Open to Innovation
The Asia Liberty Forum (ALF) is the stand-out event for liberals and libertarians of Asia. Organized by the Atlas Network in partnership with the Sri Lankan think tank Advocata, the conference, for the first time, was held in Sri Lanka. As in earlier years, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF) supported the event by sponsoring a group of friends and partners and organizing two panels dedicated to the chances and the challenges of digital transformation.
“The liberal mind set is open to innovation, this openness is part of our political DNA,” said FNF Regional Director Dr. Ronald Meinardus cautioning, at the same time, that the modern technologies can pose “unprecedented challenges to our freedoms.”
Not too long ago, the public loved and celebrated platforms like Facebook and Twitter. However, the narrative has changed and the new focus is on the potential threats the technology giants pose to markets, democratic processes and the integrity of elections.
How much regulation?
“We need regulations to ensure that users have more choice on the internet. This is my libertarian take,” said Indian Internet activist Nikhil Pahwa. “We need regulations in the interest of freedom. Then regulation becomes an enabler, not a disabler”, he added.
Joining Mr. Pahwa on the panel to discuss “Monopolies on the Internet: Liberal Answers” was well-known Sri Lankan ICT-commentator Nalaka Gunawardene with a more cautious perspective: “We don’t advocate overregulation. This stifles innovation”, he said. “There’s also the danger that the tech companies overreact and take down legitimate content.”
A second panel hosted by FNF dealt with the increasing dangers to our privacy in the digital world. More or less all of us create huge amounts of data at an increasing speed on more and more platforms. Digital innovations have improved the way we communicate. They have also enabled seemingly uncontrolled surveillance and collection of vast amounts of our data posing a risk to privacy. Panelists from India, Pakistan and Thailand gave an overview of the legal and policy frameworks governing privacy issues in their respective countries and discussed possible solutions.
“Privacy is a fundamental right”
Smitha Krishna Prasad of the Centre for Communication Governance at the National Law University New Delhi (CCGNLU) referred to a judgement of India’s Supreme Court that defined privacy “a fundamental legal right”. While all agreed to this definition, they debated how to implement this right in their culturally diverse societies. The panellists agreed that the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) adopted by the European Union and aims at giving individuals control over their data is an important point of reference. However, they also said, the European legislation should not be adopted one-on-one in this part of the world.
Policy debates about how best to protect the personal data are taking place on various levels in Pakistan, India and Thailand. Supinya Klangnorong, the only female member of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunication Commission of Thailand, reminded the audience that data protection is not only a government affair but very much also the responsibility of every concerned individual: “We have to adopt and we are able to adjust our personal behavior and be more considerate what we share and with whom we share this online,” she said.