Category

ICT Policy

Stakeholders Hold Roundtable on Digital Rights and Engagement in Lagos  

By | #PINternetFreedom, DigitalJobs, ICT Policy

Effective digital engagement by government agencies remains a big priority for the Federal Government because of its immense potential, this was the position of Tolu Ogunlesi, the Head of Presidency Office of Digital Engagement (PODE). Ogunlesi was speaking at a stakeholder roundtable on digital rights and digital engagement organised by Paradigm Initiative, Facebook and PODE.

The roundtable, which held on February 22, in Lagos, brought together stakeholders from government agencies, the private sector and the civil society.  It provided an engaging atmosphere for a lively debate on issues affecting internet freedom and digital engagement by government agencies in Nigeria. Issues discussed at the roundtable include data privacy and protection, law enforcement, libel, fake news, and digital engagement by the government. The roundtable followed the first edition held in Abuja last year.

Speaking at the roundtable, the Executive Director of Paradigm Initiative, ‘Gbenga Sesan emphasised the need for continuous conversation between stakeholders in the private sector, civil society and the government on digital rights issues in Nigeria. He said, “Digital right issues are far too important to our democracy and it is crucial that we engage in conversation with security agencies and public servants on how we can ensure freedom of people online while keeping the nation and citizens safe.”

In her remarks, Public Policy Manager, Africa of Facebook,  Akua Gyeke said, “Facebook is an important platform for political conversation in Nigeria, and we are happy to be a part of this. Facebook is dedicated to keeping people safe online, foster civility and responsible behaviour and promoting free expression and sharing.”

Tolu Ogunlesi, who led the conversation on a proposed Digital Engagement Policy for Federal Government, said that his office was working hard on creating digital engagement standards that would guide all government offices in their use of digital tools to ensure effective communication with the public.

“There is currently no social media policy for the Federal Govt. This is understandable as social media use is relatively new in government circle. But this situation has led to inconsistency in the way government offices use digital media. We are currently working on creating a digital engagement policy for the federal government. It will provide guidelines on platforms to use, accounts administration, logo and naming standard, editorial policies, archival system, content process and management, among other things”

Participants at the roundtable include Anselm Ozioko of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission representing the Acting Chairman of the Commission and the Acting Director of Defence Information Brigadier General John Agim, who provided perspectives from the national security and law enforcement side. Other participants are Chioma Okee-Aguguo representing the CEO of  National Information Technology Development Agency, Olufemi Fadare of the National Identity Management Commission, Olusola Teniola, President, Association Of Telecommunication Companies Of Nigeria (ATCON), Edet Ojo, Executive Director at Media Rights Agenda.

Déclaration de Paradigm Initiative sur les fermetures d’Internet en RD Congo

By | ICT Policy

Communiqué de presse : Pour diffusion immédiate

Le gouvernement congolais a annoncé dans un communiqué signé le 22 février 2018 que les services d’Internet seront coupés pour une durée de trois jours sur l’ensemble du territoire national donc le contenu est le suivant. « Le ministère des postes, des Télécommunications et de l’information et de la communication informe tous Congolais que pour des raisons techniques, indépendamment de notre volonté, l’interruption de l’internet sera à surveiller à partir du samedi 24 février à 22 heures et la récupération aura lieu jusqu’à fin du travail qui prendra 3 jours ; nos excuses. »

Cette interruption d’Internet intervient suite à l’appel du Comité Laïc de Coordination (CLC) de la RDC à une vivre journée de mobilisation le dimanche 25 février 2018, ceci après d’autres perturbations enregistrées ces trois derniers mois.

Le 30 décembre 2017 une lettre du ministre des Postes, des Télécommunications et de l’Information a demandé au Directeur Général d’AFRICELL Congo, la suspension totale des fournitures Internet dans le pays, ainsi que les communications par SMS. Cet arrêt de trois jours s’est produit après le début des manifestations de l’opposition.

Le 21 janvier 2018, alors que les dirigeants des églises catholiques ont appelé à des manifestations pacifiques contre les 17 ans du président Joseph Kabila, une nouvelle fermeture a eu lieu avec une durée d’environ 48 heures.

Le blocage des médias sociaux tels que WhatsApp, Facebook, YouTube et Skype est une pratique régulière pour entraver la communication entre les populations. La RD Congo compte plus de 83 millions d’habitants avec un taux de pénétration de l’Internet d’environ 15%. Les pertes liées aux coupures d’Internet sont évaluées à environ 2 millions de dollars par jour.

Paradigm Initiative comme par le passé condamne ces fermetures d’Internet volontaires ou involontaires en RD Congo. Les coupures d’Internet de toutes les formes que ce soit sont une violation flagrante des droits numériques et des libertés d’expression garantis par les textes de loi du pays.

