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An Overview of the Battle for the Control of the Internet
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An Overview of the Battle for the Control of the Internet


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Presentation to a joint/plenary session of the 16th Highway Africa Conference and the 3rd World Conference of the Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD) in Grahamstown, South Africa, September 10, …

Presentation to a joint/plenary session of the 16th Highway Africa Conference and the 3rd World Conference of the Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD) in Grahamstown, South Africa, September 10, 2012.

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  • In the last 5 years, the number of internet users worldwide has doubled from about 1.1 billion to about 2.2 billion. Africa has been an integral part of this trend with Internet growth on the continent standing at a staggering 2000% in the last decade. In fact, since 2007, the number of Internet users in Africa has jumped from 34 million to 140 million. This dramatic growth of the Internet in Africa and the world is largely due to the medium’s openness which has transformed it into “a democratizing [and] transformative medium” and “a vital tool of political involvement and participatory, democratic activism.” The Internet has also spurred economic growth, accounting for about 21% of GDP growth in over the last five years in developed countries. In fact, available date increasingly shows that innovation and economic growth are related to the free flow of information.
  • Today the Internet makes many governments nervous. In fact, some governments, many of them in Africa, are simply hostile to Internet freedom which is seen as a threat to public order and national security. With the Internet increasingly being seen as a modern day virtual “Far West”, a fertile ground for uncontrolled anti-government and unpatriotic activities, African states are increasingly crafting laws and regulations to control and muscle the Internet under the guise of “cybercrime or internet misuse” laws “. Controlling the Internet has therefore become a cause celebre for many governments. In fact, long before the Arab Spring, many African regimes already viewed the Internet as a potentially destabilizing force – this view is only reinforced as more Africans go online. Even in Western democracies, “Internet freedom is increasingly undermined by legal harassment, opaque filtering procedures, and expanding surveillance.”
  • Freedom House has categorized restrictions on Internet freedom into 3 categories: Obstacles to Access Limits on Content, and Violations of User Rights. Practically all African countries have used at least one of these restrictions in varying degrees. Monitoring and filtering are quite common, for example in Ethiopia. Just on time blocking of services, such as the attempt to block Facebook and Twitter during the walk to work protests in Uganda The shutting down of services such as the banning of Twitter via SMS in Cameroon last year. Arrest of bloggers
  • An example of legislation that seeks to put a chill on Internet freedom is the December 2010 Cybersecurity and Cybercriminality law in Cameroon. This law effectively criminalizes online speech by holding criminally liable anyone who cannot “attest to the veracity” of information published or propagated” online. This law also holds content and services providers along with social networks liable for content hosted on their servers. “ Holding intermediaries liable for the content disseminated or created by their users severely undermines the enjoyment of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, because it leads to self-protective and over-broad private censorship, often without transparency and the due process of the law.” Frank La Rue The overall result is a chilling effect on free speech because it creates a legal framework that can easily be used to silence dissent or to retaliate against those who publish unflattering reports about the government in power. Criminalizes free speech “ Section 78 (1) Whoever uses electronic communications or an information system to design, to publish or propagate a piece of information without being able to attest its veracity or prove that the said piece of information was true shall be punished with imprisonment for from 06 (six) months to 02 (two) years or a fine of from 5,000,000 (five million) to 10,000,000 (ten million) CFA francs or both of such fine and imprisonment. (2) The penalties provided for in Subsection 1 above shall be doubled where the offence is committed with the aim of disturbing public peace.” Regarding the issue of enforcement, the law states that in cases where offenders reside abroad, they will be prosecuted via “international and mutual assistance.” According to Section 91: “ Unless otherwise provided for by an international convention to which Cameroon is signatory, requests for judicial assistance from Cameroonian judicial officers to foreign judicial officers shall be sent through the Ministry in charge of External Relations. Enforcement documents shall be sent to the authorities of the requesting State through the same channel.” Imposes Intermediary Liability on Internet Content and Service Providers “ Section 34. (1) The persons in charge, even gratuitously, of the storage of signals, written material, images, sound or messages of any nature supplied by the users of such services may be liable.
  • So we are currently faced with two contrasting and apparently irreconcilable differences: On the one hand, we have advocates of Internet Freedom who champion a completely free or open internet that promotes civic participation and democracy . And on the other hand, we have critics of an open Internet who argue that it “ encroaches on the rights and dignity of other individuals, undermines social safety and stability, and even threatens national security ... The Internet is often used to propagate terrorism, extremism, racism, xenophobia, even ideas of toppling legitimate authorities .” The Human Rights Council panel on freedom of expression and the internet, Geneva 2012/02/29 Article 19 1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference. 2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice. 3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary: (a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others; (b) For the protection of national security or of public order ( ordre public ), or of public health or morals. Joint Statement at the Panel on Freedom of Expression on the Internet 2012/02/29 The abuse of the freedom of expression in particular on the Internet, can encroach on the rights and dignity of other individuals, undermine social safety and stability, even threaten national security. The Internet is often used to propagate terrorism, extremism, racism, xenophobia, even ideas of toppling legitimate authorities. Moreover, the Internet is used by some groups to distort facts, exaggerate situations and provoke violence, in an attempt to escalate tension wherever it appears and gain political benefits. The Internet is also used by criminals to incite outlaw activities and to target sensitive facilities. The Internet is also used to disseminate pornographic and violent information, which corrupts people's minds, affronts their cultural values and induces them to be involved in criminal activities. In this regard, children are most vulnerable and frequently become victims.
  • The critical questions raised by the debate over Internet Freedom are the following? To paraphrase a Google video from the Internet@Liberty 2012 Summit in Washington, DC: How do we achieve the right balance between political freedom and national security, between free markets and global regulations to protect consumers, between respect for cultural traditions and the universal right to speak one's mind and be heard? In short what role of the state in Internet Freedom?
  • I share the views of Frank La Rue, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression who argues that if there should be any restrictions these should be predictable and transparent, they must be based on legitimate reasons, and they must be necessary and proportional. Unfortunately, the plethora of Internet legislation in Africa with vague references to public order and national security are generally too vague to meet this basic standard and are therefore tools for censorship and repression rather than instruments to promote a safe, secure, and free Internet characterized by government transparency, civic participation, innovation, and economic growth.
  • Here is an attempt in the United States to articulate basic principles to guide Internet policy and promote the rights of Internet users around the world. This declaration has so far been signed by thousands of organizations (including reporters without borders) and individuals.
  • Transcript

