IGF 2018 WS #58 How Much Regulation is Legitimate in the Online Space?

Format: 

Panel - 90 Min

Organizer 1: Felicia Anthonio, African Freedom of Expression Exchange
Organizer 2: Alaba Morisola, Media Rights Agenda
Organizer 3: Kuda Hove, Media Institute of Southern Africa

Speaker 1: Ojo Edetaen, Civil Society, African Group
Speaker 2: Catherine Anite, Civil Society, African Group
Speaker 3: Kuda Hove, Civil Society, African Group

Relevance: 

The issue of whether or not the Internet should be regulated has been an ongoing debate in recent times. Increasingly, several African governments including Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia have introduced or hinted the introduction of laws and frameworks aimed at controlling citizens' online activities. This has resulted in serious concerns being raised about the adoption of these laws as some tend to restrict or violate citizens' digital rights.

As this is the first proposal being submitted by the African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX), the session seeks to bring together diverse groups of participants to deliberate on the topic and discuss how stakeholders can effectively collaborate to ensure that internet freedoms and rights are protected at all times while ensuring respect and protection of the rights of others in the cyber space. AFEX held a similar session (launch of Internet Freedom in Africa Report) in December 2017 during the African Internet Governance Forum in Sharm El Sheikh. The link to the presentation will be uploaded as a background paper.

Policy Questions:

- How can we effectively regulate the internet while ensuring that the rights of citizens are equally protected?
- Is Multistakeholderism an effective approach towards addressing the emerging trends and challenges identified in the cyber space?
- How can governments and CSOs work together to ensure that internet laws and policies are progressive, favourable to freedom of expression and protective of personal privacy and security?
- How can CSOs in Africa strategise and collaborate to vigorously advocate and promote Internet freedom in Africa - access, openness, diversity, equality, development, freedom, security, privacy.
- Are there lessons we can learn and share from the continent?

Session Content: 

Internet Freedom: How Much Regulation is Legitimate in the Online Space?

The proliferation of Internet enabling devices and the penetration of Internet access in several countries across the globe has provoked the debate as to whether and to what extent the Internet should be regulated. Increasingly, journalists, human rights defenders, business tycoons, market women, farmers and a wide range of professionals are harnessing the power of the Internet to promote their work. Online platforms such as Websites, Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram have made it possible for everyone, even marginalised groups, to add their voices to discourse on national issues. These online platforms have become indispensable in promoting people’s opinions, ideas or products.

Nonetheless, just like any medium, Internet use comes with emerging threats like cybercrime and fraud, spread of fake news and abuse of the rights of others such as hate speech, cyber bullying and revenge pornography. This has resulted in increased calls for the Internet to be regulated. Some however argue that it will be difficult to establish the right balance between genuine regulation and repression.

The concern that regulation may be used as a pretext to suppress Internet freedom is already being underlined by the actions of some governments in Africa and across the world. Governments have introduced new laws and/or are applying existing repressive laws to harass, threaten or even imprison dissenting voices all in the name of nipping the threats the Internet presents in the bud. Citing the spread of fake news, pornographic content, cybercrime, Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya for example, have recently been in the news for adopting laws that seek to regulate and check online activities of citizens. Sections of these laws have been widely criticised as repressive and targeting.

Indeed, state and non-state actors have a responsibility to ensure a safe and secure cyber environment for their citizenry at all times. But this becomes problematic when measures intended to mitigate the above mentioned threats end up limiting Internet freedoms of citizens.

The purpose of this session is therefore to discuss how stakeholders can work together to tackle the threats in the cyber space while ensuring that the Internet is free, open and accessible for all. How can we effectively regulate the internet while ensuring that the rights of citizens are equally protected? Is Multistakeholderism an effective approach towards addressing the emerging trends and challenges identified in the cyber space? How can governments and CSOs work together to ensure that internet laws and policies are progressive, favourable to freedom of expression and protective of personal privacy and security? How can CSOs in Africa strategise and collaborate to vigorously advocate and promote Internet freedom in Africa - access, openness, diversity, equality, development, freedom, security, privacy. Are there lessons we can learn and share from the continent?

Format:

There will be a panel discussion after which the floor will be opened for contribution from participants. Special invitees from the security and law making sectors will be invited to share their views on the topic in question and how to collaborate with other stakeholders. Virtual participants will also have the opportunity to ask questions and contribute to the discussion. A communiqué with concrete recommendations will be issued at the end of the session and widely publicized. The session is opened all in the internet ecosystem.

Interventions: 

The first 30 minutes will be dedicated to the proposed speakers drawn from the Freedom of Expression and human rights environments to share their expertise on Internet freedom and regulation with current trends and developments on the Continent. There will be a series of questions developed to guide the discussion which will be posed by the onsite moderator. Participants including the special invitees in the room will be allowed to contribute and share their experiences. A communique highlighting the key concerns raised and recommendations made during the session will be issued and widely publicised.

Diversity: 

This session is organised by the African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX), a continental network of free expression and human rights groups in Africa.The speakers are selected from three countries Nigeria, Uganda and Zimbabwe representing three regions across Africa. However, the session is opened to all participants present.

Online Participation: 

Given the important role of the Internet and social media platforms, AFEX will leverage on that to engage its numerous stakeholders who are not able to physically join the session. The session will be streamed live on Facebook and Twitter and virtual participants will have the opportunity to contribute to the session.

Discussion Facilitation: 

To allow for active participation and interactivity, there will three presenters who will provide brief presentations on the subject matter and set the tone for discussions. The group will then breakout to discuss into detail the issues highlighted by the presenters and come up with a plan on the subject matter. The session is opened all in the internet ecosystem.

Onsite Moderator: 

Kuda Hove

Online Moderator: 

Morisola Alaba

Rapporteur: 

Felicia Anthonio

Contact Information

United Nations
Secretariat of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF)

Villa Le Bocage
Palais des Nations,
CH-1211 Geneva 10
Switzerland

igf [at] un [dot] org
+41 (0) 229 173 678