Is Kenya Putting the Chill on Internet Freedoms?

By Juliet Nanfuka |
The rights of Kenya’s digital citizens are fast shrinking in the face of new restrictive laws and increased arraignment of individuals for expressing online opinions which authorities deem in breach of the law.
The Security Laws (Amendment) Act 2014, assented to by President Uhuru Kenyatta last December, allows blanket admissibility in court of electronic messages and digital material regardless of whether it is not in its original form.
It is feared that retrogressive provisions in this law could be used to put the chill on internet freedoms in East Africa’s most connected country where mobile phone penetration stands at 80% and internet access at 50% of the population.
Part V of the new security law regarding “special operations” has raised particular concerns, as it expands the surveillance capabilities of the Kenyan intelligence and law enforcement agencies without sufficient procedural safeguards.
It gives broad powers to the Director General of the National Intelligence Service to authorise any officer of the Service to monitor communications, “obtain any information, material, record, document or thing” and “to take all necessary action, within the law, to preserve national security.”
In addition, the amendments also contain unclear procedural safeguards especially in the interception of communications by “National Security Organs” for the purposes of detecting or disrupting acts of terrorism.
Even though there is a provision for a warrant to be issued by a court of law, the broad definition of ‘national security’ leaves no room for restrictions on the extent of power the law grants to National Intelligence Service when it comes to accessing personal data, information and communications.
In February 2015, the Kenya High Court struck some clauses from the security law. The government says it may appeal.
Government says the new law is necessary to fight al Shabaab militants who have repeatedly rocked the country with fatal attacks such as the Westgate shopping centre attack on September 21, 2013, which left 67 people dead. Human rights activists blame President Kenyatta’s government for steadily shrinking the space for civil actors, a pattern they say was manifested in the Kenya Information and Communications (Amendment) Act 2013 and the Media Council Act 2013. These laws, they say, placed restrictions on media freedom and general freedom of expression.
The proposed Cybercrime and Computer related Crimes Bill (2014) also falls short of constitutional guarantees as it is contains “broad” speech offences with potentially chilling effects on free speech. See a full legal analysis of the Bill by Article 19. Proposed regulations to the law governing non-government organisations, which cap the funds received from foreigners at 15% of their overall budgets, have also been criticised as aimed to curtail and control the activities of civic groups engaged in governance and human rights work.
Over the 2012-2013 election period, several individuals were charged in court over their online communications. The National Cohesion and Integration Act of 2008 has been used to charge many for promoting hate speech – which some Kenyan citizens found justifiable given the role that hate speech played in the 2007 to 2008 post-election violence.
Hate Speech is defined by the 2008 Act as speech that is “threatening, abusive or insulting or involves the use of threatening, abusive or insulting words” with the intention to stir up ethnic hatred or a likelihood that ethnic hatred will be stirred up. Authorities, however, seem to be shifting gear and using this charge among others against online journalists and bloggers that criticise the Kenyatta government.
In December 2014, blogger Robert Alai was arrested and charged with undermining the authority of a public officer contrary to Section 132 of the Penal Code by allegedly calling President Kenyatta an “adolescent president” in a blog. He was again arrested in February 2015 for offending a businessman online by linking him to a land saga that involved the illegal acquisition of the Langata Primary School playground.
Meanwhile, Allan Wadi – a student – was also arrested for “hate speech” and jailed in January 2015 for posting negative comments on Facebook about the president. In the same month, journalist Abraham Mutai was arrested following tweets he posted on corruption in the Isiolo County Government. He was charged with the “misuse of a licensed communication platform to cause anxiety.”
Nancy Mbindalah, an intern with the department of finance at the Embu County Government, was charged on similar grounds for social media posts dating as far back as 2013 in which she is alleged to have abused County Governor Martin Wambora.
In all instances, some social media users claimed there were “selective” arrests and prosecution of those critical of government. Critics cited the case of Moses Kuria, a Member of Parliament (MP) for Gatundu South, who allegedly made remarks on Facebook against the Luo Community but did not face the same punitive actions.
A recent news report, however, indicates that the National Cohesion and Reconciliation Commission and the Public Prosecutor are calling for the MP’s case to be revisited for the “incitement to violence, hate speech and fanning ethnic hatred.”
The incidents of arrest, prosecution and law amendments demonstrate a recurring theme of clamping down on dissenting citizen voices, a concern that was highlighted by the Kenya Human Rights Commission and the International Federation for Human Rights following the enactment of the Security Laws (Amendment) Act.
While the country remains on a constant alert for terror attacks, this has been used to strengthen the control that the state has on freedom of expression and surveillance. The lack of laws that limit state access to citizens’ information further exacerbates this concern.

