FIFAfrica22: Recognising Access To Information As A Fundamental Digital Right

Greetings from #FIFAfrica22 |

On September 28 the International Day for Universal Access To Information (IDUAI) will be commemorated globally. The day was proclaimed by the United Nations Educational and Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) General Conference in 2015, following the adoption of the 38 C/Resolution 57 which recognised the significance of access to information. The 2022 edition of the Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica) will also commemorate this day through a series of discussions pertaining to access to information as a fundamental digital right.
Since its inception, FIFAfrica has coincided with  IDUAI commemorations every September 28 during which it has endevoured to create awareness about access to information offline and online and its connection to wider freedoms and democratic participation. These engagements have drawn consistent partnerships from UNESCO, among other global and regional actors.

In 2017, the African Commission Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, Advocate Pansy Tlakula, addressed FIFAfrica, where she received special recognition for her contributions to promoting access to information.

The theme for IDUAI 2022 is “Artificial Intelligence, e-Governance and Access to Information” which echoes various sessions that will feature at FIFAfrica22.

The opening of FIFAfrica22 will feature Honourable Ourveena Geereesha Topsy-Sonoo, the Africa Commission on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR) Commissioner on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information. Further sessions like Building Resilient Access to Information Legislation in the Digital Age; The Internet as a Tool for Promoting Information Integrity, Addressing Information Pollution Online and Offline; Artificial Intelligence Policy and Practice: Towards a Rights-Based Approach in Africa; Data Protection Trends and Advocacy in Africa; and Digital Inclusion: Acces, Data Governance and Ethical Innovation in Africa which resonate with this year’s global IDUAI theme will form part of the discussions at FIFAfrica22.

Speakers at the sessions will represent a diversity of actors working on advancing the free flow of information,  each of whom brings new insights and approaches to addressing practice and policy gaps affecting the realization of access to information in Africa.  The speaker lineup includes representatives from  Panos Institute, Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC), African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME), Bloggers of Zambia, International Training Programme on Media Development in a Democratic Framework (ITP), International Centre for Non-For-Profit Law (ICNL), ALT Advisory, Center for Intellectual Property and Information Technology (CIPIT), Paradigm Initiative, Lawyers Hub Kenya, World Benchmarking Alliance, Development Initiatives, Data Science for Health Discovery and Innovation in Africa (DSI-Africa), Internet & Jurisdiction Policy Network, Internews, and Access Now.

Be part of the online conversation using #FIFAfrica22 and share your vision for #InternetFreedomAfrica! | Follow @cipesaug on FacebookTwitterLinkedInVisit the event website

About FIFAfrica
The Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica) is an annual landmark event which convenes a spectrum of stakeholders from across the internet governance and digital rights arenas in Africa and beyond. Hosted the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), the Forum will offer a platform for government representatives, civic actors, journalists, policymakers and technologies to come face to face.

Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa 2022 (#FIFAfrica22):  Four Days of Workshops, Exhibitions, Panel Discussions and More!

#FIFAfrica22 |

Since its inception in 2014, the Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica) has offered a platform for policymakers, government officials, civil society, media, tech companies and technologists to convene and deliberate on various aspects of internet governance and digital rights arenas in Africa. This year’s FIFAfrica marks the return to a physical event following two years of hybrid events in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and will take place in Lusaka, Zambia, on September 26-29, 2022. It will feature two days of network meetings and skills workshops (September 26-27,2022) ahead of a two-day main event (September 28-29, 2022).

The FIFAfrica22 agenda is spread over 21 tracks with speakers and session organisers representing an extensive diversity of national, regional and international organisations, governments, tech platforms and think tanks. The largest agenda to date represents the growth in interest in digital rights as well as the concerns that have emerged and prevail on the continent’s digital landscape.

Tracks at FIFAfrica22
Access to Information Cybercrime
Artificial Intelligence Data Governance
Artivism and Creative Expression Online Digital Economy
Business and Human Rights Digital Health
Child Online Protection Digital Resilience
Digital Sovereignty Internet Rights and Governance
Digitalisation and Access to Justice Movement Building
Disinformation Network Disruptions
Inclusive Access and Affordability Platform Accountability
Infrastructure Strategic Litigation for Digital Rights
Technology and Education Women’s Rights Online

FIFAfrica22 will also feature a dedicated Digital Security Hub will also feature at the Forum with digital security and resilience experts from CIPESA, the Digital Society of Africa, the Digital Security Alliance, Internews, Jigsaw/Google and Zaina Foundation.