Paradigm Initiative exhorte enfin le Gouvernement de la RD Congo à respecter ses obligations internationales en matière de droits de l’homme et de contribuer durablement aux actions de protection des droits numériques à l’approche des élections législatives et présidentielles prévues en 2018.

Paradigm Initiative est également profondément préoccupé par le rapport de la répression meurtrière sur la manifestation hier. Nous appelons le gouvernement à respecter le droit de son peuple à une manifestation pacifique et à cesser cet abus flagrant de son pouvoir

 

Cambridge Analytica: Bringing the Lessons Home

By | ICT Policy, Internet Freedom

By Adeboye Adegoke

It is no longer news that Cambridge Analytica’s transgression is not just about the Donald Trump’s 2016 elections campaign or the role of Russia in the United States’ election. Evidence has now shown that it had its footprints in the very toxic 2015 elections in Nigeria and the very highly contested Kenya elections in 2016. The implication of this must not be lost on us. This is not just about elections, this is not just about the failure of an intermediary to justify the trust of its customers in it but this is also about the significance of data in the 21st century. While there are barely any data protection frameworks across many countries in Africa, the thirst for data harvesting by the government is almost unquenchable. The risk that we face in Africa is not only about what or how private companies handle our data and who they connive with but also how government use data as a tool of control and manipulations of citizens. In Nigeria like many African countries, security agencies have unfettered access to citizens’ data irrespective of whom it was shared with (government or private companies), in a very opaque manner with no system of accountability or judicial oversight in place and the absence of the opportunity to seek redress is like adding insult to injury.

Attitude Must Change

The subject of data protection is never really taken seriously in Africa. The laissez-faire attitudes of not just data custodians but of data owners are very alarming. On a continent with unbridled data harvesting processes completed and ongoing, not many appreciate nor care about what’s been done with those data. A government agency in an African country once sold laptops used for some data harvesting exercise to private individuals without completely erasing the private data mined with the computer. Kenya and Nigeria, the two African countries that we are sure to have the footprint of Cambridge analytical has no data protection Laws. The process to have one has been ongoing for years in both countries. In Nigeria, draft data protection legislation has sat in the country’s National Assembly for 8 years and this is despite the fact that the bill was sponsored by the speaker of Nigeria’s House of Representatives and the number 4 citizen of the country. One would have thought with the profile, the bill should be making accelerated progress. The closest Nigeria is to a Data protection framework, is the Digital Rights and freedom Bill which has been passed by both houses of Nigeria’s National Assembly and awaiting Presidential assent.

 

Frameworks must be put in Place

In Africa, only about 14 countries have a data protection law according to a report on Data Protection published by Delloite. The report further shows that in the whole of Anglophone West Africa, only Ghana has Data protection frameworks. While Nigeria’s process is ongoing, Liberia has no frameworks at all. Sierra Leone and The Gambia has some level of constitutional coverage which isn’t sufficient given new realities. Central Africa is worse. From the Central Africa Republic to Congo DR and Congo Brazzaville, South Sudan and Cameroon, No frameworks exists! The EU General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) is widely regarded as the most comprehensive — data protection framework in the world. And Nigeria’s and Kenya’s Data Protection Bill were modelled on the GDPR. The two countries definitely need whatever it takes to complete the ongoing process. This may be a low hanging fruit within an African context while those countries that have not started the process now needs to do so immediately.

Intermediaries need to do better

In the meantime, and while we examine what lessons are there for us in the cambridge analytica whistle blower revelations, we must emphasize the paramount importance of company’s responsibility to protect the data held in trust for their customers. Citizens’ data are openly advertised for political or business patronage in many countries in Africa and not many are worried by this trend. What we are seeing now is how the fundamental choice in elections is shaped by forces outside our territory. How we think we are in charge of our actions but are being just a puppet to data manipulators who shapes our beliefs and choices in ways unknown to many. Many elections have held in Africa in the last 12 months from Rwanda, Kenya, Angola, Liberia and lately Sierra Leone. How much of this have their outcome been manipulated by technology or connivance with a technology company? Lately, blockchain technology was said to have been deployed in the recently held Sierra Leone elections. Although Sierra Leone authorities have denied this but we do know there is no smoke without fire. The question isn’t about whether it is appropriate to embrace the use of technology to make better choices but that of attitude and disposition to same and ensuring this is done right and is not manipulated to the unfair advantage of some. Technology must not be used to manipulate voters’ preference. The role of companies as intermediaries comes with huge responsibilities. African companies must develop and implement internal data protection guidelines and must not be subjected to the Government’s whims and caprices. In most African countries, security agencies have unfettered access to data being held by telcos and have connived with political leadership to infringe on privacy rights of many citizens.

Fire Brigade Approach will not solve the problem

In the wake of the recent revelations, Facebook has suspended the account of Cambridge Analytica and the other companies connected to the scandal, but this is only typical of a fire brigade approach to the issue. It is same way most countries around here react rather than proactively position to avoid breaches by failing to put frameworks in place.

