Is Africa going to have a censored internet? YES. Well, regulated at the least. There have been noticeable efforts across the African divide to bring into effect frameworks to regulate the internet.
South Africa’s Films and Publication Board recently released its draft Online Regulating Policy which when read shows a significant movement towards undermining internet freedom. Malawi is seeking to control social media with its Electronic Transactions Bill. Egypt is awaiting a new Cyber Bill that seek to deal with real, or perceived online threats. Tunisia is indicating that it will not censor the internet via government but may be crafting a bill that seeks to regulate it nevertheless.
Locally, POTRAZ has just called for a Public Consultation Workshop on the creation of a National Internet Governance Forum to be held on the 15th of June 2015. Stakeholders will be presented the opportunity to set up a Forum to meet regularly and forward recommendations from all internet stakeholders to policy makers concerning the internet.
This is coming at a time when they have also made calls for a monitoring and reporting system in telecommunication perhaps indicating that they are moving toward firmer fulfilment of their policing roll.
We understand that a lot of what’s to be discussed before in IT Governance and IT Security has been incorporated into the revised ICT Policy. The Forum will act as a platform through which the policy will be reviewed on a continuing basis. We currently have the 2005 ICT Policy and the Codification Act which makes it very difficult to prosecute criminal abuse of the internet without up to date terms of reference.
The United States is among some countries that actually advocate for Internet Freedom, where the global Internet is viewed as an open platform on which to innovate, learn, organize, and express oneself free from undue interference or censorship.
The United Nations failed in 2012, through its International Telecommunications Union to get countries to sign a treaty that would have led to the governance of the internet at UN level, despite 89 out of 193 countries having voted for it.
The reasons for enforcing governance on the internet are wide, but the most common relate to State security (remember the Arab spring), religious, moral, political, business reasons and YES personal privacy.
A government can protect the overall privacy of its citizens from misleading web services through regulation. A volatile state may prohibit or limit the use of social media as it is an efficient information dissemination tool, a religious state may ban websites that disparage its religious beliefs and a conservative society may refuse the cultural degradation that comes from viewing of illicit content.
A company that thrives on content provision will, on the other hand, advocate for total freedom as censoring or filtering some content like pornography, with a large content consumption index would be detrimental to business.
It is not only Africa that is gravitating towards censorship, some developed countries are making serious strides to control content which is unpalatable to those societies or unregulated access that may allow citizens to circumvent its internet laws.
Russia has threatened to ban Google, Twitter and Facebook if they do not surrender to the authorities, data enabling decryption and smart-censorship, in compliance with Russian law. All Russian bloggers need to be registered and their identity verified before they can post articles. North Korea, Burma, China, Saudi Arabia regulate the internet for security or religious reasons.
Given the pace at which the ICT Policy has been struggling to launch, it is interesting to see where the POTRAZ Internet Governance discussion will produce.