FIFAfrica is hosted by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), an Uganda-based technology policy think-tank with a pan-African footprint. CIPESA has previously hosted physical Forums in  Kampala, UgandaJohannesburg, South AfricaAccra, Ghana; and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

See the agenda

For more details email [email protected]

CIPESA Makes Submission to the OHCHR on Human Rights in the Tech Sector

Submission |

The Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East & Southern Africa (CIPESA) has made submissions to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on how businesses in the technology sector can improve the observance of human rights. 

The submissions, made in February 2022 in response to a call for inputs on the application of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) to the activities of technology companies, will feed into a report the OHCHR will submit to the Human Rights Council in June 2022. 

Below is a summary of CIPESA’s submission.

Emerging Trends

The digital age presents new challenges and ways of working that necessitate a review of how the UNGPs can be applied in the technology sector. Increasingly, states have become purchasers of digital technologies from technology companies to facilitate the implementation of various national programmes which present previously unforeseen risks to privacy as they facilitate mass surveillance. Commonly implemented national programmes posing threats to individual privacy include national digital identification systems, voter registration using digital biometric systems, mandatory SIM card registration, smart cities programmes, and installation of national video surveillance (CCTV) programmes integrating facial recognition systems.

Furthermore, digital technologies have fallen prey to retrogressive legal measures undertaken by states. Across Africa, countries have enacted legislation which compel telecommunications service providers to embed capability within their systems to facilitate the interception of communications by state security agencies, and the state acquisition of software and hardware equipment to facilitate surveillance and interception. 

In addition, some states have taken advantage of digital tools to carry out cyber attacks, censor online content, disseminate propaganda and disinformation. Moreover, many African governments have adopted laws limiting anonymity and the use of encryption.

Pressure on tech companies

Some governments continue to apply undue pressure on technology companies including social media platforms to provide personal information, take down content, and shut down the internet. Others have adopted repressive legislation to control the spread of information on social media, or to regulate internet intermediaries by placing undue liability on them for content on their platforms. During the Covid-19 pandemic, states developed various contact tracing systems and applications without adequate legal frameworks, or an assessment of the human rights impact of the applications. Also, state responses to hold companies accountable remain ad hoc, fragmented and not aligned with international standards.

Questionable company practices
Across the continent, social media, online search, fintech and advertising companies have adopted business models that are based on surveillance capitalism and thus continue to threaten the privacy of users, in some cases without users’ explicit knowledge or consent. Further, social media platforms have also contributed to the spread of harmful content online, which companies have failed to take effective measures to address. Also, social media content policies do not always adopt definitions of content that are rights-respecting, and their practices around content moderation are problematic. Content is often moderated using automated systems which lack local context, are discriminatory and embed bias.

Moreover, some platforms’ practices around content takedowns remain inaccessible, their content policies are not uniformly applied, and redress mechanisms do not always apply the rules of natural justice. In addition, some companies have continued to develop and sell surveillance technology to autocratic governments on the continent, which is subsequently used against human rights activists, government critics, and opposition leaders, which further exacerbates risks to human rights.

Trade of privacy for business continuity

The total sum of the government measures coupled with the pressure imposed on tech sector players is continent-wide trade of privacy for business continuity by technology companies. This is commonly seen in state surveillance through electronic technologies, including interception of communications, hacking of information of target persons especially political dissidents, activists and human rights defenders. The tech sector has, however, not done enough to ensure that individual privacy is guaranteed for their customers. 

In a continent where strong privacy laws remain scanty, the increased usage of online platforms and social media in the absence of adequate safeguards and oversight over companies remains a critical risk for privacy rights. The enjoyment of human rights and freedoms, especially freedom of expression and  access to information, association, assembly and movement have sharply declined.

