Category Archives: Ethics

The use of mobile devices for sexual harassment in Pakistan


Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) continue dramatically to change our lives.  This is especially true with the rapid expansion of mobile devices connected to the broadband in many of the poorer countries of the world.  Whilst this can bring very many benefits, there is also a darker side to their use; ICTs tend to act as accelerators, both of good and of bad things.  With the  corporate ICT sector wishing to highlight the positive contribution that it can make to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the negative impacts of ICTs usually receive far less attention.  There is, though, now a growing body of evidence that in some contexts these may well outweigh their positive impacts.

In the course of qualitative research in 2016 with Dr. Bushra Hassan (formerly of the University of Sussex, and now at the International Islamic University in IslamIdentity construction 2 copyabad) on the use of mobiles by young people in Pakistan as symbols shaping their identity (published in Information Technologies and International Development earlier in 2017), we discovered a striking level of concern over the use of mobile devices for sexual harassment. The commentary below on Mobilink’s controversial advertisement at the time of our research, for example, highlights some of the tensions in what is widely seen as being a tightly constrained society with very traditional values.

Mobilink

We therefore decided to explore more about the use of mobiles for sexual harassment in Pakistan, and enlisted the help of Dr. Akber Gardezi (COMSATS Institute of Information Technology).  Together, we constructed and distributed a largely quantitative online survey in Pakistan in November and December 2016, and submitted a paper summarising the outcomes of this research early in 2017 to a special issue of ITID on Gender, Mobile and Mobile Internet.  At the time, we considered this to be one of the largest and most rigorous studies of the subject in Pakistan, and indeed few other studies have been as comprehensive anywhere in the world.  Subsequently, important new research has also been published about Pakistan especially by the Digital Rights Foundation.  The peer review process associated with academic journals meant that we could not release any of our results at that time.  We had hoped, though, that the full paper would have been published in time to coincide with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on 25th November.  Given delays in the production process, we are delighted now therefore to have received permission from the editorial team to release some of our most salient findings.

More than 2000 people opened the survey, and we had 530 completed responses from people from all walks of life in Pakistan.  The survey itself explored both perceptions and experiences of sexual harassment through the use of mobile devices in Pakistan, and we were able to disaggregate and analyse the data in terms of a range of socio-cultural characteristics including age, gender, ethnicity, religion, occupation and place of residence.

Some of our most important findings are as follows:

  • Mobiles are mainly used to harass women sexually, although men are also harassed; 48% of women and 18% of men in our survey had been sexually harassed through their mobile devices.
  • Direct messages and phone calls are slightly more frequently used than online social media for sexual harassment: 17.5% of respondents who were harassed claim to be receiving daily text messages harassing them sexually, and 11.9% receive daily phone calls doing likewise.  It is therefore crucial to note that surveys that only focus on online harassment miss more than half of the ongoing sexual harassment that exists.
  • There is considerable uniformity in the perceptions about and experiences of sexual harassment through mobile devices among people from different socio-cultural backgrounds.  Only about 10% of the many statistical tests that we undertook showed significant differences, and where there were differences these were usually relating to the gender, occupation or location of the respondents.
  • One of the most striking findings from our research concerns blame attribution: 54% of all respondents thought the when a women is sexually harassed through her mobile device she is always or sometimes to blame.  Only 38% of respondents thought that a man was to blame when he is harassed sexually.
  • The impact of sexual harassment through mobile devices on people living in Pakistan has a terrible cost: 53% of respondents claimed that they knew someone personally who had tried to commit suicide as a result of sexual harassment through their mobile devices; and a shocking 52% of respondents claimed to know someone who had been killed because of a loss of honour as a result of sexual harassment through mobile devices.  Blackmail is widespread.
  • Four main reasons were cited to explain why mobile devices are specifically used for sexual harassment: it is easy to send multimedia content using mobiles; mobiles can be used to target people at a distance; it is quick to use mobiles to harass people; and the perpetrators can easily hide their identities.  Our paper goes into much more depth as to how social and cultural factors influence such harassment specifically in Pakistan; women much more than men consider that patriarchy is particularly important in causing such harassment.
  • The three most important ways through which such harassment can be reduced were considered to be: requiring social media companies to monitor and delete users who sexually harass others; increasing penalties for sexual harassment; and requiring mobile operators to provide a free reporting service.  With respect to the last of these, it was great to see the Digital Rights Foundation opening a toll-free hotline (0800-39393) in December 2016 for victims of online harassment and violence.

