From Technology in a Wireless WSIS

Emmanuel.K. Bensah Jr. has 59 followers on Google Buzz

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Merry christmas to u all!

Just being back
from institutional
retreat in elmina
beach resort,
central region of
ghana, i seriously
doubt that as i
happily surf the
'net on my
motorola z6, i can
provide coherent
blog entries!
While i allow
2wards christmas
festivities, allow
me 2 wish all u
regular n non-
regular readers a
christmas period,
full of peace n

Emmanuel.K. Bensah Jr. has 59 followers on Google Buzz

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

New Jersey College Students MANDATED to Use GPS-Enabled Phones



Montclair is one of the first schools in the U.S. to use GPS tracking devices, which along with other security technology are increasingly being adopted on campuses in the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre last spring.”

N.J. College Requires GOP Cell Phones

MONTCLAIR, N.J. (AP) — It was after 1 a.m. on a Sunday when college freshman Amanda Phillips arrived at the train station. She was nervous about walking alone in the dark to her dorm at Montclair State University.

So Phillips activated a GPS tracking device on her school-issued cell phone that would instantly alert campus police to her whereabouts if she didn't turn it off in 20 minutes. After a five-minute walk, she safely reached her dorm room, locked the door behind her and turned off the timer.

"I think this is a great idea. It makes me feel a lot safer. And it's not even that expensive," said Phillips, an 18-year-old from Delaware.

Had she not turned the device off, an alarm would have sounded at the campus police station, and a computer screen would have displayed a dot with her location, along with her photo and other personal details.

Montclair is one of the first schools in the U.S. to use GPS tracking devices, which along with other security technology are increasingly being adopted on campuses in the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre last spring.

Students can use the timer, or, in an emergency, activate the GPS technology to instantly alert police.

"Maybe they're hiding and are hurt. Maybe they wouldn't want to talk because they're hiding behind a desk and the gunman's in the room. They'd have a better chance of being located," said campus police Sgt. Paul Giardino.

So far, not many students are using the feature. The university, which has 13,000 undergraduates, said the timers get turned on only about five to 10 times a week.

In the little more than a year that the system has been fully operational, the alarms have gone off only about once per month, and it was a false alarm every time, usually because someone forgot to turn off a timer.

Giardino said the false alarms aren't nuisances — they are training opportunities for the 32-member police force. "I can get my guys to get out and learn how to handle these," he said.

Two years ago, well before Virginia Tech, Montclair State made the cell phones mandatory for all first-year students living in dorms at the largely commuter school in suburban New York City. Now, all new full-time undergraduates — whether they live on campus or off — are required to buy them. About 6,000 students have them now.

Karen Pennington, vice president for campus life, said she and others on campus wanted to use the phones for instruction — letting professors take instant polls in class, for instance — and for safety as well.

While students praise the safety features, some grumble that the phones are mandatory and that they must be bought through the school for $210 per semester, on top of tuition and fees totaling more than $7,600 a year.

The phones come with free, unlimited text messaging, the capability to read campus e-mail, free calls after 7 p.m. and free calls to other Sprint phones, but only 50 minutes per month of anytime talking. Students must pay extra to add minutes. And though students pay by the semester, the phones work year-round.

The university contracted with the New York-based upstart Rave Wireless for the safety technology and Sprint for the cell phone service. Montclair State said it is not making money on the deal. It said the total cost is around $2 million per year — almost exactly what the school collects from students to fund it.

Sprint added cell towers so that virtually every inch of the campus gets service.

Raju Rishi, co-founder of Rave, said Montclair State was the first to use the safety feature, called Rave Guardian. A half-dozen other schools, including nearby Fairleigh Dickinson University and the University of North Carolina, now use similar systems, Rishi said.

Rishi said campus police are not monitoring the movements of students who don't turn on the GPS feature. "There's no Big Brother," Rishi said. "You need a subpoena to locate somebody against their will."

Security on Campus, a King of Prussia, Pa.-based advocacy group, gave Montclair State an award for the innovation. The group's vice president, Catherine Bath, said the technology will probably become more widespread.

"When I'm out walking my dog at night, I would love to have one of these," she said.

Associated Press Writer Geoff Mulvihill in Mount Laurel contributed to this article.



