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Data retention is risky for freedom in Africa

A group representing security agents for a good number of  Sub-Saharan African countries have tabled a proposal to African Union to enforce the collection and retention of telecommunications metadata for up to three years to all member countries by mid 2014.In continent well known for ruthless attacks against bloggers, politically motivated surveillance, proactive manipulation of web content, and restrictive laws regulating speech online this is hardly good news to the 1 Billion Africans. The proposed data retention regime in Africa risked the continent slipping further down in terms of freedom.

A chinese government funded African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa Ethiopia.Photo:Mariam Abera

While talking to someone familiar with the development, there was no doubt that if this proposal does go through, the Internet freedom rating will go down significantly in Africa after a recent report indicated that mail interceptions and call tapping is on the rise. The proponents also want to force Internet Service Providers to preserve data under warrant for up to 120 days which to me sound archaic.It seems to signal a trend that security agents are lobbying beside their AU ears and so far they have been very successful.To me, It’s sickening given the recommendations and everything that’s been proceeding for up to the last one year, it’s a shocking way of doing legislation and implementation of laws that attacks the freedom of Internet in a continent that has suffered from dictatorial regimes and political as well as civil wars. I have been lucky to visit at eat a dozen countries in Sub Saharan Africa where I have to criticize a lack of evidence-based policy making on the moves to data retention in Africa which is now following similar proposals in United Kingdom and the United States of America.

Hardcore evidence suggest that such attempts have failed to make the dent in serious or organized crime they had intended to tackle and in Africa it will be no different because Francophone countries have different security system from that of Anglophone and is no different when it comes to Portuguese speaking countries where a lack of harmonized retention procedures between member countries will mean the plans will fail to live up to proposed potential.I will not be surprised if a citizen of any of those countries goes to court and the security agents moved ruled unconstitutional. For those who don’t know, there’s no evidence to suggest that in serious organized crime and other serious crimes, there’s any reduction in crime because of the introduction of data retention laws.What Sub Saharan governments need to look at is more evidence-based policy before they randomly impede on civil liberties of 1 Billion people and increased business expenses for already struggling ISP in the continent where cost of doing business is very prohibitive or even someone else. If there’s been empirical data for the last few years showing absolutely no reduction in the serious crime they intend to look at, to me it’s a ridiculous policy and must be reviewed before implemented. In my opinion, if there can be any evidence shown in another jurisdiction that’s had this on the books for the last few years and has empirical data, they might reconsider it, but without that evidence why would they ever implement it. I feel for those Africans who some of them are already struggling with mandatory Internet filter in more than ten countries on refused classification material over the last two years where a lot of the debate has been useless due to lack of greater consumer education in the continent. Frankly, whether it’s a security proposal or governments agencies across the continent, most consumers in Africa don’t have the slightest idea what information is coming out of their system and that’s the same no matter who’s collecting it.