Recognising the Enablers Of Inclusive Knowledge Societies

By Juliet Nanfuka |
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in March 2015 published a draft study on internet-related issues that have the potential to advance online inclusivity. The study, titled ‘Keystones to Foster Inclusive Knowledge Societies’, explores how access to information and knowledge, freedom of expression, ethics and privacy are shaping use of the internet.
According to the study, balanced access to information and knowledge is hampered by filters on content, gender inequality, and limited access to technical tools and infrastructure required to obtain such information.
Meanwhile, freedom of expression globally is hindered by content filtering, regulation and in some instances severe criminalisation of online expression. Closely related to restrictions on online expression was the limited respect for the rights to privacy and data protection as fundamental online rights. The ethics of the internet, including ways through which it can be used to advance respect for cultural and other diversities, were also interrogated in the study.
The report calls for increased media and information literacy; balancing policies and practices on the conflict between freedom of expression and privacy; and reconciling global frameworks for addressing extra-territorial impacts of national censorship.
The study was based upon the crosscutting themes of UNESCO’s ROAM concept which incorporates a Rights based, Open Internet, which is Accessible to all and encompasses Multi-stakeholder participation.
The findings were discussed by representatives from civil society, academia, governments, the private sector, the technical community and inter-governmental entities at a meeting hosted at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris.
Speaking at the meeting, Alexandrine Pirlot de Corbion, Advocacy Officer at Privacy International, said the right to anonymity should be prioritised.  This sentiment was echoed at the African Internet Rights Meeting which also took place in March in Accra, Ghana where anonymity was raised as an important right to promote citizen participation, transparency, access to information and freedom of expression.
In East Africa, recent developments reflect mixed attitudes on online rights. Some clauses that curtail free press in Burundi have recently been invalidated, while Uganda is currently reviewing stakeholder input to a Data Protection and Privacy Bill. Rwanda, often accused of suppressing free expression, is reported as having the most affordable internet in the developing world, according to the Alliance for Affordable Internet.
Tanzania has recently presented to Parliament an Access of Information Bill and a Media Services Bill, and enacted a Cyber Crimes Act, criticised for negating freedom of expression and privacy, and giving excessive powers to law enforcement agencies.
Kenya has in recent months been plagued with reports of putting a chill on freedom of expression online. Particular focus has been on the Security Laws (Amendment) Act, 2014, which provides for surveillance and interception of communications by intelligence forces with limited judicial oversight.  The law was enacted as a means of combating terrorism in the country. Ironically, in 2014, Freedom House listed Kenya as one of only two African countries with internet and digital media freedom.
Indeed, as pointed out by Ayman Mhanna, Executive Director at the SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom during the March discussion of the UNESCO report, surveillance has been given legitimacy in regions of conflict and has also contributed to censorship of the media. He cited Lebanon where bloggers have faced punitive actions for comments posted online about public officials. The Middle Eastern country relies on a print media law dating back to 1962 – similar to Tanzania where outdated laws such as the Newspaper Act of 1976 are used to prosecute internet users including the media.
“There is need for more efforts to instill trust in privacy, security, and the authenticity of information and knowledge accessible online, and to protect the safety and dignity of journalists, social media users, and those imparting information and opinion in the online world,” states the UNESCO report.
The launch of the UNESCO study comes at a time when many countries across the world are still trying to address development challenges such as access to clean water, education and health. In many cases, ICT access has not received as much financial investment or political will to effectively drive its use particularly as a tool for good governance.
The study further encourages ethical reflection, research and public dialogue on the implications of new and emerging technologies and their potential social impacts by all governments particularly those in the developing world. Also at the Paris meeting, Anriette Esterhuysen, Executive Director of the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), called for inclusion of more civil society voices in internet governance processes to maintain a fair representation of the diversity of internet users globally.
With a series of other recommendations made in the Paris meeting outcome document, the extent to which they shall shape the internet policy debate will be the ultimate measure of success for this study.
Responses to the study will be consolidated into a report to be presented at the General Conference in November 2015. Addition information can be found here