Emmanuel.K. Bensah Jr. has 59 followers on Google Buzz

Interesting website dedicated to mobile phones

Emmanuel.K. Bensah Jr. has 59 followers on Google Buzz

The Information Society and Threats Thereof

By E.K.Bensah II

To the Guardian newspaper, it is “Discgate”. To the rest of us, it is the loss of data of 25 million people—which included the name and date of every child; along with parent’s national insurance numbers and bank details— by the UK’s HM Revenue early last week, which is a serious wake-up call to aficionados of the information society who have come to believe that moving to an increasingly IT-related world is the way forward.

That the data was not encrypted and that a junior clerk is alleged to have botched his work brings into sharp relief two things: the need to fine-tune measures to protect important data, and a sensitisation of staff working with IT to the pitfalls inherent in the information society. Let’s face it, sacking the clerk was to be expected, but it certainly does not bring back that data of 25 million people! What it does do, in my view, is remind us about the potential perils and pitfalls inherent in an information society.

The so-called Information Society, understandably, may represent yet another nebulous concept coined by the perceived behemoth of the UN. What it is, in effect, in my view, is a global society, where ICT tools--not just computers, but mobile phones; radios and whatnot –- serve as critical roles in our "development" --irrespective of where you may be.

This means, for example, that it is a society where mobile internet is a reality; where there is an always-on internet (broadband); where it is not just accessible, but relatively affordable for all; where Internet cafes are within the environs of major cities, hang-outs, and even the country-side, where life is that much quieter; and where blogging facilitates an openness unparalleled in the facilitation of the work of the fourth estate.

Given that Ghanaians are wont to over-do things, I believe in the same manner should Ghanaians pause to reflect over their role and responsibility in an ever-evolving information society.

Whether we like it or not, the information society is here to stay –and that necessarily is not a bad thing. It means that our access to information is increased and, better still, that access is to a plethora of information. To the degree that it makes or mars us is what we must grapple with, for the rapid explosion of mobile phones – both in urban and rural areas – while a positive development, calls for important safeguards of our privacy.

Already, we have become accustomed to going everywhere with a mobile phone—when we don’t take it, most of us feel something is missing—and as we increasingly move towards a more sophisticated information society, where WAP-enabled mobile phones, PDAs, and smartphones become cheaper—and the norm, it behooves us to further pause and question not just the impact of such changes on our lives, work, and families, but how exposed it leaves us to attack by miscreants who can—and will—exploit our 24/7 access to our phones.

Without adequate regulation, we will see an information society running amuck, and where with our already-jammed and over-subscribed phone networks, personal information we input over our wap-enabled phones to access the Internet becomes cross-linked with other user’s data.

A few months ago, I accessed my Yahoo mail through my mobile phone, only to see someone else’s username, password, and email. I refreshed the page, but the person’s username and password was all I saw. Rather naively, I selected “sign in”, knowing that no-one else had been using my mobile –let alone access my Yahoo account online. In I went—to see that person’s emails. I had to reset my phone before I was able to access my own account again. I failed to report it to my provider, believing it to be a one-off thing. What if it wasn’t?

This, in my view, calls into question a need for, say, wap-enabled firewalls to prevent any personal data on our mobile phone getting out there. That one can even write a text message, and send it as an email, not only reflects how mobile phones have enhanced our convenience, but how we ought to be more responsible in how we comport ourselves online. We must all by now be familiar with the 419 emails, yet time and again, we hear stories of people having fallen foul of it. It’s all about their choice and their responsibility—or lack thereof.

Mind your data
An attempt at a rules-based information society is one of the reasons why the first-ever Internet Governance Forum took place in Greece from 30 October to 2 November 2006. It might have gone unreported in mainstream media, but it certainly was an impactful event in the sense that it set the tone for how the information society could begin to be crafted and regulated.
In the UK, they have gone one concrete step further.

Recent data from the UK’s data privacy watchdog – the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) – indicates that 4.5 million web users aged between 14 and 21 years of age are cavalier in the way they give up information on the Internet, especially when visiting social networking sites, such as the very-popular Facebook, or Rupert Murdoch-owned MySpace.