    • 1. Panel Discussion on Internet Freedom Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa Monday, September 10, 2012 Time to Rein in the Internet?An Overview of the Battle for the Control of Cyberspace. A Presentation by Dibussi Tande
    • 2. Phenomenal Growth of the Internet… Spurred by “Openness”• World Internet population doubled in last 5 years to over 2 billion users.• Over 140 million users in Africa with growth rate of about 2000% in last decade.• The Internet a vital tool of political involvement and participatory, democratic activism.• Innovation & economic growth related to free flow of information. 2
    • 3. A Global Digital Public Sphere That Makes African Governments Nervous…• “We must find a way to regulate [the Internet]… there has to be control of content.’’ – Dr. Eugene Juwa, the Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC)• “The Internet has been used to destroy the image of Zimbabwe.” – Bright Matonga, (ex) Zimbabwe Deputy Information Minister• “There is now a need to monitor what people are doing on the Internet to ensure that they do not involve themselves in unlawful acts.” – Leckford Thotho, (ex) Malawi Minister of Information• “The Government of Cameroon was the victim of cyber-terrorism. There was disinformation and intoxication from the Web.” – Issa Tchiroma, Cameroon Minister of Communications 3
    • 4. Typical State Restrictions on Internet Freedom 1. Obstacles to Access—including infrastructural and economic barriers to access, legal and ownership control over internet service providers (ISPs), and independence of regulatory bodies; 2. Limits on Content—including legal regulations on content, technical filtering and blocking of websites, self-censorship; 3. Violations of User Rights—including surveillance, privacy, and repercussions for online activity, such as imprisonment, extralegal harassment, or cyber attacks.Picture 4
    • 5. Snapshot of Repression: Cameroon Cybercrimes Law • Criminalizes Online Speech – 6 months to 2 years in jail and/or 5 to 10 million Francs CFA fine for defaulters. – Sentence doubled if offense is committed with the aim of threatening “public order”. • Imposes Intermediary Liability LAW N° 2010/012 OF 21 December, 2010 Relating to Cybersecurity and on Content & Service Providers Cybercriminality in Cameroon – ISPs, web hosting firms, social networks, etc., are criminally liable for content on their servers.Picture Source: RFI 5
    • 6. The Battle Lines are Drawn…Proponents of Internet Freedom•Call for an open Internet which: – Is “inclusive, participatory, and self-regulating.” – Has a “transparent, multilateral and democratic” governance. – “Leads to growth and fosters more open, prosperous societies.”•Adherents of Regulation – “The abuse of the freedom of expression… on the Internet, can … undermine social safety and stability, even threaten national security. – Internet freedom should not be “a pretext for activities in violation or even destruction of human rights and fundamental freedoms.” Joint Statement at the HRC Panel on Freedom of Expression on the Internet 6
    • 7. Internet Freedom: What Role for the State? • A hands-off approach? – Should the Internet operate, unrestricted and unfettered, free from all state control & interference? • An Interventionist Approach? – The state arbiter? – The state as actor? – The state as regulator? – The state as moral authority? – The state as controller of dissent? – The state as repressive guarantor of “public order”? • Can there be a middle ground?Picture Source: RFI 7
    • 8. The Way Forward – A Minimal Role for the State• Any limitation to the right to freedom of expression must pass the following three-part, cumulative test: a. It must be provided by law, which is clear and accessible to everyone (principles of predictability and transparency); b. It must pursue one of the purposes set out in article 19, paragraph 3, of the Covenant, namely (i) to protect the rights or reputations of others, or (ii) to protect national security or of public order, or of public health or morals (principle of legitimacy); c. It must be proven as necessary and the least restrictive means required to achieve the purported aim (principles of necessity and proportionality). 8
    • 9. The Way Forward – Declaration on Internet Freedoms• We stand for a free and open Internet.• We support transparent and participatory processes for making Internet policy and the establishment of five basic principles: – Expression: Dont censor the Internet. – Access: Promote universal access to fast and affordable networks. – Openness: Keep the Internet an open network where everyone is free to connect, communicate, write, read, watch, speak, listen, learn, create and innovate. – Innovation: Protect the freedom to innovate and create without permission. Don’t block new technologies, and don’t punish innovators for their users actions. – Privacy: Protect privacy and defend everyone’s ability to control how their data and devices are used 9
    • 10. Thank you for yourattention…Skype ID: DibussiEmail: http://www.dibussi.comTwitter: 10