ICT4Democracy in East Africa Network Activities Update

By Juliet N. Nanfuka
The network of seven partners (profiles) unified under the ICT4Democracy in East Africa initiative have since 2011 jointly worked to enhance the capacity of citizens and governments in using ICTs to promote human rights, good governance and citizen participation.
Between January and June 2014, the partners each undertook activities that aimed to support the inclusivity of citizens in transparency,

ICT4Democracy in East Africa is composed of seven partners working to enhance the capacity of citizens and governments in the efficient use of  ICTs to promote human rights, good governance and citizen participation.
ICT4Democracy in East Africa is composed of seven partners working to enhance the capacity of citizens and governments in the efficient use of ICTs in democratic processes and participation.

accountability and service delivery monitoring through the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. These activities are increasing citizens’ participation in decision-making processes and strengthening democracy in the region.
The partners have each created unique approaches to encouraging citizen participation through mobile short message services (SMS), FM radio, social media such as Facebook and Twitter, crowd-mapping platforms and a toll free call centre. Research has also been conducted by some partners on the knowledge and perceptions associated with ICT use and the flow of information between and among citizens and government.
As part of the projects, partners have pursued direct community engagement with grassroots based organisations, local governments, media, policy makers, voluntary social accountability committees (VSACs), academia, the tech community, and civil society organisations in the use and promotion of ICTs in governance.
In brief, some of the activities pursued by the partners include the below:

  • In Western Uganda the Toro Development Network (ToroDev) has engaged with various stakeholders and also utilised radio and social media to inform and encourage participation in service delivery monitoring and accountability.
  • The Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) tapped into its existing community of Human Rights Networks (HURINETS) to advocate for open governance, and the right to information.
  • iHub Research is conducting research into the flow of information between citizens and government through ICT tools in a bid to understand whether the interaction supports service delivery, access to information, and combating corruptions – and how these interactions can be improved upon.
  • The Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) has combined research, capacity building and advocacy on the roles that citizens, media and public officials can play in the pursuit of good governance.
  • The Ugandan Chapter of Transparency International is supporting communities in northern Uganda to report and act on shortcomings in the public health services delivery. This has been accomplished through provision of a toll free line, social media campaigns and working with Voluntary Accountability Committees (VACs).
  • Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) is working with Community Based Organisations (CBOs) and Voluntary Social Accountability Committees (VSACs) to empower women in the use of ICTs that can enable them to play a part in service delivery monitoring in northern Uganda.
  • In Tanzania, the Commission for Human Rights and Good Governance (CHRAGG) is educating citizens on human rights and empowering them to use their phones to report human rights violations.

For more details, please see the full activity report of ICT4Democracy in East Africa network between January and June 2014.
CIPESA is the ICT4Decmoracy in East Africa Regional Coordinator

Uganda: When National Security Trumps Citizens’ Internet Freedoms

The Ugandan telecommunications sector was liberalised in 1998, resulting in an influx of service providers – there are currently four major mobile telecom operators and more than 30 Internet Service Providers (ISPs). The establishment of a Uganda Internet Exchange Point (UIXP) allows for local internet traffic routing, increased speeds and lower costs. The regulatory body reports a teledensity of 52 phones per 100 inhabitants and an internet penetration rate of 20%.
Ugandans have embraced social media as an alternative means of communication with their peers as well as for engaging with government. This is seen in the increase in the popularity of social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Youtube and Blogspot, which are ranked among the top 10 most visited websites in Uganda. As such the government has developed social media guidelines to aid its ministries, agencies and departments in communicating and engaging with citizens online.
However, as the telecommunications sector grows, so have the number of laws passed to regulate it. Some of these laws have drawn criticism from internet actors both locally and internationally due to their severity, infringement on human rights and contradictions with other existing legislation, including the constitution.

“No person shall be subjected to interference with the privacy of that person’s home, correspondence, communication or other property.”