Almost half of all respondents also provided detailed qualitative responses to many of the issues we raised in the survey, and we are immensely grateful to all those who took the time to reply.  For the full paper, which provides very much more detail on all of the above, do keep an eye open for the next issue of ITID (Hassan, B., Unwin, T. and Gardezi, A. “Understanding the Darker Side of ICTs: Gender, Sexual Harassment, and Mobile Devices in Pakistan”, Information Technologies and International Development, in press).

We are now undertaking directly comparable online surveys in the Caribbean and in India to examine how perceptions and experiences of the use of mobiles for sexual harassment vary across the world.  Please share the links below with people you know in these regions to encourage them to contribute to the survey so that we can get as diverse and large samples as possible:

It is time that all of us combine our efforts to reduce sexual harassment through mobile devices.  Such harassment is a horrible form of violence and abuse, and it particularly affects women.  Men especially therefore need to take greater action to influence each other in changing their behaviours so that the full benefits of ICTs may indeed be experienced by women across the world.

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Filed under 'phones, Ethics, ICT4D, mobile phones, Pakistan, Sexual harassment, social media

Perceptions and experiences of sexual harassment through mobile devices in Pakistan


Together with Dr. Bushra Hassan, and building on my research earlier this year on how people in Pakistan use mobile devices to express their identities, we have developed a survey on people’s perceptions and experiences of sexual harassment through mobile devices in the country.  This is a sensitive and difficult subject, and we are eager to have responses from as many people as possible.  I do hope that readers of this post will share the details through their networks, and if they are Pakistani will complete it themselves. The survey is available until the end of November 2016 at https://rhul.onlinesurveys.ac.uk/sexual-harassment-through-mobile-devices-in-pakistan.

survey-pakistan

Thanks so much in anticipation.

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“Reclaiming ICT4D” – in the beginning


It is always exciting submitting a book manuscript to a publisher, and today is no exception!  I have at last finished with my editing and revisions, and sent the manuscript of Reclaiming ICT4D off to Oxford University Press.  I just hope that they like it as much as I do!  It is by no means perfect, but it is what I have been wanting to write for almost a decade now.

This is how it begins – I hope you like it:

“Chapter 1

A critical reflection on ICTs and ‘Development’

This book is about the ways through which Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have become entwined with both the theory and the practice of ‘development’.  Its central argument is that although the design and introduction of such technologies has immense potential to do good, all too often this potential has had negative outcomes for poor and marginalized people, sometime intended but more often than not unintended.  Over the last twenty years, rather than reducing poverty, ICTs have actually increased inequality, and if ‘development’ is seen as being about the relative differences between people and between communities, then it has had an overwhelming negative impact on development.  Despite the evidence to the contrary, I nevertheless retain a deep belief in the potential for ICTs to be used to transform the lives of the world’s poorest and most marginalized for the better.  The challenge is that this requires a fundamental change in the ways that all stakeholders think about and implement ICT policies and practices.  This book is intended to convince these stakeholders of the need to change their approaches.