It remained to be seen whether African Government will now take the subject of data privacy more seriously. Now that we know that the eMail account of Nigeria’s President was hacked and his health record retrieved in the wake of the election that brought him to power, he shouldn’t really be needing anyone to convince him on the importance of signing into Law the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill passed by the Nigerian parliament and he should bemounting needed pressure on Nigeria’s parliament to complete the legislative process for the Data protection Bill so he can assert that as well.

 

Adeboye Adegoke leads Paradigm Initiative Digital Rights Advocacy work in Anglophone West Africa. He can be found on Twitter at @adeboyeBGO . 

NTA Social Media Gag Order: Dictatorship in Democracy?  

By | #PINternetFreedom, ICT Policy, Internet Freedom

By Adeboye Adegoke and Adeboro Odunlami

On the 15th of January 2018, the management of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) which is the official government-owned television station, sent an internal circular to its staff expressly restraining them from relating with online publications which concern sensitive and topical national issues. According to the circular which emanated from the Office of the Executive Director (Administration & Training) the act was described as ‘embarrassing’ and ‘reckless and unethical’.

It is baffling that the NTA would issue this kind of instruction to its staff when Section 6(1) of the NTA Act specifically states that  ‘It shall be the duty of the Authority to provide as a public service in the interest of Nigeria, independent and impartial television broadcasting for general reception within Nigeria.’ (emphasis ours)

The NTA was set up to report and make available to the country, news as it is. It is understood that there is hate speech – that sometimes, information can be couched in a way as to incite violence against groups of people or the government. That, obviously, is forbidden and quite unethical.

It should, however, be pointed out that this is not what is being referred to by the NTA in its circular. The circular makes it abundantly clear that what it forbids is ‘sensitive and topical national issues’. It is highly ridiculous and ironic for a federal news agency to forbid the broadcast of national issues simply because they are ‘sensitive’ or ‘topical’. Where else are the citizens supposed to get non-partisan and unadulterated news on national events but from the National TV?

Perhaps the management of NTA has forgotten that it belongs, not to any political party or to please the government, but to cater to the people. And it is to these same people, the NTA has a responsibility. The truth is, if there are topical, sensitive and even controversial issues going on in Nigeria, they must be reported by NTA. It is not the job of NTA to ensure the ignorance of the Nigerian citizens by deciding what their hearts can take and protecting them from the reality of affairs in Nigeria simply because they are topical and sensitive. The best the NTA can do in reporting sensitive matters is to put in excellent effort in its delivery to contain the reaction of its consumers.

Section 6(2) of the NTA Act provides “The Authority shall ensure that the services which it provides, when considered as a whole, reflect the unity of  Nigeria as a Federation and at the same time give adequate expression to the culture, characteristics and affairs of each State, Zone or other part of the Federation.”

It may be the claim of the management of NTA that the circular was intended to ensure the ‘unity of Nigeria as a Federation’, but a further reading of the same provision would, however, reveal the spirit of this law. It says that ‘at the same time, give ‘adequate expression to… affairs of each State… or other part of the Federation.’

Additionally, the Management of NTA needs to be directed to Section 39 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which says, ‘Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference’ (the same is provided in Article 19 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, which has been adopted in Nigeria)

The circular by NTA is very offensive to different degrees of the freedom of expression and the right to information. This is condemnable to us, and to every Civil right-respecting individual. The management of NTA is called upon to review its instructions bearing in mind its statutory responsibilities to the Nigerian people.

We are not asking the  NTA to do anything outside what it was set up to do. Section 8(1)(c) of its enabling Act states that it is the duty of the Authority to ensure ‘that any news given in the programmes (in whatever form) is presented with accuracy, impartiality and objectivity’. NTA is not to cower or shy from the news but is to give news with accuracy, impartiality and objectivity.

 

Adeboye and Adeboro are digital rights advocates with Paradigm Initiative, the pan-African digital rights group. 

Une élection sans coupure d’Internet en Afrique Francophone est-elle possible en 2018 ?

By | #PINternetFreedom, Advocacy, ICT Policy

Par Rigobert Kenmogne

Onze pays d’Afrique francophone préparent diverses élections entre février et décembre 2018.

Le Cameroun, le Gabon, le Congo, le Mali, la Guinée, le Djibouti, le Madagascar, l’Egypte et la Tunisie font partir des pays francophones d’Afrique noire et blanche qui préparent au moins élection en 2018. Comme depuis quelques années déjà, des cas de violations des droits numériques et des libertés sur Internet se font régulièrement constater. A la veille des activités électorales dans de nombreux pays sur le continent, les gouvernements influencent grandement les services de l’Internet en leur faveur soit pour étouffer les manifestions de l’opposition ou alors utilisent Internet pour surveiller les autres candidats ainsi que les citoyens ; ceci se passe souvent avec la complicité des Fournisseurs d’Accès Internet ! Au Cameroun, au Congo, au Gabon, en Tunisie et en Egypte, des cas de violations des droits numériques se font déjà ressentir dans ces périodes pré-électorales. Chaque influence en vers les libertés d’Internet divergent d’un pays à l’autre, mais avec les mêmes objectifs de privation des droits ou de surveillance à des fins politiques et stratégiques.

