Rudi International: Respect for internet rights and freedoms during the COVID-19 pandemic

By Rudi International 24 June 2020

This press release was republished from Rudi International.

This letter of opinion aims to draw attention to the importance of access to the internet during the Covid-19 pandemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and to offer suggestions, to the various stakeholders involved in internet governance, on how to ensure and enforce internet rights and freedoms, as protected in national and international legal instruments, during the Covid-19 pandemic and after it is mitigated.

Summary

The DRC has recorded some of the highest Covid-19 cases in Central Africa, with more than 5000 confirmed cases as at June 2020. Ten provinces have recorded Covid-19 cases and the majority of these cases are in the capital, Kinshasa, making it the country’s hotspot.

To prevent the spread of the virus, the World Health Organization and the Congolese government have implemented a number of measures such as closing borders, isolating affected cities from the rest of the country, social distancing, instructing that people wear masks in public spaces, etc. Consequently, there has been an increased reliance on information and communication technologies (ICTs), particularly the internet, for remote work, communication between citizens and the government and for commercial services.

However, the implementation of some of these measures increases the risk of violations of fundamental human rights, including rights and freedoms on the internet. It is, therefore, in everyone’s interests that actions taken during this time be informed and based on universal principles such as the African Declaration of Internet Rights and Freedoms (the Declaration). To this extent, Arsène Tungali, Executive Director of Rudi International, comments that “it   is  important that  everyone   plays   their  full role   so   that we  can all  enjoy the facilities that the internet offers us. This will require respect for the freedoms guaranteed by various legal instruments in the DRC, at the sub-regional level as well as at the international level”.

Therefore, Rudi International, drawing on its experience in various technology-related fields, has produced an analysis on the importance of the internet during this pandemic followed by recommendations, to different stakeholders, to protect and promote the rights to internet access and accessibility, freedom of expression, information, and privacy and personal data protection, as contained in the Declaration.

To facilitate access to the internet, Rudi International recommends that the government provide a fair supply of electricity to all provinces and refrain from resorting to censorship and monitoring of individuals who constructively criticise the government’s responses to Covid-19. Rudi International also recommends that the government allocate a significant budget to cyber security to protect the data and privacy of Covid-19 patients, contacts and health care staff. Civil society organizations are also encouraged to set up and support civic education programmes to teach the public how to detect the Covid-19 virus, and to verify and thwart rumours and misinformation about Covid-19. Further, Congolese citizens must form a consumer association and denounce, through legal channels, any dysfunction that tends to prevent them from accessing ICT services.

This letter of opinion offers practical recommendations which, when followed, can help to guarantee a balanced Congolese society where everyone plays their role and where the population as well as the decision-makers use and promote ICTs for the good of all. This is espoused in Blaise Ndola’s (ICT Program Coordinator at Rudi International) comment that “our analysis and the recommendations formulated for each principle developed are addressed to the various stakeholders involved in internet governance, including the government (the Congolese state), the regulator (ARPTC), private companies (mainly telecoms) as well as end users (including civil society).

This letter of opinion has been produced with the support of the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms Coalition through its Rapid Response Fund, and the Coalition coordinator, Koliwe Majama, remarked that “as research and surveillance are an integral part of our key strategies, we are proud of the work that Rudi International has produced for the DRC and hope that it will contribute to the promotion of human rights and internet freedoms during this time.”

Read the full letter here.



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