Why shouldn’t private companies regulate the internet? Experts and activists discuss intermediary liability in South Africa

SABC covered the meeting by interviewing project coordinator, Emilar Vushe Gandhi [From minute 15:00 on]

Internet intermediaries are any companies that provide internet services, from physical networks to software developers. Different regulations around the world are set up to make them accountable for the content created, published and circulated by their users, frequently on the grounds of copyright infringement, criminally activity and hate speech. International experts and activists gathered together to look at current trends in intermediary liability in Africa from a human rights perspective in a workshop organised by APC with support from Google Africa.

The main purpose of the workshop, which took place in Johannesburg on February 10-11, was to create awareness and initiate discussions around regulatory reforms to ensure human rights on the internet are adequately preserved in African countries. 28 participants (17 female and 11 male) from seven countries (including South Africa, Uganda, Nigeria, Kenya) were present, including representatives from governments, academia, media groups, civil society organisations, legal experts and internet service providers.

Participants noted the increasing importance of digital rights, especially freedom of speech and flow of information, in knowledge-based economies, the risk of abuses of intermediary liability regulations for political or commercial purposes, and an increasing tendency towards the creation of private regimes operating independently from the substantive laws of the country concerned. They also highlighted the need for uniformity, principles, and safe guards.

It was noted, for example, that in Uganda most policies, take down incidences are politically motivated. Current laws enable monitoring of online communications, thus causes self-censorship in traditional as well as citizen media. The government is also empowered to block content and take temporary possession of ISPs operations.

Legal challenges were thoroughly discussed. For instance, participants pointed out the existing contrast between terms of conditions of translational companies, like content providers, and the law under which they must operate. There’s an opportunity for civil society, they agreed, to ensure that self regulatory activity respects minimum global human rights standard.

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