Addressing a ceremony to commemorate the handover of computer equipment by Huawei to the Carenage Police Youth Club in his constituency, the Prime Minister outlined an ambitious vision for T&T. He called on the country to embrace technology saying that the world has transformed and T&T needed to keep up to stay in the game. He noted the positive benefits that such a transformation would have on the country’s productivity and security as it moved towards the goal of a cashless society.
He noted that the Ministry of Digital Transformation was a key part of the government’s plan for a new digital infrastructure and reported that all ministries were gradually digitising their information databases and that government operations would improve as they became more dependent on technology.
Whilst we congratulate the Prime Minister for articulating such a lofty vision, he missed an opportunity to update the public on the digitalisation project’s progress by identifying some of the tangible results that had been achieved so far. It was a galling omission given the evidence that suggests the country has a huge mountain to climb. Who can we trust to undertake this exercise? Which agency has the technical and managerial capacity to deliver this ambitious agenda, TSTT?
Telecommunications companies around the world are at the forefront of digital change. Indeed, the most ubiquitous device that has led access to the internet and placed the world's information at the fingertips of most citizens is the cell phone. Statistica estimated in 2021 that there were 7.1 billion mobile phone users which would rise to 7.49 billion users by 2025. Mobile ownership and internet usage are forecasted to grow as mobile technologies become more affordable and available and currently account for 60 per cent of all internet traffic.
Given these facts, one would expect that the Telecommunications Services of Trinidad and Tobago (TSTT) would have been prepared for the inevitable cyberattack which it now admits took place on October 9. The public relations response to the attack has been poor. Since the public relations aspect ought to have been the easiest, one shudders to imagine the quality of the technical response. An official public apology from the company’s management was made to its “valued customers” in a full-page advertisement on November 11, a full month later.
Private commentators alerted the public on social media advising of the necessary precautions long before the company even acknowledged the breach. The Minister of Public Utilities first reassured the public that reports of a data breach were untrue, then retracted and ordered an independent investigation. Who advised him that there was no breach? Someone in management or members of the Board? Do they still enjoy his confidence? If not, what is next?
Whilst TSTT is not part of the government’s operations, it is owned by the Government and some of the government’s data traffic will inevitably be transmitted over TSTT’s public network. The data breach cannot simply be overlooked and swept under the carpet. How can the public be assured of the company’s credibility, or the minister’s, in the face of this poor effort? Personal data is akin to gold in a technologically driven world.