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Kenya rejects bid to punish States for internet shutdown

Kenya has rejected a recently published proposal that recommends the disabling of online platforms run by governments as punishment to African states that shut down the internet on their citizens.

The proposal, now with a Mauritius-based agency responsible for assigning Internet Protocol (IP) addresses throughout Africa, suggests that any government which wilfully disrupts internet access should be denied IP addresses for 12 months.

An IP address is a unique identification of each computer or device to enable communication over a network.

The suggestions, which aims at slamming brakes on governments that block internet services or social media during sensitive times, propose a radical measure of withdrawing IP resources for regimes that shut down the internet more than thrice in a 10-year period.

“Over the last few years we have seen more and more governments shutting down the free and open access to the internet in order to push political and other agendas. 

These shutdowns have been shown to cause economic damage and hurt the citizens of the affected countries,” the proposal reads.

DRACONIAN NATURE

“While the authors of this policy acknowledge that what is proposed is draconian in nature, we feel that the time has come for action to be taken, rather than just statements that have little or no effect,” it adds.

The drafters of the proposal are Ben Roberts of Liquid Telcom Kenya and Ms Fiona Asonga, the chief executive of the Technology Service Providers of Kenya.

If their suggested punitive measures were to be imposed on Kenya, for instance, all government services that run online will be grounded, and there will be no system to inter-link computers in government-owned firms across the country.

The suggestion will be discussed during the Africa Internet Summit that will take place in Nairobi from May 21 to June 2.

“The whole thing is just a proposal. It is yet to be discussed by the African Community and to be agreed upon,” said Ms Asonga.

But ICT Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru, who pledged to have representatives in the forum, dismissed the proposals as “a public relations exercise by companies and associations that enjoy excess freedoms to the extent they feel they can threaten governments.”

FREEDOMS TO OPERATE

“It is a misguided stand to threaten the same government that gives you licenses and freedoms to operate. I would encourage them to use dialogue instead,” Mr Mucheru told the Nation.

After coming up with the proposals, the drafters presented them to the African Network Information Centre (Afrinic), which manages the registration of internet resources for the Africa region.

There are only four other bodies that perform the role of Afrinic across the globe under the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority.

Afrinic is the convenor of the May conference in Nairobi and it is at that forum that the proposals will be debated.

“What we have done is to initiate the discussion. The discussion is ongoing. Whether the penalty is withdrawing IP resources of the government or of its members, it is yet to be decided,” said Ms Asonga.

But the fact that it is Kenya-based people who came up with the idea irks Mr Mucheru.

MUCH FREEDOM

“Guys are finding so much freedom in this country that they are now trying to introduce things that, in other markets, even make people get locked up,” he said.

Mr Mucheru insisted that despite the divisions that are expected to emerge among Kenyans during the August General Election, the government has no plans to limit internet access in any way.

“People have asked that question many times. But as government, we have not sat down and discussed whether we are going to shut down the internet or not.

There is no crisis in our country that requires that,” he said. Other African countries have previously shut down the internet for various reason.

BLOCKED SOCIAL MEDIA

In 2016 alone, 11 African countries shut down either total internet access or blocked social media on their citizens on different occasions, according to a research released in October 2016 by the Centre for Technology Innovation, a Washington-based public policy organisation that focuses on research.

In Gabon and Gambia, for instance, the shutdowns happened during the General Election.

Asked if it is possible for a government that has been denied IP services as punishment to get them elsewhere, Ms Asonga said it is possible.

Ms Asonga contended that the Kenyan environment is more mature and that the countries targeted are those that inconsiderately block all or sections of citizens from accessing some parts of the internet.

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