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Digital rights under threat in Africa

Digital rights under threat in Africa

The first edition of Paradigm Initiative Nigeria's (PIN) Digital Rights in Africa report, which focuses on digital rights violations, has been released.

The report, titled 'Choking The Pipe: How Governments Hurt Internet Freedom On A Continent That Needs More Access', features information about the status of digital rights in 30 African countries including a common trend of Internet shutdowns ordered by their governments.

Released on the sidelines of the Internet Governance Forum in Mexico, the report shows that telcos and ISPs still act, in many cases, at the behest of governments across Africa.

PIN's Executive Director, Gbenga Sesan, said, "Breaches to Internet freedom thrive and flourish when there is no co-ordinated citizen and active society pushback. Full-blown Internet shutdowns for instance don't just happen – they usually have been preceded by erstwhile "routine" acts such like mandatory SIM card registrations, without the corresponding legislation to protect citizens' data. We must mobilise against digital rights abuses to ensure Internet freedom and to benefit from the economic opportunities that Internet crackdowns prevent. All hands must be on deck to ensure that the Internet is maintained free for it to deliver its dividends for the future of the continent."

The report notes there are at least 11 documented cases of Internet shutdowns recorded across the continent in 2016. This is in addition to the increasing number of legislations and policies that violate digital rights and arrests of numerous bloggers, journalists and citizens who exercised their right to freedom of opinion and expression online.

It also reveals a fact that governments know that majority of their citizens have access through mobile networks and few have fixed broadband access.

The real story around Internet shutdowns and violations by governments across Africa turned out to be the source of enduring power for African citizens to mobilise in order to defend their rights, another section of the report says, and evidence from such shutdowns suggests that governments got away with encroaching on rights only to the extent citizens allowed them to do so.

This leads to the other aspects pinpointed by Sesan as suggested remedies to the situation which state:

"Training lawyers and law enforcement officials on digital security should also be a priority for civil society actors because some digital rights violations stem from the lack of understanding of the technology, and the understanding of the sometimes-new legislation enacted for information and communications technologies. There is also the need for civil society actors to form coalitions to amplify their impact, not neglecting the role of socially responsible Internet businesses as stakeholders in the fight for digital rights."

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