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Few requests for Facebook, Google user information from African governments in 2013
April 18, 2014  ♦ News ♦ One Comment

Relatively few African governments – 8 to be exact – requested user information or content removal from Facebook or Google last year.

Despite all the talk of online censorship in African nations (which should never be discounted), governments seem unlikely to officially reach out to popular platforms and request information about a user or information be removed. In the past, for example, we’ve found it striking that African nations that are known to prohibit defamatory online content didn’t request the removal of content from Google. Perhaps the authorities are not aware of online defamation, maybe they don’t know how to ask the owner for removal, or possibly they ask users to remove information before escalating to the companies that own the content. Also likely is that few criminal cases in Africa involve online media due the low rate of internet access. Possibly, authorities know that due to stringent legal standards, companies like Google or Facebook don’t easily reveal information about their users. Worse yet, there are plenty of cases of bloggers and online journalists being arrested rather than having the chance to defend or delete the offensive content in question.

Global requests to have content removed from prominent platforms like Blogger, YouTube, and Facebook have steadily increased over the years. Yet requests to remove African content have been sporadic.

transparency

{Facebook}

Just last week Facebook released its first ever Global Government Requests Report. The publication, covering 2013 in two halves, lists details about the 71 countries that requested information about Facebook users. In general, 62% of requests were fulfilled. As Facebook points out, they are critical of government requests and only give out information when there is a legal and factual basis for the request. Often, only a name is shared and nothing more, suggesting that governments may try and overstep their bounds.

Last year, 45 requests to Facebook came from 6 African governments. Facebook complied with one of these requests for information, from Ivory Coast. In all, African requests constituted 0.1% of global requests (most were from USA).

The Facebook request breakdown:

  • Botswana: 3 requests for a total of 7 users/accounts
  • Egypt: 14 requests for 17 accounts
  • Ivory Coast: 5 requests for 5 accounts
  • South Africa: 17 requests for 13 accounts
  • Sudan: 4 requests for 4 accounts
  • Uganda: 2 request for 2 account
google-transparency-report

{Google}

Google released a similar transparency report (its 9th) just prior to the Facebook numbers. Since 2009, Google has found the number of requests for information in criminal cases to have increased by 120%. The number of users has certainly grown by leaps and bounds in these five years, but governments are starting to make more requests as well.

Interestingly, the Google request for user information trends for 2013 were similar to what Facebook experienced. Requests came from 65 nations and were fulfilled 64% of the time. From Africa, there were 8 requests from 5 nations. Google only complied with Egypt’s request to remove controversial YouTube videos. Not surprisingly given Africa’s affinity toward Facebook, there were more requests by African authorities to obtain information about Facebook accounts than Google accounts. Still, most requests were denied.

The Google request breakdown:

  • Egypt: 2 requests and 2 court orders from regulatory agencies to remove 105 YouTube videos that contained clips of the movie, “Innocence of Muslims” prevailed.
  • Ivory Coast: 2 requests about 2 users
  • Mauritius: 1 court order to remove copyrighted information was not fulfilled.
  • Nigeria: 2 requests about 2 users
  • South Africa: 1 request from the Counter Intelligence Agency to remove a blog post that allegedly infringed copyright by criticizing a media release that the agency had issued was declined. There was 1 additional requests about 1 user

For comparison, in 2012, authorities from South Africa, Mauritius, Madagascar, Kenya, Sierra Leone, and Morocco requested Google to remove information.

On the surface, an absence of African nations on these types of global reports suggests Africans either are not online, do not encounter online crimes at trial, or that they enjoy online freedom with limited government intervention. In reality, however, legal framework to protect the rights of millions of African internet users is lacking. As Google and Facebook recognize, governments often overstep their bounds when requesting user information.

P.S. RSF‘s annual “Enemies of the Internet” report does a great job this year in accurately describing myriad online censorship efforts practiced by African nations and provides context to how governments are coping with a growing number of outspoken internet users.

OA News: April 1-13, 2014
April 13, 2014  ♦ News ♦ One Comment

African ICT headlines, perspectives, and briefs from the past couple of weeks span 37 countries (among the most we’ve ever seen at once). Moving forward, expect this list followed by brief analysis of the top 10 curated stories from the week.