Le Cameroun prépare environ six élections en 2018. Avant le début des premières élections, le profil des droits numériques n’est pas reluisant. Des actes de restrictions des libertés numériques ont été constatés ; les plus visibles sont des perturbations de l’Internet dans les deux régions anglophones du pays et la lettre circulaire du ministre de la justice en fin d’année 2017 donnant l’ordre aux magistrats d’« engager après leur identification précise par les services de sécurité, des poursuites judiciaires contre toutes personnes qu’elles résident au Cameroun ou à l’étranger, et qui recourent aux réseaux sociaux pour propager les fausses nouvelles.»

Au Congo, le ministre des postes, de télécommunication et de l’information a demandé au Directeur Général de AFRICELL Congo le 30 décembre 2017 par un courrier la suspension totale des fournitures Internet dans le pays ainsi que les SMS. Cette fermeture de l’Internet de trois jours a intervenu après le début des manifestions de l’opposition. Le Congo prépare au mois de décembre 2018 des élections législatives et présidentielles.

Le 27 décembre 2017 au Gabon, le ministre d’Etat en charge de l’Economie numérique a réuni tous les acteurs œuvrant dans ce secteur. Des avis sur la surveillance des réseaux sociaux ont été émis. Selon le secrétaire exécutif de l’Autorité de régulation des communications électroniques et des postes (ARCEP), Serge Essongué, « il y a des messages de haine qui sont diffusés sur les réseaux sociaux, notamment sur You Tube. C’est également le cas dans d’autres réseaux sociaux, Facebook. La grande question c’est comment réguler ces messages. Comment faire en sorte que ce principe général qui dit que la liberté de chacun s’arrête là où commence celle des autres soit également appliqué dans les médias sociaux. » Le Gabon prépare des élections législatives après plusieurs renvois pour le mois d’avril 2018.

En Tunisie, les premières élections régionales doivent se tenir pour le mois de février 2018. Avant cette élection, le gouvernement tunisien a tenté de faire adopter un projet de loi sur la carte d’identité biométrique à puce  devant menacer la vie privée tout en mettant en danger la sécurité numérique et le harcèlement. Ce projet de loi a été retardé grâce à une coalition des ONG de défense des droits numériques.

L’Egypte prévoit des élections présidentielles en mars 2018. Mais quelques mois avant ces échéances, le réseau Internet du pays a été de très faible qualité en début janvier 2O18. Les égyptiens n’ont pas tardé d’afficher leurs colères sur les réseaux sociaux et accusent aussi le gouvernement égyptien de vouloir se lancer dans la surveillance des communications.

Les perturbations identifiées ici montrent la volonté manifeste de plusieurs gouvernements de couper l’Internet pendant les activités électorales dans leur intérêt particulier afin de rester aussi longtemps que possible au pouvoir. Les perturbations, les coupures volontaires de l’Internet, les fermetures des réseaux sociaux, les arrestations ou la pression sur les utilisateurs de l’Internet constituent une violation flagrante des droits numériques. Ces activités sont une entorse au droit de l’homme, et un blocage de la prospérité des activités économique et la diffusion de l’information, les acteurs utilisant Internet de nos jours comme principal canal. Face à ces violations, les organisations des droits de l’homme dans divers pays francophones d’Afrique restent encore impuissantes dans des solutions à apporter à cette problématique des droits numériques. Une formation et une structuration des acteurs sur les questions variées des droits numériques ainsi qu’une coalition des organisations en Afrique francophone restent aujourd’hui l’un des défis majeurs pour Paradigm Initiative.

 

Rigobert Kenmogne est Google Policy Fellow pour l’Afrique francophone chez Paradigm Initiative, une organisation panafricaine de défense des droits et de l’inclusion numérique.

 

 

 

What to look out for in Nigeria’s Digital Rights and Policy Landscape in 2018

By | #PINternetFreedom, Advocacy, ICT Policy

By Adeboye Adegoke

The year 2018 was heralded by the unfortunate news of the arrest of the UK-based, Nigerian blogger Daniel Elombah by men of the Nigeria Police at the early hours of January 1, 2018, at his residence in Anambra. While Internet users and enthusiasts especially those who are actively engaged on different platforms on the Internet were looking forward to new applications, innovations and other forms of exciting developments as the year approached, the first Internet-related news in Nigeria had to be the arrest of Elombah in a Gestapo-style operation which is suitable, only for armed and hardened criminals. This is not in any way a departure from what was witnessed throughout last year but more than anything, it is a signal that we must brace up for policies that seek to control how people use Internet platforms in 2018 and these will be for different reasons; ranging from the sheer desire by politicians to control the narratives, launder their image as the election approaches as well as legitimate concerns around security usually demonstrated by policies aimed at curbing fake news and hate speeches. It is definitely an interesting year ahead and more than before, the Nigerian citizens would be called upon as the guardian of the space as the government have an increasing vested interest in Internet Policy discourse. Forecasting 2018 suggest to me that many Nigerians will be forced to get involved in the policy process as we did when the infamous “Anti-Social Media Bill” was introduced in the Nigerian Senate in 2015 and the reason is not far-fetched;  I will delve into it  immediately;

