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IT professionals launch SMS ‘e-Referendum’ on the Online Safety Bill

By: Staff Writer

January 23, Colombo (LNW): A group of senior IT professionals has warned that the Online Safety Bill may be used to cripple opposition election campaigns, suppress journalists reporting on corruption and even severely impact the IT industry.

IT Professionals for the People (IT4P) has also launched an SMS “e-referendum”, which allows Sri Lankans to use an SMS message to voice their concerns on the Online Safety Bill and other key policies.

IT Professionals for the People (IT4P) has warned that the Online Safety Bill may cripple election campaigns, suppress journalists and negatively impact the IT industry.

They have therefore launched an SMS “e-referendum”, allowing Sri Lankans to use an SMS message to voice their concerns on key policies such as the Online Safety Bill.

The group pointed out that Sri Lanka already has seven laws that place restrictions on free speech and therefore the Online Safety Bill is not necessary.

Thus, citizens can participate in the SMS e-referendum by sending an SMS message to 0767 001 001 as OSB YES, if the bill should be passed in parliament, or as OSB NO, if the bill should not be.

The project is part of a broader Direct Democracy Initiative, which can one day lead to citizens being able to directly vote on government policies. This system is particularly useful when citizens believe that political representatives are no longer in alignment with their interests

“Under this law, any person aggrieved by something a citizen says online, may go to the police or magistrate court against them. Such a person may become a suspect in a criminal case, subject to investigations, have material/devices seized and may be liable to imprisonment or a fine.

In addition to this, many online services the IT industry relies on (e.g. Google Apps, Office 365, AWS), if interpreted as “internet intermediaries” according to this bill, may face potential legal liabilities and compliance costs that may force them to consider partially or fully exiting Sri Lanka,” the IT$P said in a statement yesterday.

“Finally, this bill criminalises defamation. Around the world, defamation is a civil matter between two parties (i.e. no imprisonment/fines, only compensation may be asked for).

Sri Lanka already has 7 other acts that place restrictions on free speech. Law enforcement is already ill-equipped to enforce these laws. Adding a new law creates opportunity for misuse, potentially floods the court system with frivolous petitions, not to mention the expense of establishing a new commission.”

Further elaborating the e-referendum, the IT4P stated that, ‘implemented through a leading telecom provider, the solution allows any Sri Lankan mobile subscriber to send an SMS to the number 0767 001 001 with a poll code followed by “yes” or “no”.

 Ongoing polls will be published on social media and the organisation’s website, it4psrilanka.org.

SMS was chosen over a web/mobile solution mainly to curtail bots that is a common problem in online polling. 

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