Algeria

Angola

Botswana

Burkina Faso

Cameroon

Cape Verde

Chad

Congo

Cote D’Ivoire

DR Congo

East Africa

Egypt

Ethiopia

Gabon

Gambia

Ghana

Kenya

Libya

Madagascar

Malawi

Mali

Mauritius

Morocco

Mozambique

Namibia

Nigeria

Rwanda

Senegal

Sierra Leone

Somalia

South Africa

Swaziland

Tanzania

Togo

Tunisia

Uganda

Zambia

Zimbabwe

General Africa

Most Ugandan bloggers and activists feel safe to express themselves online but improvements are still needed
April 4, 2014  ♦ Education ♦ One Comment

Uganda’s internet penetration is now approaching 20%. Though accessibility is still limited by high costs and poor infrastructure, there are signs that the Uganda government is monitoring certain online discussions. There are reports of unlawful content removal, a journalist is on trial for an online article published in 2010, Uganda Communications Commission ordered ISPs to block social media access in 2011. A substantial threat to online freedom involved the passage of the Uganda Communications Act 2012.

In advance of November 2013 online training for Ugandan activists and bloggers, the online portal Speak Out Uganda thought it would be wise to determine what the bloggers actually perceive as threats to online (and offline) freedom of expression.

internet-freedom-uganda

{Speak Out Uganda}

A total of 35 people took part in the survey.

  • Nearly all (92%) use the Internet to engage in public debates (usually on Facebook and Twitter)
  • 77% felt free to express themselves (some reported threats, however)

If someone did not feel free online it was because of:

  1. Conflict of interest with the organization someone is working with (ie. journalist personally posting something that conflicts that the employer wants)
  2. Threats from state agents
  3. Censorship and stalking

Most respondents saw a difference between online and offline communications:

  • Online messages can reach a global audience
  • Opinion went both ways on whether online or offline public opinion is harsher
  • One person said that certain sensitive subjects are better discussed offline

The activists and bloggers felt the least safe during times of major political events. A sense of perceived surveillance often hung over them and friends would warn posters of consequences. In all, nearly 70% experienced intrusion on their online privacy at some point, usually in the form of hacking.

Safety measures taken to stay safe online include password protection, firewalls, a practice of ignoring strangers, and ensuring sign-off from public computers. Some used security measures provided by ISPs and others provide online limited information online in order to remain safe.

Lastly, many respondents expressed confidence in using online resources but many wished for more training on how to use images and blogs effectively.

After analyzing the survey results, Speak Out Uganda finds the potential of the Internet in promoting freedom of expressions in Uganda is yet to be fully utilized. Steps need to be taken so that content providers and those who access content feel safe in doing so.

Possible actions to strengthen Uganda’s online freedoms could be to:

  • increase public awareness of internet usage
  • train users in online etiquette
  • train security agents on online freedom
  • advocate for Uganda government to respect online freedoms
  • change cyber laws to respect online freedoms

Source: “Internet Freedom and Online Safety in Uganda: A survey by Speak Out Uganda with support from Web We Want,” Rosebell Kagumire, February 2014.

 Older Posts:

Most Ugandan bloggers and activists feel safe to express themselves online but improvements are still needed
April 4, 2014 ♦ Education
  One Comment

In advance of November 2013 online training for Ugandan activists and bloggers, the online portal Speak Out Uganda thought it would be wise to determine what the bloggers actually perceive as threats to online (and offline) freedom of expression.

Internet access is gradually becoming more affordable in Mozambique
April 3, 2014 ♦ ICT Policy
  No Comment

At the AITEC Southern Africa ICT Summit 2014, Mozambique became the third African country and the first in Southern Africa to join the Alliance for Affordable Internet.

Brazzaville bloggers mobilize to produce online content
April 1, 2014 ♦ Web
  No Comment

On March 31st, Bantuhub held a special evening event to mobilize local bloggers. The event aimed to teach participants how to better create and manage blogs.

OA News: March 12-29, 2014
March 29, 2014 ♦ News
  No Comment

African ICT news headlines for the past 2.5 weeks include a diverse grouping of 182 stories from 35 countries.

Interview with Temitope Benson, founder of Nigerian event website Ojuagbo.com
March 25, 2014 ♦ Web
  One Comment

Temitope Benson, founder of Nigerian event website Ojuagbo.com, shares his entrepreneur story. In a matter of months, the site has already seen solid growth and can serve as an inspiration to others.

Ethiopia, Sudan considered 2014 ‘Enemies of the Internet’
March 20, 2014 ♦ ICT Policy
  No Comment

The 2014 Reporters Without Borders annual list of Internet Enemies contains Ethiopia and Sudan. Both score high for online censorship.