It has its origins in the mid-1970s, when I learnt to program in Fortran, and also had the privilege of undertaking field research in rural India.  The conjuncture of these two experiences laid the foundations for my later career, which over the last twenty years has become increasingly focused on the interface between Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) on the one hand, and the idea of ‘development’ on the other.  The book tells personal stories and anecdotes (shown in a separate font).  It draws on large empirical data sets, but also on the personal qualitative accounts of others.  It tries to make the complex theoretical arguments upon which it is based easy to understand.  Above all, it has a practical intent in reversing the inequalities that the transformative impacts of ICTs have led to across the world.

I still remember the enjoyment, but also the frustrations, of using punch cards, with 80 columns, each of which had 12 punch locations, to write my simple programs in Fortran.  The frustration was obvious.  If you made just one tiny mistake in punching a card, the program would not run, and you would have to take your deck of cards away, make the changes, and then submit the revised deck for processing the next day.  However, there was also something exciting about doing this.  We were using machines to generate new knowledge.  They were modern.  They were the future, and we dreamt that they might be able to change the world, to make it a better place.  Furthermore, there was something very pleasing in the purity and accuracy that they required.  It was my fault if I made a mistake; the machine would always be precise and correct.  These self-same comments also apply to the use of ICTs today.  Yes, they can be frustrating, as when one’s immensely powerful laptop or mobile ‘phone crashes, or the tedium of receiving unwanted e-mails extends the working day far into time better spent doing other things, but at the same time the interface between machines and modernity conjures up a belief that we can use them to do great things – such as reducing poverty.

Figure 1.1 Modernity and the machine: Cambridge University Computer Laboratory in the early 1970s.

1.1

Source: University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory (1999)

In 1976 and 1977 I had the immense privilege of undertaking field research in the Singbhum District of what was then South Bihar, now Jharkhand, with an amazing Indian scholar, Sudhir Wanmali, who was undertaking his PhD about the ‘hats’, or periodic markets, where rural trade and exchange occurred in different places on each day of the week (Figure 1.2).  Being ‘in the field’ with him taught me so much: the haze and smell of the woodsmoke in the evenings; the intense colours of rural India; the rice beer served in leaf cups at the edges of the markets towards the end of the day; the palpable tensions caused by the ongoing Naxalite rising (Singh, 1995); the profits made by mainly Muslim traders from the labour of Adivasi, tribal villagers, in the beautiful forests and fields of Singbhum; the creaking oxcarts; and the wonderful names of the towns and villages such as Hat Gamharia, Chakradharpur, Jagannathpur, and Sonua.  Most of all, though, it taught me that ‘development’ had something powerful to do with inequality.  I still vividly recall seeing rich people picnicking in the lush green gardens of the steel town of Jamshedpur nearby, coming in their smart cars from their plush houses, and then a short distance away watching and smelling blind beggars shuffling along the streets in the hope of receiving some pittance to appease their hunger.  The ever so smart, neatly pressed, clothes of the urban elite at the weekends contrasted markedly with the mainly white saris, trimmed with bright colours, that scarcely covered the frail bodies of the old rural women in the villages where we worked during the week.  Any development that would take place here had to be about reducing the inequalities that existed between these two different worlds within the world of South Bihar.  This made me look at my own country, at the rich countries of Europe, and it made me all the more aware of two things: not only that inequality and poverty were also in the midst of our rich societies; but also that the connections between different countries in the world had something to do with the depth of poverty, however defined, in places such as the village of Sonua, or the town of Ranchi in South Bihar.

Figure 1.2: hat, or rural periodic market at Hat Gamharia, in what was then South Bihar, 1977 1.2 Source: Author

