What is the price of security? Should it be your online freedom?
By Juliet Nanfuka
Where do human rights and online rights meet? Is there a clash between online freedom and human rights? Is there room for self-regulation? These are some of the questions that a recently concluded online discussions report on Internet freedom in Africa explores.
Participants from Uganda, Kenya and Nigeria used online platforms to discuss these issues over a four week period at the end of 2013.
A key theme that came out of the report is the recognition of the increased numbers of internet users across the continent and parallel to this, increased measures taken by governments on surveillance of citizens. This, in turn, has brought to the fore many questions about freedom of expression and privacy.
Many countries are faced with contradictory policies when it comes to freedom of expression especially when it is placed alongside national security and stability. As a result, freedom of expression is threatened by restrictive legal measures that infringe on the access and sharing of information. In addition to these are the legal permissions granted to governments with regards to accessing information about users. Requests from African governments, although few, appear to be politically motivated according to the Google Transparency Reports.
In light of this, a participant asked a key question that also raises concerns about censorship, “How much can you restrict if those with no restriction can interact with and pass on information to the restricted using alternative methods of communication?” This led to the recognition of the conflict that exists between online freedom of expression and the state. Such was seen in the 2011 politically motivated ‘Walk to Work’ protests in Uganda in which the national communications regulatory authority, the Uganda Communications Commission, instructed ISPs to block access to social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook for 24 hours. More on this can be found here Internet Freedom in Africa Under Threat.