Next Monday will see the opening of the first National Cyber Security Symposium to be conducted in Belize with an aim to address the various social, legal and criminal aspects of how the internet is being used. At the head of this event is the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) which has included multiple agencies to bring together the movement that will tackle the issues of bullying, invasion of privacy, scams and other problems that have been on the rise in Belize. John Avery is the Chairman for the PUC who made an appearance on The Morning Show today to detail the objectives and expected outcomes of this four day event.
“The PUC has partnered with the Attorney General’s Ministry, with the Central Information Technology Office out of the Office of the Prime Minister and with the National Security Council Secretariat; they represent the ministries of Home Affairs and Defense. They of course deal with the law enforcement end of dealing with cyber security issues and cybercrime issues. As you mentioned there are people we have to depend on to make the laws so that some of the activities that take place on the internet is in fact illegal and therefore victims can then have some form of recourse. Of course then you need the laws and that is how the Attorney General’s Ministry gets involved and of course the Central Information Technology Office is IT unit for the government and of course the government has endless and records on perhaps all Belizeans not only the government directly but government related institutions that are interconnected with the government and share information with the government such as social security. So we have these four partners and we have other partners working with us but these four partners we all have a responsibility in regards to cyber security and cybercrime issues. We at the PUC we regulate the service providers and so we have to establish certain standards for them in terms of security levels on their networks, they are providing the services, everyone using the service gets it through them so that is basically the first line of defense for Belize. We also have an obligation under the law to protect the interest of the users from the dangers that may arise from using utility services of which the internet is one.”
Avery noted that while cyber security is mostly looked at on the angle of laws and justice, there is also the aspect of social troubles that the internet can and has brought upon many persons.
“When we think about cyber security we’re looking at the technical aspects of it, you also need those who are looking at the social aspects, the human development aspects, exploitation or whatever it is because those are some of the things that we are victimized with over the internet in particular social media, your privacy and that sort of thing and so we need to involve people from a wide cross section of society when we are looking at these issues because everybody comes with a different priority and it doesn’t make sense for any one group to say they know what is best for everyone and do what they think is best and push it down everyone’s throat. We believe that just as the internet has been developed over the last 30 years you need a multi stake holder approach, everyone who has a stake in this thing needs to get together, say how we want the internet to work for Belize and let us put things in place to guide it along that path so that is what we are hoping to achieve in the long run. Next week we are having this symposium to kick start this whole initiative, this is a long term commitment from the partners, we have people with official responsibilities in terms of global internet governance such as the Internet Society, the Engineering Task Force these are all people that we would work with going forward but we need to engage our people locally first and we need to say how we want the internet to be governed in Belize, what we want to be illegal from what type of activity to be deemed as illegal so that when people are victimized there is a recourse. Recently with some of the same social media issues that made headlines in Belize quite often you heard then when people complain to the police the response was that they couldn’t really do anything about it because there is nothing that defines that activity as being illegal. So all of this needs to take place and the best thing to do it is to get a broad cross section of people from society to sit down together to come up with a plan and execute that plan over time. Long term education has to be a major pillar in whatever plan we have and this is where the media comes into play. Whatever plan you come up with you have to keep informing people of what is happening out there and how they can better protect themselves.”
At the end of the event it is the hope that an action plan will be drafted over the course of the next few months with the aim of having it become a long term plan.
“The last day of this event is to take key people from all of the forums who have contributed, because what we want to come out of this is a set of priorities and an action plan for each sector. The bankers for example will have a different set of issues from Love FM so they will come with their own things that they think they need to put in place, the different people who have responsibilities the PUC the AG’s ministry whoever is at the Central Bank you will not have to find a way to get those things into effect. So this is a long term thing but it starts with the symposium. The benefit with the symposium is that, and we don’t see this happen often, the people who are responsible for certain things over the internet now are saying “we want to hear from everyone. What are your issues? What are you concerned about? What should we do?” We don’t usually get that when we are looking at most issues in Belize so I think this is a good opportunity for Belizeans to participate, we complain all the time that decision are made for us behind closed doors this is an opportunity for you to contribute and then the people who have responsibilities will take that into consideration, come up with a plan, that plan will be fleshed out over the next two to three months after the symposium.”
Experts from abroad will be in-country to aid in the facilitation of the symposium including guest speaker, Michael Levin, the founder and CEO of the Centre for Information Security Awareness in Boca Raton, Florida, USA. Over the course of the four days there will be different forums with the first day being Cyber Awareness Day that will see introduction of all issues of concerns over the internet and protection needed. On Tuesday, a Public Sector Forum will take place where the members of the public are encouraged to attend and express their individual concerns. There will also be a Business Forum that will look at data security for companies and other security concerns. A Financial Institution Forum is also slated to take place on Tuesday and Wednesday involving the Central Bank of Belize, regulators and experts. Wednesday will see a forum for network operators including the Government of Belize, utility companies and other establishments that handle their own networks. A Law Enforcement Forum is set to take place on Wednesday as well with law enforcement agencies while a Judiciary Forum involving magistrates, judges, attorneys and stakeholders in the legal sector. A strategic plan to devise the way forward following these forums will take place on the final day, April 28. While certain forums will be closed door sessions, you can log on to www.ngif.bz to register for any of the available forums. The symposium is taking place at the Belize Biltmore Plaza Hotel in Belize City.