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

Promoting Online Safety in Africa

The global community on February 10 marked Safer Internet Day which promotes safe and responsible use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) mainly amongst children and young people across the world.
The day provided an opportunity to see what African stakeholders are doing in promoting access to the internet and ensuring that this access comes with a culture of digital safety habits.
Companies like Google Africa in partnership with local organisations marked the day by hosting a series of events across the continent targeting youth and advocating for better internet practices. This included a hangout session that brought together audiences from Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Kenya.
In East Africa, the OpenNet Africa initiative held a twitter chat, to explore internet safety and security while questioning how various organisations are addressing these issues.

The discussion noted that a number of challenges exist in the online sphere due to the increased internet exposure for youth and adults alike. While the internet is a useful educational resource, it has become home to online child predators and even sparked trends in online bullying and the sharing of sensitive information amongst youth unaware of the repercussions that this may have.

According to the State of Internet Freedom in East Africa 2014 report, increasing internet usage in the region particularly access to social network sites such as Facebook and Twitter, has led to an increment in democratic participation and the expansion of opinion expressed in the public domain. Mobile phones were indicated as the main tool used to access the internet and youth constituted the largest proportion of social media users.
Many governments in the region, however, keep trying to play catch up with the rapidly changing digital landscape and in many instances fall short on guaranteeing the human rights afforded in their constitutions. This has been seen in the policy and legislative environment of many East African countries which impede internet freedoms, including by granting excessive surveillance power to the police without sufficient oversight, and curbing freedom of expression and freedom of the press primarily against those critical of the state.
The Twitterthon participants shared that despite the existence of pan-African frameworks such as African Union Convention On Cyber Security And Personal Data Protection and the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa of 2002, few countries have adopted laws that safeguard privacy, protect data and guarantee freedom of expression in the online sphere.
Meanwhile, efforts to promote ICT access for the youth, including through ICT literacy curriculums, remained low. Consequently, incidents and concerns about cyber bullying, online abuse, data protection, surveillance and privacy have risen alongside the exponential growth that internet access has seen in Africa.  

For instance, chat participants from Tanzania expressed concern at not having adequate laws that protect the online rights of users, also pointing out the lack of a data protection law. In Kenya, a data protection Bill drafted back in 2013 has made little progress to date. While in Uganda, the review of the Data Protection and Privacy Bill drafted towards the end of 2014 is ongoing.

Other efforts towards safeguarding online safety shared included an online safety education toolkit  for Young People in Uganda developed by the Internet Society Uganda as part of its ongoing activities in the country.
See more of the Safer Internet Day Twitter chat on Promoting internet Safety in Africa on Storify.

Online Privacy and Security: The Debate And The Dilemma

By Ashnah Kalemera
The issue of internet users’ privacy and security has been widely debated since the Edward Snowden revelations last June put a magnifying glass on the extremes that some governments, such as the U.S., are prepared to go to in the fight against terrorism and cybercrime.
To-date, debate rages on amongst human rights activists, government, media, academia and the private sector on the effects of surveillance on internet freedoms. It is also becoming apparent that some developing countries are also taking to surveillance of their citizens’ communications.
These discussions continued at this year’s Stockholm Internet Forum (SIF), themed “Internet: privacy, transparency, surveillance and control”. The annual forum hosted by the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs in partnership with the country’s Internet Infrastructure Foundation (.se) and the Swedish Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), took place in Stockholm, Sweden, May 27–28, 2014.
In her opening address, Anna-Karin Hatt, Sweden’s Minister for Information Technology, said there would be grave consequences to basic human rights if states across the world continued to undertake unrestricted surveillance.
“During the last year, we have had more than one reason to discuss the behaviour between states and the behaviour of states within their borders,” she said. “The most valuable lesson has been that all surveillance must be subjected to strict limitations.” She added that “no system of surveillance must be justified because it is technologically possible.”
Rather, where legitimate cause exists, “surveillance must be proportional to the benefits it brings to citizens in terms of reduction in crime and improved security”. Furthermore, she argued, it must be based on transparent laws that are adopted through democratic processes.
She also noted that the last year had seen many multi-stakeholder meetings and processes on the matter. These included the 2013 global Internet Governance Forum, NetMundial, the Freedom Online Coalition, and the 2014 Cyber Dialogue. However, she added, it was still important to continue these discussions with participation from a broad range of state and non-state stakeholders in order to reach a consensus.
According to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), only 19% of Africans use the internet compared to 75% (Europe), 32% (Asia) and 65% (the Americas). Africa also has the lowest mobile phone penetration rates. Low literacy levels, high cost of accessing and owning ICT, acute shortages of electricity, gender inequalities and a shortage of skilled human resources have contributed to the continent’s low ICT use. Even with this limited access, internet use is further impeded by government policies and practices that threaten internet freedom.
While African governments may not be blatantly or capably conducting surveillance on the scale of the National Security Agency (NSA) in the U.S., in recent years they have not shied away from requesting for social media users’ information and seeking content take downs. This is a reflection of the growing interest in what citizens are doing online.
According to the recently published State of Internet Freedom in East Africa report, national constitutions and a number of legislations on the continent provide for freedoms of expression, assembly, privacy and access to information. However, various recently enacted laws take away from citizens’ enjoyment of these freedoms in the online space.
James A. Lewis, director and senior fellow at the American Centre for Strategic and International Studies, asserted that post-Snowden, the debate had shifted from freedom of expression to privacy versus security. The latter were not guaranteed on the internet. “I have never seen a government that does not conduct surveillance on its own citizens. The challenge is extending sovereignty without sacrificing human rights,” he said.
But what is the perception in the developing world where it is estimated that the next billion internet users will come from? Should Africa prioritise access over security? Alison Gillwald, executive director of Research ICT Africa, noted that many people on the continent are more concerned about getting access to the internet and less so their privacy online.
Meanwhile, emerging threats from terrorist and militia groups in Africa seem to have influenced the way some governments perceive internet freedom. In Nigeria, Gbenga Sesan noted that the abduction of 300 schoolgirls by a Muslim extremist group had re-enforced state surveillances measures. “The government is using such incidents to justify ‘rule of law’: ‘if we should provide you with more security, we need to access your privacy’,” said Mr. Sesan.
Perhaps, as Eileen Donahue, Director of Global Affairs at Human Rights Watch pointed out, even with continued discussion and research on the matter, “we may not be able to figure out how to proactively reconcile the internet and human rights.”