            Between the mid-1970s and the mid-2010s my interests in ICTs, on the one hand, and ‘development’ on the other, have increasingly fascinated and preoccupied me.  This book is about that fascination.  It shares stories about how they are connected, how they impinge on and shape each other.  I have been fortunate to have been involved in many initiatives that have sought to involve ICTs in various aspects of ‘development’.  In the first instance, my love of computing and engineering, even though I am a geographer, has always led me to explore the latest technological developments, from electronic typewriters that could store a limited number of words, through the first Apple computers, to the Acorn BBC micro school and home computer launched in 1981, using its Basic BASIC programming language, and now more recently to the use of mobile ‘phones for development.  I was fascinated by the potential for computers to be used in schools and universities, and I learnt much from being involved with the innovative Computers in Teaching initiative Centre for Geography in the 1990s (see Unwin and Maguire, 1990).  During the 2000s, I then had the privilege of leading two challenging international initiatives that built on these experiences.  First, between 2001 and 2004 I led the UK Prime Minister’s Imfundo: Partnership for IT in Education initiative, based within the Department for International Development (UK Government Web Archive 2007), which created a partnership of some 40 governments, private sector and civil society organisations committed to using ICTs to enhance the quality and quantity of education in Africa, particularly in Kenya, South Africa and Ghana.  Then in the latter 2000s, I led the World Economic Forum’s Partnerships for Education initiative with UNESCO, which sought to draw out and extend the experiences gained through the Forum’s Global Education Initiative’s work on creating ICT-based educational partnerships in Jordan, Egypt, Rajasthan and Palestine (Unwin and Wong, 2012).  Meanwhile, between these I created the ICT4D (ICT for Development) Collective, based primarily at Royal Holloway, University of London, which was specifically designed to encourage the highest possible quality of research in support of the poorest and most marginalized.  Typical of the work we encouraged was another partnership-based initiative, this time to develop collaborative research and teaching in European and African universities both on and through the use of ICTs.  More recently, between 2011 and 2015 I had the privilege of being Secretary General of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation, which is the membership organisation of governments and people in the 53 countries of the Commonwealth, enhancing the use of ICTs for development.

Two things have been central to all of these initiatives: first a passionate belief in the practical role of academics and universities in the societies of which they are a part, at all scales from the local to the international; and second, recognition of the need for governments, the private sector and civil society to work collaboratively together in partnerships to help deliver effective development impacts.  The first of these builds fundamentally on the notion of Critical Theory developed by the Frankfurt School (Held, 1980), and particularly the work of Jürgen Habermas (1974, 1978) concerning the notion of knowledge constitutive interests and the complex inter-relationships between theory and practice.  The next section therefore explores why this book explicitly draws on Critical Theory in seeking to understand the complex role and potential of ICTs in and for development.  Section 1.2 thereafter then draws on the account above about rural life in India in the 1970s to explore in further detail some of the many ways in which the term ‘development’ has been, and indeed still is, used in association with technology.”

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Trust, privacy and digital security


The pace with which the UK government is forcing through legislation to permit its security agencies legally to gather information about the use of digital technologies by people living in the UK raises ethical issues of the utmost importance. In the past, I have very much emphasised the significant concerns that citizens should have about the use of their ‘digital lives’ by both global corporations and governments. In so doing, I have sought to emphasise the interesting conjuncture of ideas surrounding the three concepts of trust, privacy and the law that lie at the heart of such discussions (for some early thoughts, see my 2010 paper on ICTs, citizens and states).

One of the most remarkable things about digital technologies, and particularly the extremely rapid expansion of social media, has been the ways that people have been willing to make so much information available for public view that was previously considered to be ‘private’. Why, for example, if people are providing so much of their information on-line for free should they have any concerns about whether or not governments make use of this? Social media companies have benefited hugely from the willingness of people to give for free without thinking too much about the consequences, and so too have those providing search engines and location based digital services.  So why should governments not likewise use this information?

