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Policing the internet: Intermediary liability in Africa

Holding internet intermediaries liable is an increasing global trend that transfers the responsibilities of law enforcement, as well as of copyright enforcement, to internet service providers (ISP), both large and small. Internet intermediaries are therefore increasingly used to police and enforce the law on the internet and even to mete out punishments ranging from content control to user behavior.

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. In many cases intermediaries are policing the internet through direct requests from governments or other powerful interest groups. Even some large intermediaries have a vested interest in controlling content and application flows. As pointed about by Frank la Rue, “Holding intermediaries liable for the content disseminated or created by their users severely undermines the enjoyment of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, because it leads to self-protective and over-broad private censorship, often without transparency and the due process of the law.”

Phase I

The first phase of this project, carried out in 2012, was focused on undertaking baseline studies on internet intermediary liability in Nigeria, Kenya, Senegal, South Africa, and Uganda. These studies established whether intermediary liability had changed in these countries in the past two years, and whether intermediary liability had been influenced by increasing mobile penetration.

Phase II
The second phase builds on the previous work by developing ‘good practice’ and ‘need to know’ guides based on the research findings, further disseminating research and stimulating online and offline debate to discuss how intermediary liability upholds fundamental rights and freedoms. These activities will take place Africa-wide and the guides, based on the research, will aim to be of use in most African contexts.

The current project seeks to identify and follow up on specific national opportunities for strengthening protection from liability for internet intermediaries in Nigeria, which is the project’s current focus country. Work is being implemented in Nigeria by APC in partnership with Paradigm Initiative for Nigeria.

Read the summary and country reports on intermediary liability in Africa.

Photo: Jason Anfinsen via Flickr .

If you have any comments or questions please contact Maureen at maureen[at]apc.org.

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