Civil Society’s Proposals on The African Cybersecurity Convention

In December 2013, the Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANet) led online discussions on the proposed African Union Convention on Cyber Security (AUCC). The convention establishes a framework for cyber security in Africa “through organisation of electronic transactions, protection of personal data, promotion of cyber security, e-governance and combating cybercrime.”
Civil society and academia have raised concerns about some of the articles in the convention, which had earlier been expected to be signed in January 2014. Latest reports indicate that, at the earliest, the law could be signed in June this year.
The report on the discussions will be used by KICTANet and partners such as CIPESA to create awareness and lobby African governments to pass legislation and instruments that fully support the privacy of individuals and the fully enjoyment of their freedom of expression online.
The stated background to the convention is that the African Union is seeking ways to intensify the fight against cybercrime across the continent“in light of the increase in cybercrime, and the lack of mastery of security risks by African countries.”
Furthermore, the AU states that a major challenge for African countries is the lack of adequate technological security to prevent and effectively control technological and informational risks. As such, it adds, “African States are in dire need of innovative criminal policy strategies that embody States, societal and technical responses to create a credible legal climate for cyber security”.
The intentions may be legitimate but, as noted by the online discussions, some of the articles in the current version of the convention could be used to negate individuals’ privacy and their right to express themselves through online mediums.
Take, for example, Article III – 34. It states that AU member states have to “take necessary legislative or regulatory measures to set up as a penal offense the fact of creating, downloading, disseminating or circulating in whatsoever form, written matters, messages, photographs, drawings or any other presentation of ideas or theories of racist or xenophobic nature using an a computer system.”
How does this clause balance with the fundamental right to freedom of expression? Experts argue that this clause is problematic as it requires a measure of truth, which is hard to actually legislate or determine owing to the relativity of truth. They add that this sort of law would likely be unenforceable.
The discussion noted that although African countries needed legal framework on cybercrime, the current proposals need numerous amendments. The discussions also noted a need for the African Union Commission to engage with civil society to draw up progressive and enforceable laws. However, civil society had the added task of creating awareness and capacity among citizens on cyber security and the need to uphold freedoms of expression online.
These discussions were conducted on multiple lists of KICTANet and the Internet Society (ISOC) Kenya and on the I-Network and ISOC Uganda ists moderated  by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), from 25 – 29, November 2013. They were also shared through numerous pan-Africa and global lists on ICT policy and online freedom.
Download the full discussions report here.

Q&A: Uganda Government Develops Social Media Guidelines

The internet and indeed social media plays a key role in improving communication between citizens, government-to-government interactions and at government-to-citizen level. Social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and MySpace, has the potential to improve governance and democracy practices.
Accordingly, the Uganda government through the National Information Technology Authority Uganda (NITA-U) has developed guidelines to “to facilitate secure usage of social media (Facebook and Twitter etc.) for efficient exchange of information across Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) as well as improving effectiveness of communication, sharing of information and open engagement and discussions with the public.”
On November 28, 2013 Leonah Mbonimpa, the Corporate Communications Officer at NITA-U spoke to CIPESA about the thinking behind the guidelines.
Q. What is the background to developing these guidelines?
A. Government has decided to utilise new channels to communication such as social media to communicate to citizens and give timely responses to emerging issues. In this vein, NITA-U was requested to develop guidelines to help government agencies to embrace social media while maintaining the same level of decorum as with traditional media.
Q. Why did the government find it necessary to draw up these guidelines?
A. Traditionally, Government agencies have been communicating through accounting officers such as  Permanent Secretaries. The advent of new media channels and the quest for speedy provision of information has necessitated the shift from traditional approaches to more flexible ways of communicating, [such as] using social media. Given that social media is relatively new and comes with a higher degree of responsibility when communicating, it was necessary to provide guidelines for government agencies to ensure that we communicate [appropriately].
Q. What do the guidelines intend to achieve?
A. They intend to achieve uniformity in communicating and ensure appropriate consultation is made before posting government communication online.
Q. How is users’ privacy protected in these guidelines?
A. The guidelines do not infringe on user privacy. They only seek to standardise the government’s approach to communicating to citizens online.
Q. Are there other initiatives in place or under development by government to protect freedom of expression and privacy online.
A. NITA-U is in preparatory stages of drafting a Data Privacy bill which will eventually be enacted into law to comprehensively address privacy issues.
Further details about the guidelines are available here