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IV. Privacy issues

Computer  and Cybercrimes

The increasing number of people using computers and the internet has motivated the Parliament to approve the Electronic Transaction Act 2006 (ETA) on Dec. 4, 2006. Five years later, to support existing laws, the Nepali Police created the Communication, Information, and Technology (CIT) Crime Unit to curb cybercrimes in the country. According to the Nepali Police, cybercrimes in Nepal are typically committed by educated young people, and the most common cybercrimes reported to the CIT Crime Unit are related to web page hacking, email ID password cracking, email threats, and data theft.

Consumer Privacy

Most of Nepal's many consumer rights groups are not yet aware of the issue of consumer protection and privacy rights, and our research shows that about 90 percent of consumers are also not aware of issues related to privacy, and those who are aware are not yet concerned about privacy issues.

National ID card

The Nepali government is set to introduce a national ID card. In 2011, the National ID Card Center was established under the Home Ministry of Nepal, and the international smart card consultant Ardaman Singh Kohli began work on the project, which is funded by Asian Development Bank (ADB). The government has agreed to pay the consultant a lump sum of US$163,550.

The Election Commission database, which contains fingerprint information as well as photographs and unique identification numbers,1 will be transferred to the National ID Card Centre to enable it to issue the cards. At present, the draft legislation awaits approval from the Cabinet. After that, it has to be submitted to the House for approval before the government can start issuing the National ID cards. However, it is unclear when the Cabinet will approve the draft legislation and forward it to the House.

Human rights organizations have raised the issue of the significant privacy concerns around issuing the National ID card. As government officials have said, they will use it for a variety of purposes. In addition, there are concerns that this information will be abused and/or misused by government officials, as it will enable government to become more illiberal and selectively target citizens who oppose the government or its officials.2

In countries like Nepal, there is a huge black market; even government officials have sold passports. This situation raises the possibility that black market operators will make fraudulent cards, trade in ID cards, and release and process confidential information.

DNA Database

The Nepali government is set to establish a DNA database to collect and store biological samples taken from prisoners, with the objective of improving the criminal justice system. The government has appointed the National Forensic Laboratory (NAFOL) to set up the DNA database. Some of the top government officials, including police and security forces, have welcomed the decision; among them was the registrar of the Supreme Court.

Biological samples taken from crime scenes and individuals in police custody will be stored in the database. Research has shown that one must test 1,000 biological samples in order to find a single criminal. The database will store these biological samples for years, so that everyone whose sample has been stored will always be included on the list of suspects. As a result, every time a new incident occurs, his/her sample will be among those tested first.

The DNA issue is very new in Nepal. Privacy Nepal has begun advocacy work and runs awareness-raising programs, including meeting with NAFOL officials. At the time of writing this report, NAFOL has taken no further steps to establish the DNA database. The government is looking for donors to help fund the DNA database project.

Freedom of Information / Right to Information Laws

With the adoption of the 1990 Constitution of Nepal, the right to information was adopted as a fundamental right. However, it was only given effect in July 2007, when the Right to Information Act 2007 (RTI Act) was approved by the Parliament in order to give effect to the people's fundamental right to seek and receive information held by public agencies on all matters of public importance. The RTI Act was the result of approximately 15 years worth of advocacy led by the media and civil society organizations, consolidating the fundamental right enshrined by the constitution. This development marked considerable progress in the enforcement of freedom of information in Nepal.

Pressure from media and civil society organizations was also indispensable in establishing the National Information Commission (NIC), an independent body for the promotion, protection, and practice of the right to information created on June 14, 2008, as well as in securing the ratification of the Right to Information Regulation on Feb 9, 2009. Overall, the role played by Nepalese civil society and media has been significant in institutionalizing freedom of information and establishing an open and fair freedom of information regime in Nepal.

Internet Usage and Control

The Nepal Telecommunications Authority has asked Internet Service Providers to filter internet content.3 In April 2011, the Internet Service Providers' Association of Nepal (ISPAN) shut down internet services to protest government moves to hold ISP's responsible for the misuse of internet services by their customers. According to the ISPAN, directors and staff of ISPs had been held in custody and taken to court when a customer of an ISP had been identified operating illegal call bypasses.

The National Information Technology Center (NITC) was established by the government in 2002. The NITC is situated in the Singha Durbar, the palace in Kathmandu that houses both chambers of the Parliament as well as ministries and government offices. Established in the year 2002 in line with IT policy announced in 2000 by the Ministry of Science and Technology, the NITC is part of the ministry's vision of developing and promoting Nepal's information technology sector. Currently, NITC is working as government's central ISP; it also manages the Singha Durbar's e-gate pass system and provides optical fiber connections to different ministries and departments within the area. It also works on establishing public "Telecenter" locations where the public can access computers and the Internet and provides basic and advanced IT training for government employees. It has also started implementing e-government services to enable transparent interaction between government and citizens (G2C), government and business organizations (G2B) and between different government organizations (G2G).

Cyber Cafés

In 2010, the government decided that cybercafés must seek permission from the District Administrative Offices (DAO) before starting their operations. They must maintain a record of users' login and logout time. The cafés are monitored by representatives from DAO, District Tax Office, Nepal Police and local IT professionals recommend by the DAO.4