Recommendations

Addressing human rights risks in business models:

  • The commitment to respect human rights as envisaged by the UNGPs  should be integrated at all levels in the company hierarchy and embedded across all its functions and processes.
  • Companies should take steps to mitigate risks within their existing business models, and continuously innovate new business models that are rights-respecting.
  • There is a need for continued research to promote greater understanding of the human rights risks in technology business models on the continent. 
  • Multistakeholder engagement should be promoted as it is a critical avenue to promote shared understanding of the human rights risks and impacts of technology in Africa.

Human Rights Due Diligence and end-use

Companies should do the following:

  • Conduct due diligence to identify, prevent or mitigate risks of harmful impact on their business. The due diligence should be conducted from project design and development phase of new products, services and solutions, and thereafter periodically through the lifecycle including promotion, deployment, sale and use.
  • Assess and monitor the effectiveness of their responses to human rights risks, with results of

such assessments guiding decision-making.

  • Review their state clients’ human rights records and ensure they do not develop, sell or offer

them technology products, services or solutions that contribute to or result in adverse human

rights impacts.

Accountability and remedy 

  • Companies should be transparent and accountable in how they address their human rights impact. Such transparency and accountability can be enhanced through periodic reporting to external stakeholders including through public reports.
  • Create platforms and avenues for engagement, information sharing and feedback between technology companies and various stakeholders.  
  • Implement credible and effective complaints reporting and handling mechanisms.
  • Companies should put in place measures to monitor and promote rights-respecting and responsible business practices and culture, and to remedy and mitigate adverse impacts caused by their actions.

The State’s duty to protect

  • Put in place administrative, policy, legislative, institutions to hold technology companies accountable for human rights violations, provide effective remedies for victims of rights violations related to technology, require companies to conduct due diligence and to have proper safeguards to protect the public from harm.
  • Develop laws, policies, regulations, standards, and guidance, including at the regional level to embed and ensure responsible business practices by technology companies and greater respect for human rights in the digital context.
  • Take measures to promote the use and adoption of digital technologies and address the growing digital divide, including by removing barriers to internet access and digital technologies.

See the full submission here.

Combating Disinformation in Africa: Challenges and Prospects

By CIPESA Staff Writer |

As disinformation grows in form and prevalence in many African countries, the challenges to combating it are equally increasing yet measures to combat it remain inadequate and often inappropriate. This has got disinformation researchers concerned that, if more robust measures are not adopted, disinformation could become pervasive, harder to fight, and with broad social and political ramifications.

While disinformation is not a new phenomenon, a number of factors have spurred it to unprecedented levels. These include the rapid growth of social media usage, emerging media viability challenges, politicians’ increasing influence on the media, the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the involvement of mainstream media in spreading disinformation.

Few actors are conducting fact-checking and contributing to fighting disinformation in the region, which is partly due to a shortage of expertise. That requires building a bigger cohort of fact-checkers and arming them with the skills to match the evolving disinformation challenges.  “We need to make fact-checking sexy,” says Rosemary Ajayi, the lead researcher at Digital Africa Research Lab. “We need to learn from the disinformation spreaders. We need to find the motivation behind the disinformation.”

Also crucial to combating disinformation is generating evidence of the form and prevalence of  disinformation, and how it originates and spreads between different mediums and communities. In this regard, the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) in conjunction with partners in five countries (Cameroon, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, and Uganda), is conducting a study to understand the nature, perpetrators, strategies and pathways of disinformation, and its effects on democracy actors including civil society, bloggers, government critics, and activists.

At a related workshop conducted as part of the eighth Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica), held in September 2021, experts discussed the factors fuelling disinformation, efforts to contain the problem, and  how disinformation is affecting democracy in African countries.  

Morgan Wack, a PhD Candidate at the University of Washington, said the fracturing of online media and rise of social media has broken up the consolidated media that previously existed. “This is good but it also leaves the media vulnerable and also takes resources away from entities that could have done better fact-checking,” he said.

According to various speakers at the workshop, mainstream media across the continent has increasingly become a key disinformation pathway contrary to the known pillars of traditional media as purveyors of factual and reliable information. As observed by Tessa Knight, a Research Assistant at the Digital Research Forensic Lab, many countries do not have free and independent media and so their stories are often biased. Given the difficulties in fact-checking in such countries, the information remains one-sided. 

