How the MTN Group Can Improve its Digital Human Rights Policy and Reporting

CIPESA Writer |

These proposals are made to the MTN Group in respect of its Digital Human Rights Policy. The proposals commend the positive elements of the Policy including the proclamation to respect the rights of users including in privacy, communication, access and sharing information in a free and responsible manner. The submission points to areas where the telecoms group can further improve its role in the protection of human rights.

The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) enjoin corporate entities to act with due diligence to avoid infringements on human rights. They also provide ways through which adverse impacts on human rights can be addressed. It is therefore commendable that MTN developed a Digital Human Rights Policy and is open to commentary and suggestions for  strengthening its implementation. It is imperative that MTN takes proactive and consistent measures to comply with international human rights instruments such as the UNGPs, the leading global framework focused on business responsibility and accountability for human rights, which were unanimously endorsed by States at the United Nations in 2011.

Some of the Principles that MTN needs to pay close attention to include the following:

 Principle 11: Business enterprises should respect human rights. This means that they should avoid infringing on the human rights of others and should address adverse human rights impacts with which they are involved.

Principle 13: The responsibility to respect human rights requires that business enterprises (a) Avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through their own activities, and address such impacts when they occur; (b) Seek to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to their operations, products or services by their business relationships, even if they have not contributed to those impacts.

Principle 15. In order to meet their responsibility to respect human rights, business enterprises should have in place policies and processes appropriate to their size and circumstances, including:

(a) A policy commitment to meet their responsibility to respect human rights;

(b) A human rights due diligence process to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for how they address their impacts on human rights;

(c) Processes to enable the remediation of any adverse human rights impacts they cause or to which they contribute.

Principle 23:  In all contexts, business enterprises should:

  1. Comply with all applicable laws and respect internationally recognised human rights, wherever they operate;
  2. Seek ways to honour the principles of internationally recognised human rights when faced with conflicting requirements;
  3. Treat the risk of causing or contributing to gross human rights abuses as a legal compliance issue wherever they operate.

Respect for digital rights is also stipulated in the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa of 2019 which MTN needs to be cognisant of as part of efforts to ensure that it upholds respect for human rights.

CIPESA Proposals to the MTN Group
The MTN Group is a market leader in various service areas in several countries where it has operations. It is also a key employer and tax payer, and by facilitating the operations of other sectors,  MTN is a key contributor to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and to the health of the respective countries’ economies. It is crucial that the company develops and effects a robust Digital Human Rights Policy. Notably, MTN has trailed other operators, such as Orange, Millicom and Vodafone in rolling out a digital rights policy, and in transparency reporting.

While MTN last year issued its inaugural transparency report as part of its annual reporting, there are areas of concern for which we make the following recommendations:

