Policing the internet: Intermediary liability in Africa
Frank la Rue, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, pointed out that any States have adopted laws which impose liability upon intermediaries if they do not filter, remove or block content generated by users which is deemed illegal. La Rue’s affirmation responds to the increasing trend to make internet intermediaries responsible and legally liable for policing the internet. The areas they are required or requested to ‘police’ range from content control to user behaviour. In some countries this trend is represented by changes in legal and regulatory frameworks. In others, including many African countries, legal and regulatory frameworks around intermediary liability are either absent, or unclear; and in many cases intermediaries are policing the internet through direct requests from governments or other powerful interest groups. In some cases large intermediaries themselves have interest in controlling content and application flows.
Outside of South Africa the state of intermediary liability in Sub-Saharan Africa is not very clear, although there is a lot of anecdotal evidence of governments asking service providers to remove content, or block services such as SMS.
The rapid growth in internet access and use in Africa, particularly through the mobile internet, makes it imperative for civil society and for internet companies committed to the free flow of information and freedom of expression to better understand how intermediary liability works (or does not work). Mobile internet service providers are owned and operated by telecoms companies who lack the tradition of independence common among ISPs (Internet Service Providers) and often fiercely defended by ISPAs (ISP Associations) in many places.
This project undertakes baseline studies in five countries: Kenya and Uganda in East Africa, South Africa in Southern Africa and Nigeria and Senegal in West Africa. The reports establish establish whether intermediary liability has changed during the last two years in the context of the mobile internet explosion and if so, what factors contributed to these changes.
Photo: Jason Anfinsen via Flickr .