Even search engines, such as Google, are receiving complaints that information associated with web searches made under an individual’s name brings up expressions that these individuals made in their youth but, which could be detrimental to their career. To this end, the ICO has recently issued new guidance for young people using the Internet that they have made available on a website:

Furthermore, in the light of the monumental blunder at HM Revenue and Customs, the British government has agreed to conduct what it calls “data security spot checks” across government departments, which is to be spearheaded by the Information Commissioner’s Office; furthermore, data breaches of the magnitude of this loss will be made a criminal offence.

According to, a UK-based site on IT that informs the business world on enhancing its work through technology, the Information Commissioner Richard Thomas who welcomed these new powers said in a statement that by making this data breach a criminal offence, it would “serve as a strong deterrent and would send a very strong signal that it is completely unacceptable to be cavalier with people’s information.”

Much closer to home, from West African Examination Council (WAEC) results to National Service placements online, Ghanaian data is already computerized and automatically made part of the information society, with attendant qualms over what happens with the data, notwithstanding.

With the imminent introduction of the National Identification Authority and its consequent issuance of ID cards for Ghanaians, the possibility of exposure and loss of our personal details will be more real than it is now where it is hidden among a maelstrom of papers at, say, the passport office.

Our reliance on ICT and its tools may be inevitable, but might we remember to complement it with traditional methods, which are deemed more reliable—lest we end up with a Ghanaian version of “Discgate”!

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Emmanuel.K. Bensah Jr. has 59 followers on Google Buzz

Global ICTs: The Silent Development Revolution

(as appeared in last Sunday's edition of Sunday World:
Global ICTs—The Silent Development Revolution

By E.K.Bensah II


When the American poet and musician Gil Scott-Heron wrote the poem "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised", he perhaps got it right with regard to the development of ICTs in the context of the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS).


Before 2005, WSIS had assumed an unclear UN process that had little practical connection to development. Now, it is virtually impossible to talk about the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) without talking about the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).


When world leaders met at the UN in 2000 to draw up the MDGs, one of the goals was to achieve universal primary education. Given that education is, in essence, a passport to one's future and opening up of possibilities for any child, UNESCO has led the way of hosting seminars on Knowledge Societies in the Context of WSIS. For UNESCO, its vision of knowledge societies is based on four principles: freedom of expression; quality education for all; universal access to information and knowledge; and respect for cultural and linguistic diversity. UNESCO is far from the only UN agency involved in the WSIS process, but its role as one of the pre-cursors of the WSIS is moot.


Despite the critical involvement of UN agencies, such as FAO and UNDP at WSIS, it is clear for many observers that the Second Phase of the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) that took place from 16-18 November in the Tunisian capital, Tunis, was disappointing. It certainly was for civil society organizations (CSOs) who, after an alleged stabbing of a French journalist, were denied by the Tunisian authorities to hold a Citizens Summit on WSIS. For others, however, one of the more concrete things, to have emerged from the whole summit was the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)-sponsored One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), going for one hundred dollars.


The brainchild of the Professor Nicholas Negroponte of MIT, the lime-green laptop is made of rubber, so that when it closes, it will be sealed to protect it from environments, such as harsh environment in northern Kenya. It can be powered by a retractable crank that can be used to generate 10 minutes of power for every one minute of cranking up the machine.


Negroponte's team turned down Apple's offer to use its operating system, opting instead for a slimmer version that uses a 500MHZ processor and open source software under Linux. It is equipped with a 1GB flash RAM instead of a hard drive, a word processor, email application, and programming system.  


Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called it "an impressive technical achievement", adding that "it holds the promise of major advances in economic and social development."


Pressed on why laptops in place of "proper" development, MIT argued that laptops are tools to think with. More specifically, their relatively affordable price of hundred dollars is coupled with how they can be used for work and play, drawing, writing, and mathematics.


In October this year, Uruguay bought 100,000 of the machines for schoolchildren aged six to 12, with a view to procuring a further 300,000 for every school-going child in the country by 2009.


Here in Ghana, Finance and Economic Minister Baah-Wiredu announced in the annual reading of the budget that the laptops in question will be introduced to Ghana from next year.


For many observers of the WSIS process, the laptops have constituted not only something concrete coming out of WSIS, but something that can be used to facilitate development. In the long run, WSIS has highlighted the importance of using ICTS to facilitate development, and so rural areas being able to afford to use such ICT tools is moot in getting closer to the Millenium Development Goals of halving poverty by 2015.


