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.”

ICT4Democracy in East Africa: April 2012 News

ICT for Service Delivery in Northern Uganda

Monthly Voluntary Social Accountability Committee (VSAC) meetings continued in April, with prevailing bad governance and poor service delivery issues reported in the districts of Gulu, Amuru, Apac, Kore and Oyam and uploaded on the Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) Ushahidi platform.

Among the reports and follow up action:

WOUGNET reports that the continued support of district and sub-county leaders, as well as CSOs, continues to encourage the work of VSACs.

Meanwhile, Transparency International (TI) Uganda has embarked on an awareness raising exercise for its toll free call centre which will enable citizens to log complaints about health service delivery in the region. Agreements have been reached with a number of health centres to allow for the painting of the toll free number on strategic public access points on the centre premises.

SMS for Human Rights

In Tanzania, the Commission for Human Rights and Good Governance (CHRAGG) in collaboration with Bessbrook International Ltd. of Tanzania completed the implementation of the SMS for Human Rights Management Information System. The system has been installed and is being tested in a working environment. User feedback and opinions are being collected on automated responses from the system.

However, the system has so far been unable to allow for multimedia messaging and content. CHRAGG and Bessbrook are working to rectify this. Full system deployment is pending an SMS short code provision from the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority and toll free services from leading telecos.

mGovernance in Kenya

During April, iHub Research conducted user-centred design workshops as a basis for strategising on building mobile governance applications from citizen users’ perspective.

Activity planning for fieldwork to explore the conditions for successful mobile phone enabled governance across Kenya is also underway. Through its extensive grassroots based Human Rights Networks (HURINETS), the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) will assist iHub Research in choosing appropriate field sites across the country and facilitate interaction with local communities. iHub Research is also anticipating to engage Mzalendo in its research. The blog platform for holding leaders accountable and rating their work will offer feedback on the research questions to be included in the full data collection exercise.

Meanwhile, the Social Development Network (SODNET) has also agreed to share their raw data on Huduma to enrich iHub Research’s work. iHub research will use these findings to identify their key thematic areas of focus based on feedback from the platform. Huduma is a mobile phone short code platform for Kenyan citizens to voice the difficulties they encounter in using public services.

iParticipate Uganda

The Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) published and disseminated a report entitled ‘How ICT Tools are Promoting Civic Participation in Uganda’. The report illustrates how Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) are aiding citizen participation in Uganda, but also points to the challenges that need to be overcome for these technologies to have a wider impact on governance. Read the full report here.

CIPESA also finalised the Open Governance in Uganda study. The study sought to establish Uganda’s readiness for open data, capture citizen’s perceptions on open governance in Uganda as well as form a basis for advocating for increased government openness in Uganda. During the study, awareness about open government and its benefits was raised, highlighting an urgent need for open governance in Uganda. The reports produced will go toward CIPESA’s wider campaigns in promoting open governance in Uganda and the use of ICTs for democratic governance.

In April, CIPESA represented Uganda at the Internet Society (ISOC)’s Global INET event in Geneva, Switzerland. Furthermore, CIPESA attended the Digital Migration Workshop for Southern and Eastern African Countries. Insights from the workshop are available here.

Other news

In April, the ICT4Democracy in East Africa network participated in the Stockholm Internet Forum that aimed to deepen discussions on how freedom and openness on the internet can promote social and economic development globally. Participants included media, civil society, academia, telecommunications, national and international development agencies. Organised by the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Internet Infrastructure Foundation and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), the forum took place on April 18 – 19, 2012.