African countries are embracing digital technologies, but at the same time, governments are using the same technologies to undermine the digital rights of citizens, according to the latest report on the State of Internet Freedom in Africa.
According to the State of Internet Freedom in Africa 2021, which was Launched on Thursday during the FIFAfrica21, one of the “democratizing effects” of the internet was that it had provided a safe and alternative engagement platform that could help circumvent and diminish the repressive state’s control over the means of communication, thereby enabling greater organising and expression of dissenting opinions. However autocrats in the region have appropriated the power of digital technologies to stifle dissent and to ramp up their capabilities to snoop on, punish, and silence critical and dissenting forces.
“Surveillance has become a principal threat to digital rights in Africa, a weakening force to civil society and independent voices, and ultimately a driver of authoritarianism,” the report says.
Digital surveillance is reportedly expanding in scope, with several countries now deploying spyware, drones, and video surveillance (CCTV), as well as social media monitoring, mobile phone location tracking, and the hacking of mobile phones, messaging, and email applications.
According to the study, the abuse of surveillance is rife in countries with high levels of impunity for rights violations and a low level of accountability for the actions of the government and its institutions.
Government critics including leading opposition leaders, human rights defenders and activists who do human rights and governance work, as well as investigative journalists are the key targets of state surveillance.
“In virtually all countries studied, not only has surveillance become commonplace but the right to communicate anonymously in digital spaces has been profoundly eroded through mandatory SIM card registration and creation of inter-linked databases for national ID, voters’ registers, and other services provisions,” the report reads in part.
The State of Internet Freedom in Africa 2021 report that is produced by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), maps the prevalent forms of surveillance, the laws that aid surveillance, and the impact of state surveillance on the ability of individuals and organisations to organise, mobilise, and engage in democratic processes.