In trying to unravel some of the complexities of these issues, it is useful to contrast two very different perspectives on what privacy actual is:

  • The dominant view would seem to follow Etzioni (2005) in accepting that privacy is in effect a good that can be weighed up against other goods. From this perspective, people are willing to give up some of their ‘privacy’ in return for various perceived benefits. Hence, people seem to be willing to let companies use information about their e-mail or search engine usage, in return for having a ‘free’ e-mail account or the ability to search the Internet for ‘free’ for some information that they want to find. Similarly, it can readily be argued that governments can, and indeed should, be permitted to pry into the lives of individuals in order to protect all citizens, especially if a justification, such as preventing potential ‘terrorist’ action can be provided.
  • An alternative type of definition of privacy, though, is offered by Friedman (2005) who instead sees privacy as a means through which we have power over our own lives. He emphasises the asymmetric power relationships between states and citizen. Few citizens, for example, possess their own tanks or fighter aircraft, and few have the digital analysis technologies that large corporations and governments possess. As he suggests, in referring to the state, ‘limiting its ability to protect us from bad things done to us by ourselves or by other people, may not be such a bad deal’.

In the past, I have very much supported Friedman’s arguments, and on balance still do. However, this is where notions of ‘trust’ become so important. From conversations in many different countries, I have come to the clear view that where people do not trust their governments, then they are much more willing for their digital lives to be known by companies, but where they do trust their governments then the reverse is the case. Governments have the power to do very bad things to their people, and digital technologies have the potential to offer them very large amounts of knowledge indeed in support of such actions.

The interesting observation to be made here is that it is actually the companies, be they ‘phone operators or social media corporations, that actually already collect this information on a regular basis, and indeed use it to generate their profits. Whilst there is much angst against governments for wanting to access some of this information, I am surprised at how little concern there actually is about the uses that companies already make of such information. Again, in part, this comes down to trust, but I think this is only in part. Companies seem to me to be much more circumspect in telling people actually what data they collect and how they use it. They leave the governments to take the flack in wanting to access such information!

The arguments currently being debated as the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill moves through the UK Parliament are ultimately derived from social contract theory. In essence, building on the ideas of Hobbes and Locke in the 17th century, the idea that citizens are willing to give up some of their rights to governments in return for protection of their remaining rights has become central to much of the way in which our governance systems work. Following Etzioni’s line of thought, citizens might therefore consider giving up some of their privacy in return for greater protection from other citizens (or ‘terrorists’) who for whatever reason wish to do them harm. It becomes incumbent for governments therefore to show that there is indeed a very considerable increase in the potential threat to citizens from ‘terrorism’, or indeed any other harmful effects, if they want to pry further into citizens’ privacy.

This is, in effect, what the UK government is seeking to do, without perhaps illustrating the full extent of the threat. As I learn more about these matters, and speaking with many people who I have come to trust over the last couple of years, I am becoming increasingly aware of just what the level of threat is, and I am much more persuaded by the arguments that some greater surveillance might indeed be necessary. However, the challenge for a government is that it is difficult for it to indicate just what these threats are because of the obvious security implications, and so citizens have to place a lot of emphasis on trusting their governments.

How can this be achieved? The most important thing in building trust on such matters is to have as full, open and transparent a debate as possible amongst relevant stakeholders. Rushing legislation through Parliament is therefore unwise, unless the level of threat is very severe indeed. I cannot judge this, but unfortunately recent failures of trust over such things as the UK’s support for the USA in the invasion of Iraq over ‘weapons of mass destruction’, make it very difficult for people to believe a UK government of any political colour on such matters.

MPs would therefore be wise if they are to pass this Bill to insist that immediately in its aftermath a wide-ranging and fully transparent consultation should take place, so that the issues are debated openly and constructively. This will take a considerable amount of time, but will ultimately be worth it, not only in rebuilding trust, but also in reaching a wise decision on how to balance privacy and security.

This does not, though,  resolve the concerns raised by Friedman, with whom my own allegiance really lies. The balance of power between states and their citizens is indeed unequal, and there must be mechanisms whereby governments and their servants can be held to account for their actions and misdemeanours. It is here where I believe the law is so important, and it seems to me that judges have a particularly crucial role to play in determining the appropriate balance. The separation of the judiciary from the executive is another important heritage of the British political system, and one that is shared to a greater or lesser extent in many Commonwealth countries. Whatever outcomes are agreed on in the consultation that I encourage, they must be enshrined in a very carefully constructed legal framework that can indeed insist on the severest of penalties for misuse of the powers that are being discussed in Parliament as I write.