  1. Provide more granular and disaggregated data about the number and nature of requests MTN receives from government agencies. At present, it is not clear how many of those requests relate to the release of users’ identifying data, how many were on metadata, and how many were on rendering support to communication monitoring and interception. Besides providing such a breakdown, MTN should also explain how many requests, if any, were not adhered to and why. Further, the report should indicate which particular government departments made the requests and whether all their requests were backed by a court order.
  2. Provide more nuanced information in reporting on the Digital Human Rights Policy to enable the contextualisation of country-specific explanations of government requests. In the last report, for instance, it is difficult to comprehend the information on government requests from Uganda. Given that Uganda is one of the countries where MTN has the largest number of subscribers, and given that country’s human rights record, the numbers are inexplicably few (12 in total) compared to Congo Brazzaville (1,600), eSwatini (3,661), Ghana (1,642), Guinea Conakry (6,480), Ivory Coast (4,215), Nigeria (4,751), Rwanda (602), South Africa (15,903), South Sudan (1,748), Sudan (5,105), and Zambia (8,294).
  3. In its transparency reporting on implementation of its Digital Human Rights Policy, MTN should reflect on the role of local laws and regulations in enabling or hampering the realisation of digital human rights. What elements are supportive and which ones are retrogressive? Which grey areas need clarification or call for repeal of laws?
  4. Include in the MTN transparency report a detailed and analytical section on network disruptions, as these are highly controversial and have wide-ranging economic, public service and human rights impacts yet they are becoming endemic in many of the countries where MTN operates. Further, MTN should include information on whether it received (or demanded – as we propose it should) written justifications from regulators (or government officials and bodies who issue shutdown orders) for the shutdown orders, including citation of the specific laws and provisions under which they are issued and the situation that warranted invoking the disruption. Additionally, the MTN Group should commit to scrutinise each demand, order or request and challenge them if they are not clear, specific, written, valid or do comply with national laws. It should also keep a written record of such demands, orders or requests.
  5. The MTN Policy and reporting should have a section and actions dedicated to inclusion of marginalised groups, a key area being enabling access and accessibility for persons with disabilities. Research conducted by CIPESA showed that, in countries where it operated, MTN had not taken any deliberate efforts to make its services more accessible to persons with disabilities. Beyond the additional section, MTN should appoint / designate Inclusion and Human Rights Ambassadors, and build the capacity of internal teams to facilitate engagement and compliance with digital accessibility obligations.
  6. MTN should take a proactive stance in making its Digital Human Rights Policy, including country-specific transparency information, well publicised among users, civil society and government officials in the respective countries. This will aid the growth of knowledge about MTN policies, inspire other companies to respect human rights, and draw feedback on how MTN can further improve its human rights policies and practices.
  7. MTN should develop relationships with, and have proactive and sustained engagements with civil society, consumer groups and governments on the implementation of its Digital Human Rights Policy. Such engagements should not only be post-mortem after-the-fact reviews of reports after their publication but should be continuous and feed into the annual reporting. This engagement should also include external experts and stakeholders in the conduct of regular human rights due diligence as envisaged by Principle 15 of the UNGPs. Such engagements could also relate to raising concern on the national laws, policies and measures which pose a risk to digital rights.
  8. As part of due diligence, MTN should periodically assess and examine the impact of its enforcement of its terms and service, policies and practices to ensure they do not pose risks to individual human rights, and the extent to which they comply with the UNGPs and are consistent with its Digital Human Rights Policy. Such assessments are essential to determining the right course of action when faced with government requests and other potential human rights harms.
  9. MTN should add to its Policy and make public its position on network disruptions and outline a clear policy and the procedures detailing how it handles information requests, interception assistance requests, and disruption orders from governments.
  10. Support initiatives that work to grow access, affordability, and secure use of digital technologies, and speak out about any licensing obligations and government practices that undermine digital rights.
  11. Join key platforms that collaboratively advance a free and open internet and respect for human rights in the telecommunications sector, such as the Global Network Initiative (GNI), endorse the GSMA Principles for Driving Digital Inclusion for Persons with Disabilities, and align with local actors on corporate accountability (such as the Uganda Consortium on Corporate Accountability).
  12. MTN should at a minimum, provide simple and clear terms of service, promptly notify users of decisions made affecting them, and provide accessible redress mechanisms and effective remedies.
  13. MTN should institutionalise its commitment to digital rights by putting in place a governance structure at the country level with oversight at a senior level, train its employees on the policy, and create awareness among its customers to ensure the realisation of the policy.

CIPESA stands ready to continue to engage with MTN on ways to improve and effect its Digital Human Rights Policy. We can be contacted at [email protected].