The 2019 General Elections: 2018 is the pre-election year. Engagement on social media platforms is about to increase geometrically. In an African focused study titled ‘How Africa Tweets’ conducted in 2015, Nigeria was the second largest country in Africa with geolocated tweets (360) million. Also, According to Data by Internet Stats, Nigeria has 16,000,000 active Facebook users as at June 2017. These stats are to underscore how much we have embraced the use of Social media platforms in Nigeria especially for political debates, discourse, commerce and Social Interactions. While the platform providers will be smiling to the bank, the conversations will get heated, politicians will try to shape the narratives, political parties will attempt at selling their agenda. There will be hate, fake news and policies will be contemplated to curb fake news, hate and insightful comments and this, the government will leverage to its political advantage by targeting dissent and opposing voices. One important focus area for Digital Rights organization in 2018 is to work with other civil society organizations and concerned citizens to fight the monster of fake news as the election approaches. It is also important to pay attention to what the various platforms are doing to address the problems because the policies adopted by these platforms have implications for Digital Rights as well. Facebook, for example, is deleting accounts at the request of the U.S. & Israeli governments on the bogus grounds of “incitement”. In 2018, the government will collaborate more with ISP’s, Telecoms Companies to censor, limit content etc. It will use security agencies to clamp down on bloggers and people who express dissenting views but these will be justified by the need to fight fake news, hate speech and insightful comments. There is no better indicator to this assertion than the Hate Speech (Prohibition) Bill, 2017 (HB. 1211) sponsored by a member of the ruling All Progressive Party (APC): One of the lows of lawmaking in Nigeria is that the public doesn’t have access to the content of Bills being considered except you have access to insiders, but the name of this Bill gave it away as a likely dangerous Bill which will be used to gag free speech as the 2019 elections approaches.  Apart from elections, other factors that will shape the Digital Rights and Policy discourse in 2018 are considered below;

NCC Internet Code of Practice: The Nigeria Communications Commissions (NCC) has not done badly with respect to making its draft regulation available for the public and it regularly calls for stakeholder’s input. Where it has erred however is how it sometimes jettison inputs without feedback to those who made the inputs as to why those inputs were not captioned. One wonders if the calls for Stakeholder’s inputs were genuine or it’s just about “fulfilling all righteousness”. The NCC must consider this as an important feedback. The Draft Internet Code of practice, however, appears to be a great initiative and one that promotes the open and free internet. The stated objectives of the code are to: a) Protect the right of Internet users to an Open Internet; b) Provide clear guidelines to Internet Access Service Providers on the use of traffic management practices; c) Outline the obligations of Internet Access Service Providers in relation to the protection of consumers’ personal data; d) Outline the obligations of Internet Access Service Providers in the handling of offensive and potentially harmful content, and the protection of minors online; e) Ensure adequate safeguards are put in place by Internet Access Service Providers against unsolicited internet communications; f) Establish best practices for Internet Governance in Nigeria, in line with emerging issues and global trends. The application of the first part of objective “D” is definitely one to look out for as it is prone to manipulations by the powers that be. Whether this will happen or not is a function of how independent the NCC is. Unfortunately the NCC is rarely independent of the government of the day, neither is there proofs that it queries memo from the office of the National Security Adviser but let’s wait and see how these code will fare when and if it becomes operational.

FCC decision to Repeal Net Neutrality: Federal Communication Commission FCC is the United States of America equivalent of the NCC. In a 3-2 close call, it voted to repeal net neutrality in the United States in December 2017. Someone might wonder how that’s relevant to Nigeria. It is relevant because a lot of countries including Nigeria look up to the United States for policy direction. It must be noted that the NCC has been under pressure before now by telecoms and ISP’s to allow them to apply extra charges for OTT services, this, the NCC resisted over the years. With the development in the US, business interest will have a “legitimate” example in their quest to subdue Net Neutrality principles and milk internet users by discriminating against Internet traffic/applications according to how much internet users are able to pay for desired services. The Youtube, Instagram, Snapchat and online streaming services’ lovers would be largely affected if this happens.