The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has piloted studies, for example, where the use of ICT tools, such as mobile phones, has helped farmers in Senegal to obtain prices of goods.


Yoshio Utsumi, Secretary General of ITU and of the WSIS Summit, said that "the WSIS was not an end but a beginning." What the Tunis phase did was remind one about the much-talked-about Digital Divide; how to govern the internet, and how to use ICTS for development. Whilst the Digital divide—as evidenced by the chasm between those who have ready and steady access to computers and, by extension, the Internet – very much exists even within countries (such as the rate of using the internet cafes in Accra as compared to the rate in the Northern region, which is three or four times the cost), the use of ICTs for development, for example, is being facilitated by non-governmental agencies like the Accra-based GINKS, which aim to " provide information and Knowledge sharing that will facilitate capacity building for ICTs Products and services"


Other developments are also taking place. One notable one is that of a story in the Ghanaian Times of 1 April 2006, in which it was reported that Accra Girl's Secondary School has become the "first school in Africa to have an electronic learning (e-learning) center to facilitate the adoption of [ICTS] into its academic programmes." The issue of internet governance, however, is a murkier—and more technical affair that merits as much consideration and study as those issues that pre-dominate international development.


Internet Governance, concrete outcomes

The issue of internet governance has assumed similar dimensions characteristic of the North-South divide in, say, the international trading system. If at the WTO, it is the so-called QUAD (comprising Canada, the US, UK, and Japan) that have a major say surrounding the decisions made on the multilateral trading system, so it is that when it comes to the internet, the US is right at the heart of controlling how domain names, for example, are assigned.


A communiqué produced by the European Commission in late April 2006 has argued that this system of control by the US is slowly changing—and that is also thanks to the Tunis Agenda on the Information Society that came out of the WSIS Summit last November.


In the Agenda, paragraph 63, for the first time, recognises that "Countries should not be involved in decisions regarding another country's country-code Top-Level Domain (ccTLD). Their legitimate interests, as expressed and defined by each country, in diverse ways, regarding decisions affecting their ccTLDs, need to be respected, upheld and addressed via a flexible and improved framework and mechanisms ".


Put simply, this means that unlike before when countries needed the approval of the US Commerce Department before changing, say, to, countries, exercising their sovereign right, can now go ahead and change it—ensuring that the existing non-profit ICANN (Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers) oversees the change through regional registries, such as AfriNic, which helps, as its website maintains, to " provide professional and efficient distribution of Internet number resources to the African Internet community, to support Internet technology usage and development across the continent and strengthen self Internet governance in Africa by encouraging a participative policy development" .


Even the decision to create "", before Tunis, would have meant seeking assent from the US! What this old way of doing things would have meant is that if Ghana were considered not strategic enough a country, the US Department of Commerce cold turn down that domain name.


Some of these technical issues were discussed at the first-ever forum on Internet governance, which the Greek government played host to in October 2006. This year, the second Internet Governance Forum was held in Brazil, where the issues of content regulation; the duty of states to protect freedom of expression online, including the protection of children online; a set of global public policy principles—including, inter alia, an Internet Bill of Rights were discussed.


The future of WSIS

At the UN level, monitoring what WSIS will do to the access to information is a key concern.   Malaysia's Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Jamaludin Jarjis, said last year that "access to information should now be regarded as a utility and basic human right." He adds that conventional development means were no longer adequate in today's economic climate, where knowledge capital was the new currency and the new, raw material."


The UN, at a Geneva meeting, in July 2006, maintained the world body should continue to play a leading role in expanding information and communication technologies to promote development.  The World Summit requested that a UN group on the Information Society ought to coordinate the work of the UN system.


It bears reminding that although the WSIS process seems rather nebulous to many in the sense that linking ICTs to development seems rather tenuous, in the long run, what remains clear is that as long as the Internet and ICTS are with us, so, too, will WSIS. It is a process that remains critical to the MDGs, and like most revolutions, its legacy for posterity can only be for the betterment of society.


Emmanuel.K.Bensah is Ag. President of Ghanaian Association of Journalists in ICT (GHAJICT) (

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