GOVTS FOLLOW CITIZENS TO DIGITAL PLATFORMS
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