GOVTS FOL­LOW CIT­I­ZENS TO DIG­I­TAL PLAT­FORMS

The East African - - NEWS -

Face­book says five African coun­tries re­quested users’ de­tails in the first half of 2013. That num­ber had risen to 18 as at the end of 2016.

trend that is more note­wor­thy.

Thus, ac­cord­ing to Face­book, five African coun­tries re­quested users’ de­tails in the first half of 2013. That num­ber had risen to 18 as at the end of 2016. Re­quests to re­move con­tent from Google have also grown from only Libya in 2010 and 2011, to four African coun­tries in 2016 alone. Twit­ter, says the CIPESA brief, re­ceived one user in­for­ma­tion re­quest from South Su­dan in 2012, but has since re­ceived re­quests from an ad­di­tonal four coun­tries.

The coun­tries which have con­sis­tently made the re­quests for user in­for­ma­tion to Google, Face­book and Twit­ter in­clude South Africa, Nige­ria, Su­dan, Kenya and Egypt.

But many oth­ers small play­ers are in the game too, with re­quests rang­ing from one to 15. Al­ge­ria, Botswana, Burk­ina Faso, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Sene­gal, Tu­nisia and Uganda have also sent in re­quests.

The big num­bers, though, are from the telco firms. Mil­li­con, which is based in Lux­em­buorg and op­er­ates in five African coun­tries – Chad, Ghana, Rwanda, Sene­gal and Tan­za­nia un­der the Tigo brand – saw an in­crease in meta­data re­quests from 5,000 in 2015 to nearly 7,000 in 2006. Most of th­ese were re­lated to “se­cu­rity”.

MTN does not pub­lish a trans­parency re­port, but Orange does. In 2014 Orange re­ceived 23,020 user in­for­ma­tion re­quests from African govern­ments. This num­ber dou­bled the fol­low­ing year to 48,819, and by 2016 it had hit 67,718 re­quests.

CIPESA sees this as in­dica­tive of lev­els of sur­veil­lance, and in­for­ma­tion and con­tent con­trol. There are, how­ever, other in­sights to be gleaned.

It seems the turn­ing point was the Arab Spring of 2011, that top­pled strong­men Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tu­nisia, shook other coun­tries in north Africa, and even­tu­ally laid waste to Libya.

The data in­di­cates that it is not nec­es­sar­ily the di­vide be­tween au­thor­i­tar­ian vs demo­cratic that helps pre­dict th­ese user in­for­ma­tion re­quests, but po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence. If you were bit­ten by the Arab Spring, whether you are demo­cratic like Tu­nisia, or au­thor­i­tar­ian like Egypt, you will snoop.

In fact a cu­ri­ous re­port­ing from the re­port is that apart from Egypt, most se­ri­ously au­thor­i­tar­ian regimes don’t bother Face­book and Google with re­quests. They are com­fort­able in the knowl­edge that their cit­i­zens are smart enough not to mess around.

It would seem that coun­tries with hotly con­tested elec­tions, like Kenya, Uganda, and Nige­ria, will also put in calls.

The one good thing from this, is that African govern­ments are ac­knowl­edg­ing that the bat­tle­fronts of the fu­ture, are go­ing to be dig­i­tal. Charles Onyango-obbo is pub­lisher of data vi­su­aliser Afr­ica­pae­dia and Rogue Chiefs. Twit­ter@cobbo3

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