The Positives for Internet Users

Two Important draft legislation is on the verge of becoming Law in Nigeria, The Digital Rights and Freedom Bill (HB 430) which among other reasons situate human rights in the midst of technological innovations to help balance out the need for innovation on one hand, the need for rule of law on the other as emerging National security concerns are addressed. Also, Data Protection Bill (HB 02) address the need for Data protection law in Nigeria.  It is hoped that these two legislations which have been passed by the House of Representatives become law by getting the required Senate concurrence and Presidential Assent in 2018. These two draft legislation have the potential to militate against any form of abuse and violations, feared, as we prepare for elections.

Adeboye @adeboyeBGO is a Digital Rights Advocate with Paradigm Initiative.

Technology and the Future of Work: My IGF 2017 Experience

By | #PINternetFreedom, Advocacy, ICT Policy

By Babatunde Okunoye

I attended my first Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Geneva from the 18th December to the 21st December 2017. The theme of this year’s IGF was ‘Shaping your Digital Future’, and being the multi-stakeholder forum that it is, it was attended by representatives from governments, the private sector, civil society and academia.

The IGF was designed as a meeting place for governments, the private sector, civil society, academia and all other stakeholders to deliberate on the issues shaping the Internet, as equals, and over the years, it has increased in stature as a premier Internet Governance forum.

As a representative of Paradigm Initiative at this year’s IGF, I set out to attend as many digital rights and digital inclusion sessions as possible. However, in this blogpost, I share my perceptions from two sessions I attended on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the future of work. The sessions in question are:  Making artificial intelligence (AI) work for equity and social justice (WS129) and AI: Intelligent Machines, Smart Policies (WS93).

One thing which was immediately clear from the sessions was the clear underrepresentation of Africa at these sessions. When it was time for questions also, most of the questions came from the perspectives of the developed world. This was a shock because I know that African voices are heard quite clearly in forums which focus on Internet freedom and digital rights in Africa. The lack of sufficient African representation in sessions which had a bearing on the future welfare of Africans was not what you would expect from a continent seeking to bridge the digital divide.

The most important pull-out from the 2 sessions on AI I attended was on the impact AI will have on future employment and well-being. It was argued that while AI will not have a great impact on employment levels, its impact will be felt more in the levels of inequality between the developed and developing world. The explanation for this being that the current tasks assigned to AI in the workplace are tasks for which there is a scarcity of human talent, and as such the introduction of AI will not necessarily lead to unemployment. Moreover, AI would lead to the creation of new co-working roles with AI, and AI administration and governance roles. However, the automation of tasks in the developed world will create economic efficiencies which will further worsen the economic disparity between rich and poor nations.

Personally, the argument that AI will initially lead to minimal job losses was scant consolation. An OECD study has estimated that only 11% of adults in the OECD have competencies exceeding AI’s current competencies[1]. That means that at the moment, in theory at least, AI can outperform about 90% of adults in logical tasks within one of the most developed economic blocs of the world with advanced educational systems. I will be interested in knowing what the percentage for Africa is.

Which is where the challenge is: In a world which is increasingly becoming globalized, the successful integration of AI systems into critical sectors of the economy will definitely be copied elsewhere, including Africa as employers seek to cut costs and improve efficiencies. What will this mean for employment and citizens’ welfare in Africa? While the rest of the world have begun having these conversations[2], Africa seems to have adopted a ‘wait and see approach’, will not bode well for the continent.

My take on IGF 2017? While the event website already shows that Africans are already underrepresented relative to the rest of the world, it would seem the few Africans who do attend are encumbered with the weighty matters of the present – internet penetration, digital literacy, digital rights to mention a few, and are distracted from discussions which are shaping the world of the future – which do not appear as urgent for Africa. Future African representation at subsequent IGFs needs to strike that delicate balance between the present and the future, so as not to lose the future to the more foresighted.

[1] Elliot SW. “AI and the Future of Skill Demand”, October 27 2017. http://www.oecd.org/going-digital/ai-intelligent-machines-smart-policies/conference-agenda/ai-intelligent-machines-smart-policies-elliott.pdf

[2] “Prioritizing Human Well-being in the Age of Artificial Intelligence”. The IEEE Global Initiative for Ethical Considerations in Artificial Intelligence and Autonomous Systems.

President Buhari’s Secret War on Free Speech

By | #PINternetFreedom, Advocacy, ICT Policy

By Sodiq Alabi

One of Nigeria’s most popular news websites became inaccessible, within Nigeria, late October, and has remained unavailable since. Here, I refer to naij.com, a website that has repeatedly ranked among the top ten most visited websites in Nigeria for years. I hate to be the harbinger of bad news but I must inform you that many internet service providers in Nigeria have knocked Naij and twenty other websites off the Nigerian online space for weeks now.

