Tuesday 12 July 2016

SumVoices: Algeria prevents exam cheating by cutting off the entire internet: Is it the right solution?

Our last installment of SumVoices featured Venezuelan lawyer and digital rights activist, Marianne Díaz Hernández, in English and Spanish. This month we bring you the insight of Algerian journalist and blogger, Rim Hayat Chaif, in English and Arabic.

Algerian journalist and blogger Rim Hayat Chaif
The second session of the Algerian baccalaureate exam occurred from June 19-23. With an overall cutoff of internet (from 20:00 the day before until 14:00 the day of the exam), more than 300,000 high school students had to retake the exam for a second time because of the massive fraud that occurred in the first session where the questions were flying around social media.

After this fraud, the Algerian authorities determined that in order to prevent high school students from cheating or being victims of wrong questions shared on social media, the best solution was to shut down the internet for the entire Algerian population, an unconscionable step decided without considering the consequences, unconscionable because the current Algerian economy cannot handle such international isolation at a time of seeking a new model of growth. Unconscionable because it prevented many Algerian institutions from doing their work normally for many hours. Unconscionable because it was not just social media platforms that were banned but even Google – how can Google be responsible for questions leaking?

According to official estimates, 18 million Algerians out of a population of 40 million are active on the internet and social networks.

The Algerian economic expert and international consultant Abdelmalek Serrai said in a statement to “the Algerian public radio Channel 1” that “this cut has caused financial losses estimated at 300 million dollars to the Algerian economy”.

The cutoff of internet and social networks has generated substantial financial damage to the Algerian economy. The banks were paralyzed, as it seriously disrupted their financial operations; Algerian and foreign companies were unable to complete their commercial transactions; students, researchers, and workers couldn’t work…it was as if all 40 million Algerians were taking the baccalaureate exam.

The risk of fraud for the second time could have been prevented if the authorities had chosen to encrypt the exam questions and print them at exam centers instead of transporting hard copies across the country as usual.

This decision surprised everyone, but it has shown that the Algerian authorities have a real political weapon called “censorship”.

According to Access Now, a UN resolution followed recent internet shutdowns in many countries, including Turkey, Bahrain, and Algeria. Global policy and legal counsel at Access Now, Peter Micek, said, “Development and human rights protections are strengthened in tandem when networks remain open, secure, and stable. All stakeholders, from telcos to activists to judges, must band together to demand an end to shutdowns”.

Rim Hayat Chaif

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