Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Some thoughts..Winning the war is only the first step to win peace

With the LTTE terrorists (Tamil tigers) being defeated militarily, Sri Lankan government still needs to take considerable actions to restore the faith in Tamil and Tamil-speaking civilians. Terrorism in any form is not acceptable. LTTE is one of the most dangerous terrorist organizations in the world [FBI 0,1,2]. They carried out many atrocities and most of the time innocent civilians have to suffer [3]. There is no question they should be defeated and wiped out of the Sri Lankan soil. The SL government has rightly done so.

Military solution alone will not solve the problem we are currently facing; a political solution should be implemented to correct the issues including the root cause of this whole issue. IMHO, the language is the root cause. 1956 Sinhala only act was a key contributor for Tamils and Tamil-speaking civilians to feel discriminated. This was corrected later; after 1987, India-Sri Lanka accord, Tamil language was accorded the same official status as Sinhala language. Even after 20 years making both Sinhala and Tamil as official languages, we don't seem to have got it right. It is natural to feel that you are not one of them if you don't speak their language or if they don't speak your language; or you feel neglected; language divide people. I have a lot of personal experience to back up this fact. Perhaps, the issue is more visible to me as I speak both languages. So, what should be the way forward? The government has to genuinely commit itself to bridge this language gap and we, as citizens, have the responsibility to do our parts. (There have been already some measures to make both Tamil and Sinhala languages compulsory for public service positions and to add to the school curriculum; but that is not sufficient.)

It is time we, citizens, take every possible action to heal the wounds that have been around for decades. Sometimes, I feel offended by the arguments made by both parties [1]; "Sri Lanka is the homeland of Sinhalese", "(Some parts of) Sri Lanka is the homeland of Tamils". Unless we get ourselves rid of such mentality, we will continue to have divisions. Sri Lanka is the homeland of all ethnicities. One ethnicity is not superior or inferior to another. We will have the real peace in our country on the day we start to treat everyone equally and with dignity. I sincerely hope that this day is not far away.

We, as educated people, can use our ability to bridge the language gap and improve the trust between differnet ethnicities. I don't think it is too much to ask from my fellow Sinhala-speaking friends/readers to learn the basics of Tamil and my fellow Tamil-speaking friends/readers to learn the basics of Sinhalese. There's a lot in common between these two languages.

I studied in Sinhala medium, speak in Tamil at home and stared learning to write in Tamil on my own with some help from my mother a few years ago. I am glad I did that. Now, I have more reasons to polish up my writing skills. Believe me, it is not that hard and you will enjoy the feeling of getting to know/being able to understand another language - a language that is spoken by fellow Sri Lankans!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Hi-tech Exam Cheats

With technology, we naturally tend to think that there will be better ways to detect/find exam cheats and this in a way deter those who try to cheat in exams, right? But the facts seem to be otherwise [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]; recent incidents show that students are increasingly utilizing technology to their advantage to cheat.

This is similar to the current virus/malicious software development market; bad people keep on finding new ways to attack while good people (anti-virus software companies) try to defend those attacks. Another is software piracy market. (Is it OK to download copyrighted stuff from P2P file sharing networks? If so, is it OK to steal money from a book author?)

It again highlights the fact that technology alone cannot solve issues we are facing today. Further, even legal enforcements won't be able to. IMHO, this vicious cycle is never going end (in fact is going to get worse) unless we address non-technical issues such as ethical behaviors, moral issues, etc. How many of those who cheat think that cheating is a bad thing? How many think that their cheating is justified?

Some more thoughts..
Does high competition (few opportunities) lead to cheating? If so, is competition a bad thing?
When students are under pressure to perform, is it a reason for them to cheat? If so, who should be blamed for its happening?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Expectation of Privacy

In USA, to take legal actions, the concept of "expectation of privacy" matters. The fourth amendment (1967 I think) lays out criteria for this in order for a plaintiff to demand legal privacy protection:

1. She needs to show that she exhibited an actual "expectation" of privacy. (For example, if she leaves the data in plaintext in some public storage, she obviously has little expectation of privacy. On the other hand, if the data is encrypted, there is some level of expectation of privacy.)
2. The expectation should be one that the society is prepared to recognize as "reasonable". (This reasonableness is a subjective measure. For example, we, as a society, expect our emails to be private. However, this notion of privacy could be used by bad people for their malicious intents. For example, for terrorists to organize an attack. When there is an imminent threat, we need to give priority to societal security over personal privacy. In the interest of national security, one can argue that it is not reasonable to expect our emails are private.)

For example, Facebook (also other social networks) business model involve selling (anonymized) personal information and using it to target advertisements.

An excerpt from the Facebook privacy policy:
"Facebook may use information in your profile without identifying you as an individual to third parties. We do this for purposes such as aggregating how many people in a network like a band or movie and personalizing advertisements and promotions so that we can provide you Facebook. We believe this benefits you. You can know more about the world around you and, where there are advertisements, they're more likely to be interesting to you. For example, if you put a favorite movie in your profile, we might serve you an advertisement highlighting a screening of a similar one in your town. But we don't tell the movie company who you are."

With such statements in their privacy policies, it is questionable if a user can defend the above "expectation of privacy" as we agree to all these policies (with or without knowingly) when we sign up for the service. I am not saying social networks are bad, in fact, I do have a Facebook account and it's a great tool to connect with old colleagues and friends, and stay in touch with them. But, do we need to change our expectation of privacy to that of our service providers (Facebook in this case)? In other words, how can we show (legally) that we demonstrate sufficient expectation of privacy in case it is breached?

Here, you'll find some interesting thoughts by Bruce Schneier on this topic and he argues that "expecation of privacy" is a flawed test.