According to available evidence, the blockade of domain names of Naij and others was at the behest of the Office of the National Security Adviser, acting through the telecommunications regulator, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). President Muhammadu Buhari, born-again democrat and lover of free speech, whose government just scored its biggest coup against the media and the country through this action led by his National Security Adviser, is quiet. Preventing access to naij.com in Nigeria is on the same level as stopping Punch from distributing its newspapers in the country. If this had happened to Punch or any other print newspaper, the whole country would be drowning in media-induced frenzy on the issue.  How exactly has a democratic government managed to clamp down on one of the biggest online media outlets without setting off the media’s advocacy machine?  

This is what we know so far. On November 3, 2017, ITRealms, an online news site, reported that the Federal Government through the Nigerian Communications Commission ordered a company (name withheld) to block the domain names of some websites that are deemed inimical to the Nigeria’s national security. According to the memo dated October 20, 2017, and signed by Nigerian Communications Commission’s Director of New Media and Information Security, Haru Al-Hassan, and Head of Legal and Regulatory Services, Yetunde Akinoloye, the Office of the National Security Adviser prepared the list of twenty-one erring news sites. The list is a who-is-who of “pro-Biafran” websites. However, the NSA apparently considers Naij as pro-Biafra, hence the addition of the online media juggernaut to the list.

On November 5, 2017, Nigerian Tribune released a report on the development, essentially corroborating the report of ITRealms. Tribune went a step further and quoted copiously from the NCC memo. In the Tribune report, we learnt that the NCC issued the directive to telecommunication companies relying on Section 146 of the Nigerian Communications Commission Act of 2003 to have the websites blocked.

Immediately Paradigm Initiative learnt of this development on November 6, we went to work and ran copious tests on the domain names of the listed websites. We reached out to a source at Naij and asked why their website was redirecting us to a new domain name, naija.ng. The source, who is not authorised to speak publicly on the subject, said, “The website was shut down by the Federal Government. We are currently running on our backup platform, naija.ng”. For now, many users can still access Naij content via the backup domain name, naija.ng, but what happens when access to naija.ng itself is restricted by NCC? 

It is important to note here that the implementation of the blockade directive has not been uniform. Testing Naij.com on November 6 in Lagos via MTN and Swift, we were redirected to naija.ng. However, since November 15, naija.ng has itself been inaccessible when using Swift in Lagos. As for the other websites on the list, seventeen of the websites are still available in Abuja via Spectranet, as at November 16, while only three of them are accessible in Lagos via any of MTN, Smile and Swift networks. Others using different service providers in Lagos, Kano and Port Harcourt also have similar observations. Outside Nigeria, all but two of the twenty-one websites are accessible. This means that while Internet users are having issues accessing these websites inside Nigeria, others outside the country are able to access them. We encourage readers to also test the websites and communicate their findings to us via hello@paradigmhq.org

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We have issued two press statements on this issue and on November 10 submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Nigerian Communications Commission. In the request, we asked the Commission the following questions: “Is the Nigerian Communications Commission, or any of its agents, in the process of taking steps to block or restrict the domain names of certain websites? If yes, what websites would be affected? What criteria were employed in selecting these websites? Under what legal provision is this being carried out?” As at the press time, the Commission has not responded to our request.According to the FoI Act, NCC had only seven days to respond to our request and the seven days lapsed yesterday. 

On his part, however, the Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu, categorically denied any attempt by the Federal Government to block the domain names of news sites in Nigeria. This is what he told Tribune: “I am sure NCC will never ever write such a memo. I am sure it never happened. President Muhammadu Buhari or any of the people working for him will never do or encourage anything that will amount to gagging of the press.” Is it that the Commission is engaging in this censorship activity without carrying along its supervising ministry? This would not be the first time a ministry would not be aware of what an agency under it is doing. It is also possible that the minister was not being truthful to Tribune.

What really matters to us at this point is the precedent that the Buhari administration is setting by arbitrarily preventing Nigerians from accessing news sites of their choice. As we have said before, blocking the domain names of, or restricting access to, websites is a brazen violation of the right to freedom of expression as guaranteed, not only by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria but also by international instruments to which Nigeria is a signatory. The Federal Government has a duty to protect free speech and not curtail it.

Unfortunately, the Buhari administration, through various agencies, has not been shy about its ambition to “regulate” free speech. It has repeatedly pontificated about the danger of hate speech and why online speech especially must be regulated. President Buhari himself is no stranger to censorship and media clampdown. When he was Nigeria’s military dictator in the ‘80s, he promulgated the infamous Decree 4 that saw to the jailing of journalists and closure of media houses. Has Buhari changed since 1984 or does he still see critical speech as dangerous speech that must be fought to a standstill? The next few days or weeks would tell us.

ca. 1983-1985, Nigeria --- General Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria --- Image by © William Campbell/Sygma/Corbis

What does this development mean for digital rights in Nigeria? If the government can just wake up one day and restrict access to a website, what does that mean for the digital economy? What does that mean for democracy and Nigerians’ ability to criticise the government and voice their dissatisfaction to an administration they do not agree with? Does this mean that the website of an opposition party can be blocked ahead of the 2019 elections as long President Buhari’s National Security Adviser believes that such could prevent the commission of an offence? Nigerians should ask the government why they cannot access Nigerian websites that are available beyond the country. Today, it is Naij.com. Tomorrow, it could be your favourite news website or blog. Or it could be your personal social media account. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, a wise man once said.