 

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How will we communicate in 2113?


ScholarsAn invitation to speak on the theme of “How will we communicate in 2113?” at the third annual Commonwealth Residential School meeting at Cumberland Lodge provided an interesting opportunity (at least for me!) to explore some fascinating interests “at the edges” of communication and technology.

The outline of what I intended to say focused around the following themes:

  • Grounding prediction
  • Are there any certainties?
  • How do we communicate today, and why?
    • In whose interests?
  • Trends in communication and technology
  • Extending into the foreseeable future

In particular, I explored the implications of seven trends:

  • The observation that technology can be used for “good” or for “evil” – challenging the many instrumental views of technology in development that so often dominate thinking today
  • Making the case that technology is increasing inequality rather than reducing it – too few people really understand this, but to me it is critically important, and has very significant implications for the future
  • Those in power use technology to remain in power: both states and global corporations.  This is one of the key drivers for how ICTs will be designed and used in the future
  • The ways in which our understandings of privacy have been changed as a result of recent developments in ICTs, and the implications for the relationships between citizens, states, and global corporations
  • Cambridge telephone statueThe ICT sustainability crisis – not only in terms of the energy demands of ICTs, but much more importantly the ways through which corporations generate much of their profit through  making users buy new hardware and software on a regular basis
  • The implications for learning and literacy of next generation ICTs – we will no longer need to learn to read and write, we will be able to understand people speaking any language, and the changes to the brain caused by no longer needing to remember things.
  • The blurring of the human and the machine – and whether or not we want to become cyborgs (encouraging participants to see one of my favourite films – Blade Runner – and also to see the recently released Cloud Atlas!).

One of the fun things about the session was that for the first time I used Promethean’s ActivInspire to gauge participants’ thoughts on a range of issues around their current usage of ICTs.  This did not throw up any particularly novel views from the participants – although 25% felt that Edward Snowden was wrong in exposing the NSA’s mass surveillance programme, with 56%  agreeing that he was right to do so.

Ultimately, I found myself arguing that we have some very important ethical decisions that need to be made here and now with respect to our relationships with ICTs, because there are many forces at play that are seeking to make us increasingly intertwined, and unless we act very soon we may already be far too far down the path to turn back.

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Google admits it is in breach of UK data privacy


The BBC has reported that “Google has admitted that it had not deleted users’ personal data gathered during surveys for its Street View service. The data should have been wiped almost 18 months ago as part of a deal signed by the firm in November 2010. Google has been told to give the data to the UK’s Information Commissioner (ICO) for forensic analysis”.

When it was originally reported that Google had obtained private data from unsecured wireless networks whilst it was gaining images and spatial data for Street View, the company said it was a mistake and agreed to delete the data by the end of 2010.  However, Google has now contacted the UK’s Information Commissioner to say that not all of these data have been destroyed, asking what it should do with it.

As the BBC continued to report “Possessing data that should have been deleted ‘appears to breach’ the undertaking Google signed in November 2010, said the ICO in a statement. ‘The ICO is clear that this information should never have been collected in the first place and the company’s failure to secure its deletion as promised is cause for concern,’ it added”.

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Never ever, ever, ever fly through Atlanta’s Hartsfield Jackson (so-called) International Airport


I have just spent almost two hours trying to escape from Atlanta’s so-called international airport, and have to say that it was without any doubt, far and away the worst experience I have ever had trying to leave an international airport – and I only had hand luggage!  The slowness, rudeness, incompetence, inefficiency and downright unpleasantness of the people and machines were unbelievable.

