Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Internet Freedom Forum calls for Safety

By Esther Nakkazi

The second Forum on Internet Freedom in East Africa kicked off in Uganda with a call for Internet safety in the face of Internet freedom.

The Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) hosted the Forum bringing togather human rights defenders, journalists, government officials, academia, bloggers, developers, the arts community, law enforcement agencies and communication regulators.

The two-day event 28 and 29 September 2015, in Kampala, Uganda at the Golf Course Hotel and coincided with the International Right to Know Day.

The Forum serves as a platform to discuss how the current state of internet freedoms in Africa said Wairagala Wakabi the CEO CIPESA. He said the main work of CIPESA is to use research to improve ICT policy in Africa.

Jaco du Toit, the Adviser for Communication and Information, UNESCO regional office for Eastern Africa said there is growing concern about monitoring mechanisms on the Internet.

“Authorities have tended to resort to more direct forms of internet censorship, such as the harassment or arrest of bloggers and online journalists, rather than sophisticated URL blocking or systematic filtering because they did not yet have the technical capability to do so,” said Jaco.

He said the new media has brought new possibilities of interaction between the media and public and said the Forum should consider discussions on a range of issues including data surveillance, self regulation and hate speech.

Crystal Simeoni from Hivos East Africa said Internet Freedom should not be for techies and human rights defenders only but should spark conversations among even the local people and create connections for the public to participate.

She said as Hivos they are considering exploring the issues of privacy and access to information because from the consultations they have done these have very few voices and there is huge gap.

In Africa, Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), the private sector, academia and ordinary citizens are increasingly utilizing online tools for social and economic engagement, online debate, advocacy and business development.

A panel on ‘electioneering and extremism in the digital age’ with Gbenga Sesan from Paradigm Initiative (PIN) Nigeria, James Marenga from NOLA Tanzania , Nanjira Sambuli from Umati/IHub Research Kenya and Emma Belinda Were from Uganda Media Centre discussed among other things if the Internet needs to be controlled.

They all agreed that Internet users should be responsible for whatever they post on social media. They also discussed how government should regulate online space but cautioned that government ‘control’ of the online space is out of the question.

It is true that as more people join the Internet, control of what they say online is not easy. However, governments are increasingly aware of the potential influence of online publications and bloggers.

Marenga said all governments across the world want to see information that favors them but there should be no control of the Internet. Sesan explained how Nigeria has moved from not being able to say anything to being able to say just anything online.

So many Nigerians who cannot face someone and say something have taken to the Internet to say whatever they want online but in so doing the users have matured.

Although Emma Were had at first said it would be necessary for Governments to control the Internet in the face of the misinformation that users send out, citing the many government officials that Ugandans have been killed by social media she later back tracked on it.

Citing the same issues that happen in Kenya, Nanjira Sambuli said people 'die' all the time on Kenyan social media but increasingly online users have learnt to ask questions to verify the information.

“When you are online there are some people you look for authenticity,” said Sambuli. “We should not control what people say online, but always encourage them to ask for evidence.”

“If you 'control' the Internet you create a black market of information said Gbenga Sesan.


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