With growing media viability concerns, newsrooms are narrowing the choice of issues to cover in order to cut costs. As Knight pointed out, given what is online, there may not be many people interested in what newsrooms are reporting. “We need to acknowledge the financial squeeze on the industry. Also, the fact that people consider other issues more important than say hospital deaths,” she added.

Nonetheless, Ajayi argued that the business model of several media organisations in countries such as Nigeria enables the propagation of disinformation, as some mainstream media were also doing the opposite of what is expected. “All I need to have a story published is to accompany it with an envelope [bribe] and this cuts across all media platforms,” she said. “There is also a close relationship between the government and newsrooms. Government spokespeople have come from the media so if they want to silence a story they know who to contact.” 

Ownership of news organisations by political actors, including individuals holding senior positions in government, also undermines media independence and often renders such media houses sources of disinformation.

There are also concerns about governments using public media platforms and manipulating private media to spread disinformation. “In Ethiopia, the media is largely funded by the government so their news is one-sided, noted Abel Wabella, Executive Director of Inform Africa’s HaqCheck

Yet Ethiopia presents a vivid example of how different political actors are using disinformation to push their agenda, including to destabilise the country. “Now people are suffering a humanitarian crisis because each side is providing contradictory information about the crisis in Ethiopia with a view of pushing their agenda,” said Wabella. He added that it is crucial to counter this disinformation to provide the opportunity for sanitised political conversations and to aid the country’s democratisation process.

Meanwhile, it was reported that during elections in Nigeria and Ghana, politicians assemble armies of commercial influencers to push their agendas that include disinformation. “In Nigeria we call them influenza because their goal is to make their content trend. They use all sorts of tactics, compromised accounts, fake celebrity accounts, fake accounts and also attaching fake giveaways to this content. They manipulate us by making us turn a non-story into a key topic of the day,” Ajayi said. She called for a multi-sectoral and multidisciplinary approach to digital literacy because fact-checking on its own does not work because “fact-checked information is not sexy like disinformation”.

Simone Tousi, a CIPESA Programme Officer for Francophone Africa, said governments in west and central Africa were also heavily relying on mainstream media to spread disinformation. This was undermining the power of mainstream media to deter the spread of disinformation.

The inadequacy of government responses to disinformation was also reflected in their legislative decisions. According to Tousi, disinformation laws and policies have had the net effect of undermining freedom of expression. Accordingly, there is an urgent need to repeal and replace these harmful laws with more progressive legislation.

Apply for Data Driven Advocacy Sketchathon at FIFAfrica21

Call for Applications |

Do you want to use data for advocacy but you’re not sure where to start? Would you like to transform statistics into compelling stories? Are you passionate about a digital rights cause, and want to convince others to join your efforts?

In the lead up to the Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa 2021 (FIFAfrica21), the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) and Data4Change will host a virtual data sketchathon and series of critical discussions to get you thinking more about how to use data in digital rights advocacy. The sketchathon will take place on Monday 27 September 2021.

The schedule
Starting at 10am East African Time (EAT) and finishing at 5pm EAT, the sketchathon will entail a combination of live Zoom sessions and self-paced activities.

We’ll use the answers in your application forms to set an agenda for the group discussions as we explore themes like: data biases; representation, accessibility and ownership of data; and data inequalities. You’ll also have an opportunity to work in small groups to map your data advocacy aspirations and to tackle some of the data questions you’re grappling with as individuals or organisations.

Participants will also have an opportunity to create a data design using data from the #KeepItOn campaign Shutdown Tracker Optimisation Project.

Who should apply
There are no prerequisites, and literally anybody can apply. We are looking for people who are passionate about uncovering the potential of using numbers to drive forward emotive stories that have the power to advance digital rights preferably in Lesotho, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

A limited number of spaces are available for the workshop. We endeavour to create diverse and collaborative spaces and to foster a sense of community that lasts beyond the event and will strive to create a balanced representation of different geographies, abilities, and approaches among participants.

How to apply
Submit this form before 18.00 East African Time on Wednesday September 22, 2021.

Successful applicants will be notified by Friday September 24, 2021. A modest reimbursement will be provided for participants’ connectivity costs.

1 2 3 6