The Growing Trend of African Governments’ Requests for User Information and Content Removal From Internet and Telecom Companies

Policy Brief |
The relationship between communications service providers, users and governments with regards to data protection, requests of user information and content take downs is increasingly taking centre stage in discussions around free, open and secure use of digital technologies.
In February 2017, Millicom issued its second Law Enforcement Disclosure Report. Millicom’s report is one of many by private companies aimed at promoting transparency and accountability, through periodically publishing reports detailing information on government requests for user data, content removals, and compliance with those requests.
Google is credited with being the first internet company to publish a transparency report back in 2009, followed by Twitter in 2012. Facebook and Yahoo have published reports since 2013. Vodafone and Orange were among the first telecommunications companies to publish transparency reports, both in 2014.
These reports have become vital to understanding censorship, surveillance and more importantly the commitment of service providers to protecting the privacy of their users and promoting freedom of expression online. Based on the reports alone, it remains unclear what the true extent of governments’ surveillance of citizens’ communications and censorship of content across the world is. Nonetheless, the reports indicate a growing trend among countries, including African governments, of requests for subscribers’ data and content removal.
On the social media front, from five African countries being listed by Facebook among those that requested users’ details in the first half of 2013, the number on the continent has grown to 18 as at the end of 2016. Meanwhile, requests to remove content from Google have also grown from only Libya in 2010 and 2011, to four African countries in 2016 alone. Twitter, which only received one user information request from South Sudan in 2012, has since gone on to receive requests from an additional four countries on the continent. The countries which have consistently made requests for user information to Google, Facebook and Twitter include South Africa, Nigeria, Sudan, Kenya and Egypt.
In telecommunications, figures are scanty as only four companies operating in Africa issue transparency reports – one of which, MTN, does not disclose any statistics while Vodafone’s extent of disclosure is limited due to legal provisions in some of its countries of operation that prohibit publishing of such information. Even then, user data requests from five African governments to Millicom have increased from 5,000 in 2015 to nearly 7,000 in 2016. Requests to Orange from the 20 African countries where it had operations as at the end of 2016 have tripled in the past three years – from 22,930 in 2014 to 67,718 in 2016.
In this brief, we provide a summary of the user data and content removal requests which governments in Africa have made to select internet and telecommunications companies in recent years.

CIPESA Challenges Telcos on Innovations That Improve Livelihoods

In this article about a content licencing agreement between South Africa’s MTN Group and entertainment television channel Trace, Computerworld quotes CIPESA as challenging African telcos and innovators to place a little more focus on innovations that directly impact on peoples’ livelihoods:
By Edris Kisambira 
29.06.2011  | Computerworld Uganda
As African telecom players innovate to beat their competitors, South Africa’s MTN Group has pulled a first by announcing a brand and content licensing agreement with Trace, an entertainment television channel.
As African telecom players innovate to beat their competitors, South Africa’s MTN Group has pulled a first by announcing a brand and content licensing agreement with Trace, an entertainment television channel.
Trace is largely a music video channel that promotes urban contemporary music videos and is available on various cable and satellite pay television platforms.
As Africa’s Internet speeds go up and prices come down, courtesy of fiber-optic cables, one of the major challenges facing Africa is a lack of locally relevant and available content to attract more people online.
The deal with Trace will let MTN offer what it has called innovative entertainment services to the fast-growing youth segment within the African mobile market.
On Monday MTN launched the offer in Cameroon, and it is due to be rolled out in multiple locations. Launches are planned in Ivory Coast, South Africa and Nigeria in the next few months.
“MTN youth subscribers will benefit from the unique entertainment experience around the Trace brand, including exciting local and international content on entertainment and sports, live events and television,” according to a statement issued by the MTN Group.”Any initiative that works to raise the local content that African people access and consume is most welcome, regardless of whether this content is delivered via traditional TV, mobile phone or the Internet,” said Wairagala Wakabi, a researcher at Collaboration on International ICT Policy in Eastern and Southern Africa (CIPESA).
He said many African countries have aspirations for their media, specifically radio and TV, and deliver a bigger proportion of their programming as local content, but due to logistical and capacity problems, these hopes are not translated into reality.
“States, including through their universal access funds, obviously have a big role to play here, but it will be a happy day when MTN, Trace and others leverage on the successes they score within the entertainment sector to also get into innovations that directly impact on the livelihoods of our people in ways entertainment would never,” Wakabi said.
Source:  Computerworld, June 29, 2011