Article 27 (2) of Ugandan Constitution

The use of ICTs in Uganda is threatened by the very laws that are meant to both protect citizens and ensure their rights. The Regulation of Interception of Communications Act, 2010, the Anti-Terrorism Act No.14 of 2002, the Anti-Pornography Act of 2014 and the Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2014 have undercurrents of surveillance, content filtering, and monitoring.
Although these laws are guised under provisions aimed to protect national security or fight cybercrime, in effect they may serve to silence voices critical to the state. Ultimately, these provisions are resulting in self-censorship by both ordinary online users and the media.
Provisions in the Electronic Transactions Act of 2011 limit the liability of ISPs for users’ content and do not require them to monitor stored or transmitted data including for unlawful activity. However, other laws place ISPs at a cross roads of service provision and protection of subscriber information. They are required to lawfully release users’ data to state agencies for purposes such as fighting terrorism and cybercrime. Moreover, the Anti-Pornography Act (2014) requires them to monitor, filter and block content of a pornographic nature.
In the absence of a data protection and privacy law, just like other countries in East Africa (State of Internet Freedom in East Africa), users’ data is vulnerable to mishandling and abuse by the state and ISPs. These vulnerabilities are also transferred to the offline world where freedom of expression and assembly have not been spared as seen in the limiting provisions under the Public Order Management Act, 2013.
It should be noted that the Ugandan government recently announced plans to draft a Data Protection and Privacy Bill. This is a positive step toward the protection of personal information and its use by the government and the private sector.
Read more in the 2014 Internet Freedom in Uganda Report prepared by CIPESA under the OpenNet Africa initiative. The report provides a status of the legislative environment and threats to internet freedoms in the country.

Towards an African Declaration on Internet Rights

As internet usage continues to grow in Africa, so does the interest by governments to monitor users’ online activities. This has led to a clash between internet rights promoters and governments in some African countries.
On February 12–13, 2014, participants from several African civil society organisations involved in promoting human rights and internet rights convened in Johannesburg, South Africa to draft an African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms. The meeting was organised by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) and Global Partners Digital in collaboration with the Media Rights Agenda, Media Foundation for West Africa and the Kenya Human Rights Commission.
Many countries justify their tough stance on internet freedom as necessary to fight cybercrime, promote peace and maintain national security. Whereas some of these policies and practices have been adopted by authoritarian regimes to retain power, others were in response to national crisis contexts such as hate speech and terrorism. Ultimately, the measures have often had chilling effects on access to information, freedom of expression, privacy and data protection.
Participants in this meeting called for the promotion of an open, free and accessible internet. Issues identified as the most crucial and still hindering internet growth in Africa that need immediate action were: improving access to internet including the development and promotion of localised multi-lingual content; addressing internet infrastructure obstacles; capacity building for users; and the need to create a balance between freedom of expression and privacy of users.
Others identified were data protection, addressing gender inequalities and gender-based violence against women online, and adopting supportive ICT policies that promote freedom of expression online and equitable access to information.
Due to increased internet freedom violation incidents coupled with regressive policies being made in many countries, the need for a well-defined Internet Intermediary Liability (ILL) regime has also become increasingly apparent. Another meeting held on February 10-11, 2014 organised by the APC with support from Google Africa discussed the responsibility that may be placed on intermediaries in implementing monitoring and control mechanisms laid down by the laws.
At the regional level, there are legal and regulatory frameworks like the Africa Charter on Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa, which provide limited protection for internet rights and the liability of internet intermediaries. It was noted that such frameworks could act as building blocks for individual countries to draw up best practices on ILL regimes.
There was consensus that such existing frameworks should be the basis for adopting a general guide with definitions of terms on Internet intermediary liability. This guide would act as central referencing document on which individual countries would base their national IIL regimes.
During the discussions, participants charted their thoughts on a best practice guide for an IIL regime for Africa by asking the below questions:
While responding to these questions, participants recognised that intermediaries can play a crucial role in promoting Internet freedoms in Africa.
Meanwhile, the meeting also reviewed recent policy and practice developments in Uganda, Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria since the 2011 Intermediary Liability in Africa research. It identified a need to increase awareness among different stakeholder groups of the importance of clear regulatory frameworks for intermediary liability to secure rights on the internet; and for stronger collaboration to advocate for best practice internet intermediary regulatory measures in Africa.
The outcomes of both these meetings will form the basis for the draft civil society Africa Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms, which will be launched at the ninth global Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Istanbul, Turkey September 2-5, 2014. The declaration will be available for public input throughout the period leading up to IGF 2014.