Sodiq Alabi is the communications lead at Paradigm Initiative, a pan-African digital right and inclusion advocacy organisation.

Paradigm Initiative Files FoI Request on Alleged Blocking of Online News Sites by NCC

By | #PINternetFreedom, ICT Policy

Lagos, Nigeria

Paradigm Initiative has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Nigerian Communications Commission asking the Commission to release information on alleged blocking of online news sites. The request was filed by the digital rights advocacy organisation today at the Abuja headquarters of the Commission, giving the Commission seven (7) days as stipulated by the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2011, to release information on the alleged attempts to block domain names of online newspapers.

It would be recalled that the Nigerian Tribune exclusively reported on Sunday, October 5, 2017 “that the government, through the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC), has engaged the services of a firm in Lagos to block the domain names of “several identified websites threatening national security.”

The newspaper further alleged that Commission wrote a memo to the firm, directing it “to immediately take steps to restrict access within the Nigerian cyberspace in respect of 21 (twenty one) additional websites by blocking the domain names. (The list of websites is attached).”NCC on Take down order-1

According to Adeboye Adegoke, Paradigm Initiative’s Program Manager, “the phrase “additional websites” in the memo indicates that there are other websites already marked for illegal censorship through an equally illegal blockage of their domain names. If this is true, then this would be a clear indication of this government’s anti-free speech agenda”

“It has been six days since Tribune published its story and NCC has not come out to deny the story. This is why we have filed this FoI request. NCC cannot wish this report away; the commission has to come out and address Nigerians on the issue”

In the FoI request, Paradigm Initiative asks NCC to provide it with answers to the following questions: Is the Nigeria Communications Commission or any of its agents in the process of taking steps to block or restrict the domain names of certain websites? If yes, what websites would be affected? What criteria were employed in selecting these websites? Under what legal provision is this being carried out?

According to Tope Ogundipe, Paradigm Initiative’s Director of Programs, “it goes without saying that blocking the domain names of newspapers is a brazen violation of the right to Freedom of Expression as guaranteed not only by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria but also by international instruments to which Nigeria is a signatory.”

Paradigm Initiative Statement on the Alleged Nigerian Government’s Attempts to Clampdown on Online Newspapers

By | #PINternetFreedom, ICT Policy, Press Release

Paradigm Initiative has expressed serious concern over alleged Federal Government’s secret attempts to block the domain names of several identified websites accused of threatening national security in Nigeria. These attempts are an unacceptable violation of constitutionally and globally guaranteed rights of expression and information.

According to a report published in the Nigerian Tribune, the Federal Government is alleged to be currently carrying out this operation through the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), ostensibly hiding behind Section 146 of the NCC Act 2003. The section, which provides generally on the duties of a network licensee to assist the Commission in preserving national security and preventing the commission of a crime, must not be used by the Federal Government to intimidate online news providers and infringe on their rights.

According to Paradigm Initiative’s Program Manager Magoyi (ICT Policy), Adeboye Adegoke, “Section 39 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria expressly provides that every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including the freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides similarly that 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”

While commenting on the development, Paradigm Initiative’s Director of Programs, Tope Ogundipe says that “whatever process is underway by the influence of the NCC and the NSA would result in a violation of the Constitution and should, therefore, be halted. The Federal Government should desist from covert acts as such and should instead release a list of such sites purportedly threatening national security and follow the due course of the law in handling this matter transparently.”

Mrs Ogundipe further states that in an already declining society which pays minimal regard to the freedom of expression and press freedom, a dangerous precedent would be set if the NCC goes ahead with this plan to restrict access to certain websites in the Nigerian Cyberspace.

While speaking further on the development, Program Manager, Magoyi (ICT Policy), Adeboye Adegoke said that, “The right to receive information and the right to give information is expressly codified in legal instruments recognized in Nigeria and so it would be sheer defiance by the NCC to attempt to make a derogation in such a manner”

Paradigm Initiative has noted the denial of this censorship plan by the Minister of Communications, Alhaji Adebayo Shittu, stating that he was not aware of any plan by the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) to gag online newspapers. The Honourable Minister should go a step further to investigate this claim and make a commitment to press freedom and unhindered internet freedom. On its part, Paradigm Initiative will continue to monitor the development and will deploy every legitimate advocacy tools to get to the root of it in ensuring that fundamentally guaranteed rights of citizens are safeguarded.

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If you would like more information about this topic or further project description on Paradigm Initiative’s Magoyi (Advocacy) work, please send an email to Adeboye Adegoke via hello@paradigmhq.org

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