Things are getting interesting in Tajikistan as its IT experts and government officials make innovative yet naive attempts to reign in political discussion on the internet. In the past, the authorities simply blocked websites they found threatening (which included Facebook and YouTube). Now, they have adopted an “Ethics Code for an e-Citizen”, partly to prevent increasingly tech-savvy Tajikistani netizens from posting “bad” content or denounce those who do so.
The document was adopted [ru] in Dushanbe, on October 11. According to a handful of media reports, it was put together by a “group of experts” from the Tajik president’s office, state-run telecommunications agency (whose director summoned Mark Zuckerberg to a meeting last year), association of national internet service providers, association of national mobile service providers, a group representing independent mass media (well, actually only some of them), and a couple of NGOs. Apparently, Internews, Open Society Institute (OSI) Assistance Foundation Tajikistan, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) supported (and probably financed) the development of the ethics code. Although these organizations are certainly aware of the proper way of developing such documents, the public was not involved in any meaningful way in producing or discussing the ethics code. (To be fare, about 15 days before the approval of the document, one of the NGOs involved in developing the ethics code published [ru] a draft on its website (which does not have too many visitors) and requested feedback).
Radio Ozodi (Tajik service of the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty), one of the few media that took an interest in the document, reports [tj] that the ethics code aims at “preventing harassment, offense, slander, provocation, dissemination of immoral images and recordings, agitation and propaganda of terrorism, and other unacceptable activities in virtual space”.
The ethics code includes 20 recommendations (according to Radio Ozodi). Below is my rough translation of the document from Russian based on the text published by Babilon-T. A strange fact is that this text actually lists 21 recommendations. I have also compared the text with the one published by Pressa.tj – which lists only 19 recommendations – and indicated minor discrepancies in the two texts. Well, the publication of two different texts just adds to my conviction that the development of the ethical code was a very disorganized process, and even some members of the “working group” that drafted the document are still in the dark about the contents of the final draft. And the really-really weird language used in the document indicates a simple fact that there was not a single lawyer (or linguist, for that matter) in the “working group”.
Here goes the text:
We, the members of digital information society, adopt the Ethics Code for an e-Citizen and urge [everyone] to follow in virtual space ethical standards they use in real life.
The norms of this Ethics Code apply to instances of communication via a mobile phone and in the world wide net…
- When using information and communication technologies (ICT), public interest should prevail.
- Positive thinking, positive communication, and positive action should prevail in virtual space, irrespective of time and location.
- It is mandatory to follow and respect human rights and freedoms, national law, and international legal norms in virtual space.
- Ethical standards of interpersonal communication should be upheld when using ICT; users should introduce themselves and then state the reason of their address [obrashchenie] in a brief and intelligible manner.
- It is mandatory to follow the law and ethical standards applicable to original content when using ICT.
- It is mandatory to respect the norms of the state language and national values in virtual space.
- Talking on the phone and other communication devices loudly and for long periods [or "without need", as on pressa.tj] is inadmissible in public places.
- The use of unpleasant (coarse) sounds and unprintable [necenzurniy] words in ICT, as well as playing loud music in public places is inadmissible.
- ICT should be used in a way that does not disturb other people and is not harmful to their health.
- Equipment [oborudovanie] and technological devices belonging to other users cannot be used without their permission.
- Personal data is inviolable in virtual space; the use of personal data without a user’s consent [or "without a sanction", as on pressa.tj] is inadmissible.
- It is mandatory to respect intellectual property; plagiarism in ICT is prohibited.
- The words and information attributable to another person (user) should not be distorted and/or shortened.
- ICT should not be used to disseminate spam.
- The use of ICT for harassment, dissemination of offensive content [oskorblenie] and slander, provocation, triggering of panic, as well as for reasons of greed [koryst'], regionalism [mestnichestvo], and other improper reasons, is inadmissible.
- Discrimination of users on the basis of nationality, language, religion, race, and sex in virtual space is prohibited.
- Taking advantage [zloupotreblenie] of inadequate technological knowledge and skills of other users is inadmissible.
- Protecting the rights and interests of minors and those in need [or "disabled", as on pressa.tj] is a priority in ICT.
- Posting of unethical and illegal comments to information posted by other users is prohibited.
- Every person (user) shall be held responsible for the information she or he is disseminating.
- Every person (user) shall be held responsible for violating ethical standards in the virtual space of ICT.
It remains to be seen what the authorities are going to do with this document. The code is not a law, which means that netizens cannot be formally penalized for not observing it. Yet, in Tajikistan with its unpredictable way of reacting to criticism on the internet, you never know.