Vulnerability and Empowerment
Recently, the following exchange occurred on the Dwesa mailing list of Rhodes University. I got permission to reprint it here, from Mario Marais and Caroline Khene. It was in response to a news article on CSIR training programmes in marginalised rural areas
targeted at cyber-security
(which I take to mean specifically security in a networked computer environment).
What I always wonder when I read these stories is: have there been any reported cases of rural marginalised/disadvantaged computer users being defrauded by cyber-criminals or mobbed by facebook users, etc.?
Not sure about that Ron! I'm not involved in this project, but what we have encountered is lots of PCs at schools that are crippled by viruses. What has your experience been?
I agree with Mario. They are in fact the most vulnerable, given they are not as informed about risks on the Internet. When we were in Dwesa, the youth were always downloading stuff from the Internet. Also, who knows who they'll meet online. Furthermore, the new services being introduced, e-government, e-business etc, obviously involves the circulation of private/sensitive information. There are a number of ethical aspects when it comes to ICT4D.
I agree with Mario too.
@Mario: Viruses appear on computers almost immediately when we install
them anywhere. Even without Internet (which is restricted to only a few
computers at Nkwalini labs), almost all computers are infected because
of music and video sharing and outdated [Virus] scanners.
I also agree with any form of training and time spent in the community.
This is essential.
@Caroline: I agree that there are strong ethical aspects in ICTD. And
one thing we must encourage is empowerment and playing to strengths of
the rural people! So I do not agree that people in the rural areas are
the most vulnerable (especially as they are for the most part unbanked,
offline, have limited English knowledge and in general very very
cautious around technology). I would even go so far as to say that this
perspective promotes disempowerment of the rural people who do have a
culture and are in many instances proud and capable within their social
@Ron. Yes you do make an important point. But perhaps you may have misunderstood me. I am referring to people who use the Internet or have
access to it via various projects or mobile phones. Informing them about risks in using the Internet or mobile services in fact empowers them. If we assume we all have a culture and are capable in our contexts, why then do we still need to inform each other about information security issues. Everyone, whether rural or not, needs to be informed. We are all vulnerable, but our advantage is that we are more informed (or not).
Good points, yes, security should be part of any curriculum, and because it hasn't been in many cases, some people are more vulnerable than others - to paraphrase you, Caroline.
I think Caroline was quite kind to me in this debate. Of course, our aim is to get rural and uninformed people into the Internet more, so to argue that the rural people are not vulnerable because they are offline is to argue against our own work in ICTD!
The main point I was trying to make though, is once again the idea that everyone has strengths that development can and should play towards in order to activate the person who is the object of the development. There can be an uneasy relationship between development worker and target of the development work. The way out of this uneasiness is through "informed consent" -- an ethical consideration that research must be initiated in an open manner and results kept transparent. Such ethical considerations are fortunately anchored in the Rhodes University Ethical Standard, which applies to our work.
Ron Wertlen [permalink]
September 26th 2010 11:53