Accepted paper:

Law and order in Africa - policing the Internet and social network


Ewan Sutherland (University of the Witwatersrand)

Paper short abstract:

Governments facilitated markets offering telecommunications and Internet access with surprising enthusiasm, partly because they were offered technologies for interception, surveillance and network shutdowns, supporting and extending conventional (secret) policing from benign to brutally repressive.

Paper long abstract:

Liberalisation of markets and access to global technologies has helped drive the massive expansion of telecommunications, the Internet and social networks in Africa, creating new spaces to be policed. Enthusiasm for liberalisation is partly explained by the technology being bundled with a wide and increasingly sophisticated array of facilities for interception, wiretapping and shutdowns. This has allowed almost any level of surveillance from the minimal to the Orwellian. Consequently, governments have been able to extend their established practices of law and order into telecommunications, Internet access and social networks, for example, filtering keywords, blocking temporarily or permanently individual websites and services, and identifying individuals for questioning and enhanced interrogation. It is possible to monitor citizens at least as effectively as in the physical world and often less obtrusively. Much of the surveillance activity has been undertaken by intelligence services, which have access to the necessary budgets, and operate outside the, generally, limited checks and balances of constitutional courts and parliaments. In practice very few are required to observe human rights. There are almost no effective restraints on the adoption of sophisticated surveillance technologies, other than the limited availability of skills. Constitutional rights to privacy and dignity are systematically ignored, as are complaints about shutdowns.

panel Pol05
Technology and democracy in Africa