First, we had to queue for well over an hour to get through the passport check, fingerprints and retinal scans. We were herded like cattle through a very slow moving roped off set of alleyways.  There were only a handful of officials on duty, with many ‘gates’ empty.  It was designed to raise our temperatures, and if I had not been in a hurry it would have been faintly amusing listening to the comments in the queue.  The ‘officials’ seemed to be spending as long as they possibly could with each person arriving; there was no sense of urgency at all. Then, nearing the end, when I was in line to be ‘checked’, the officious official who was guiding us to the scanning point ordered me to move one foot to the left!  I could not believe it.  There was a wide open space and I had to move one foot to the left.

The sense of power and control that these unpleasant people have is quite unbelievable.  It is rather like many of those on baggage security checks across the world who take joy in making life as miserable as possible for travelers, ordering them around!

At last, I was in front of the person who was going to take my fingerprints and retinal scan.  In the old days – and they were good, very good – only criminals had their fingerprints taken.  Just think what the US government might do with all of our biodata.  So, I decided to be nice, and got a word in first, asking him what kind of day he had had, saying he looked as tired as I did.  It worked!  He smiled!  He had started work at 5.30 this morning, with a break for lunch, and it was by that time nearly 8.45 in the evening!  Anyway, I will give him credit – he processed me politely and swiftly, for which I am very grateful.  I certainly had vastly better treatment than many others in the queue.

I was lucky!  I only had hand luggage so did not then have to wait for any checked baggage – but I’m sure it would  in any case have come through by then!  So, next we had to queue to hand in our customs declaration form – just to show we were not bringing in anything that might be against US regulations.  Fortunately, I went through that fairly swiftly.  Any normal person would expect then to be able to walk out of the airport and get a taxi.

But no, not at Hartsfield Jackson International Airport.  Wait for it.  Can you imagine what happened next?  Yes, another bag check and full body scan. And this was simply to get out of the airport! I had to join yet another snaking queue, to have my bags checked.  Yet again, jackets off, shoes off, computers out with everything being put in trays.  Officials shouted at us to get in the correct lines.  One poor gentleman from India, was totally confused as to whether he was being shouted at or not.  And the stench!  I have no idea what it was, but it was definitely the most evil smell I have encountered in any airport in the world!  And then the body scan. Everything, even handkerchiefs has to be taken out of pockets, and some of us were chosen to be placed in this scanning device.  No notices about what it would do, any potential health issues, or what would happen to the images after they had been taken.  I was simply forced through.

At last, I thought I was free.  But they did not like the look of my laptop and notepad, so back it had to go through the bag scanner.  Even then, when of course nothing was found, it took a good 20 minutes to walk to the shuttle train that took me to the concourse from whence I was at last able to get a taxi.

How nice it was to see an Ethiopian driver, who brought with him a sense of history, of culture and of hospitality.  What on earth was he doing here in this land of oppression I asked myself.  What horrors had he left to make his home in this neo-fascist place I had arrived in.

It made me think of all the other airports I have visited recently.  Perhaps the best comparison is with Beijing airport.  What luxury!  What efficiency!  What civility!  It is so easy to get through Beijing, and one is treated with dignity and hospitality by the Chinese officials.  Perhaps this is a reflection that China has become the world superpower, and because it does not try to impose democracy on other countries at the end of a gun or bomb, it does not have to be so preoccupied with ‘protecting its borders’.  In Atlanta, the symbolism of officials shouting and ordering people around, herding them like cattle in pens, scanning them for biodata and personal information, reminds me of the fall of other empires.  Petty bureaucrats who get their kicks out of being deliberately unpleasant. The use of machines to control people’s freedom.  The sense of oppression and foreboding.

And then, I often hear USAns complaining about Heathrow airport.  What absolute hypocrisy and cheek! Heathrow is bliss compared with Atlanta.

You have been warned!  Never travel through Atlanta airport if you can possibly avoid it.  Better still, avoid Atlanta itself!  What a pity, I have such good friends here.

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