The power of information technology is stupendous. It has brought not just the global population but in a way the universe closer. Not only has the world become a global village but the extraterrestrial signals received by the highly sophisticated technology give a further glimpse of the exoplanet activities beyond the solar system.
While scientists are making a meaning of life on this planet and beyond ---if there is any, the humankind on this planet has leapfrogged within a couple of decades a course unprecedented in their history since their prehistoric ancestor ignited the first spark of fire. Affordable desktop computer, laptop, notebook, smartphone, cell phone have not only brought closer the world to the techno-savvy geeks but also to the moderately digital literate. Even barely literate farmers, retailers and fish traders in all corners of not so technologically advanced a country like Bangladesh have become used to taking advantage of the instant communication and market information.
However, not all is well on the utility front of the smart gadgets. Such gadgets are used for disinformation, misinformation and recruitment of militants for religious fundamental groups, fanning religious extremism and hate campaign against minorities. At a time of the on-going pandemic when social sites have become a useful source of exchange of views on literature, philosophy, anthropology, history, art and culture among a segment of above-average people, there come horror stories of how the gadgets are used for exploiting the underprivileged, the poor and particularly women among them.
How information is illegally accessed and abused for monetary gains has been amply highlighted by the Bangladesh Bank heist. Another such account hacking came to light in a case involving one of the country's top tech geniuses Nazmus Saaqeb. He was arrested for alleged forgery of a Papua New Guinea-based expatriate Bangladeshi businessman's visa card and withdrawal of Tk 35 million from the latter's bank account.
These are high-profile cyber crimes involving millions of dollars. On a lower level, such crimes are committed by gangs where local fraudsters collude with foreigners. Early on June 13 members of such a hacking group were arrested from the capital and Faridpur's Bhanga Upazila. On July 9 last, 22 people including 16 Nigerians were arrested on charge of international credit card forgery. Mobile banking account, if the users are not expert enough, is at risk of hacking.
Abuse of digital system also occurs at the highest level of state secrets. Russia is often accused of intervening in the US election process in favour of Donald Trump. There are several other such complaints nations make against each other for intrusion in classified information. On Tuesday a man was arrested for a false message on social media about the criminal investigation department (CID) of Bangladesh. But then there are some young techno wizards who invade cyber sites for fun. There are also competitions between hackers of two rival nations just for fun. It may be fun for them but for unsuspecting users, it is double trouble.
Cyber wars of such orders do not always affect the ordinary mortal. But celebrities often have to suffer a lot when their accounts are hacked and cyber security intruded in. Indeed, the gadget that should have made life easier, more convenient and even a life-saving tool, at times turn out to be a lethal weapon at the hands of misguided elements.
This is exactly where the benefits from digital devices at times are outmanoeuvred by the harms caused to individuals. Abuse of mobile banking not only robs an individual of his/her savings but also shakes confidence in digital transactions. The pandemic prompted many to prefer online banking, shopping, bill payment and other transactions but cyber criminals are there to waylay people taking advantage of loopholes.
Even more deadly misuse of digital devices is regularly reported from small towns and villages. A rampant misuse of smartphones in sexual harassment and violence should be a cause for serious concern. The device is used to trap young girls to share pictures on developing motivated intimate relations, which are then photoshopped for sexually exploiting them. Others take pictures of rape scene so that the victims are compelled to submit to their sexual advances again and again. Smartphones at the hands of notorious elements are becoming lethal weapons in yet another mischievous way in that one is targeted for mob lynching. This is done with the purpose of eliminating a rival or in order to grab disputed property.
Another example of digital abuse concerns inciting anti-religious sentiment. The infamous Ramu incident in which a member of the Buddhist community was falsely implicated for a heretical post still haunts the nation. Then there was a similar incident in Brahmanbaria. A repeat of such an incident has been enacted in Cumilla last Sunday. Such incidents tend to affect communal harmony.
With the problems of digital devices' abuse taking multi-faceted dimensions, there is a need for deterrent to the crimes. This may not be easy but also not totally beyond reach. A well-prepared digital ID system can be of help in curbing such crimes. In countries where the system is highly developed, governments had enjoyed an advantage of identifying vulnerable people needing food support or social security benefits during the pandemic. Similarly, it will be easier to identify people inclined to commit digital crimes of sexual or financial nature.