon by a consideration of dignity, fairness, and the larger welfare of the public,

Media Matters for Democracy (MMD) and the Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) are some of the Pakistani entities voicing concerns about the rights of people online.

Ethical Dilemmas that have latched onto tech today

“Too often the pattern goes like this: A technology is introduced, grows rapidly, comes to permeate our lives, and only then does society begin to see and address any problems it might create… Companies have to learn to be responsible stewards of the artificial intelligence (AI) they deploy, the 5G networks they have begun to build, and so much more that’s coming toward us, from quantum computing to virtual reality (VR) to blockchain. Technologies that are driving sweeping change, and are central to the growth of the economy, should be trustworthy.”

Beena Ammanath, Executive Director of the global Deloitte AI Institute, author of the book “Trustworthy AI,” and founder of the non-profit Humans For AI, for Harvard Business Review.

Misuse of Personal Data

Personal data is the currency of the current age, whereby it is commoditized to be of benefit to hungry businesses, politicians, and other seekers finding their way to their target audience. Seekers who exploit such data to secure the bag or their agenda. Let us not forget the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandals.

 

We give away vital information of our own, literally everyday of our lives, to tech-based companies. But do we trust them in this exchange, or are we simply blind-sighted by the ease they bring into our lives? In 2018, Careem reported a cyber-security breach targeting the information of its customers and the captains on January 14th of the same year. Imagine the amount of breaches unreported for the sake of the companies’ image.

Deep Fakes and Targeted Misinformation

A deluge of un-analyzed and un-verified news prevails on our screens constantly, where celebrities, influencers, and the common user alike disseminate information on social media regardless of its truth or accuracy. A video that would previously be irrefutable as a body of evidence today can be a sophisticated manipulation of digital imagery all thanks to deep fake tech.

We witness every day the scope for and manifestation of invasion of privacy and misuse of identity, but what do we do about it?

Lack of Supervision and Accountability

Majority of the companies today work with both owned tech and third-party tech. Who, then, is responsible and to be held accountable when it comes to dealing with the big guns, big data, cybersecurity concerns, and managing personally identifiable information?

AI Bias

Technology is essentially bred by programmers and inherits their human bias. The system’s training and coding can be contaminated by human bias such as gender bias, age discrimination etc., resulting in social inequities. According to Forbes AI developer Google too witnessed AI software that believes nurses and female historians do not exist!

Autonomous Tech

Drones and self-driving cars are no longer an idea too far-fetched. However, having put their potential for businesses aside, how often do we find ourselves questioning the approval of technology to operate without any oversight? We have come to question time and time again, however, the idea of trusting our tech too much without completely understanding it.

 

What to do and what to expect

First things first, we need to accept the fact that we do have an ethical problem at hand. We must then ensure, a strong sense of employee rights and consumer protections, data protection policies and compliance procedures, responsible adoption of disruptive technologies, and creating an overall culture of responsibility among the tech giants and information technology workforce alike that they see to the governance and fair use of data. The cooperation and collaboration of tech companies, regulatory agencies, and law enforcement to ensure cyber-safety is another indispensable factor, such that we may not only have wider regulations but also Chief Tech Ethics Officers in every company too.

In doing so, we must expect a painstaking and time-consuming changing of entire mindsets and ways of being and doing, ways that have especially been historically beneficial. We must also expect not only time and effort investments but literal expenses too, for the ethically compliant modification of business models and revenue streams based around technology will undoubtedly be an expensive process.

The road may be winding, but it is a road we must take.

 

Hamail Habib

Student of Mass Communication at NUST Islamabad, Trainee at Jazz (Digital Pakistan Fellow).

An aspiring poet and writer, I created my first poem at the age of three, and have always been driven by the power of words that makes them mean much more than the sum of their parts. I enjoy both creative and technical writing, and my areas of interest include lifestyle, ethics and emotional intelligence, mental health, and analyzing social issues and current affairs, to name a few. You can find me at hhk_work@outlook.com

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