Corporate Governance and International Policy expert Sophia Bekele shares her view on the future of online Security in Africa

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Source: CIO East Africa

The AU’s Convention on the Establishment of a Credible Legal Framework for Cyber Security in Africa (AUCC) has been the focus of debate recently. DotConnectAfrica was among the first organizations to comment and highlight several issues on the draft legislation

In view of this and to further shed light on online security issues in Africa, CIO East Africa editor Mike Ouma sought the views of Ms Sophia Bekele, an international policy advisor on ICT and internet issues. Below are excerpts:

As regards the state of online free­dom in Africa, what are the major issues surrounding online freedom of expression in Africa? What is the best way to empower users to stay safe online while protecting their freedom of expression?

Technology-wise, Africa is still grow­ing in the matters of online freedom. We can draw from several examples in recent past, most visibly in case of the Arab spring, where the national internet connectivity is cut off to suppress free­dom of expression. Other governments have also put strict legislation and laws to minimize any activism. As use of on­line services increases in Africa which is definably the most promising technol­ogy destination globally, continued awareness, training and benchmarking by all players will be important.

In relation to internet security, data and privacy protection in Af­rica, what elements need to be put in place to ensure all Internet users (including citizens, companies, as well as governments) continue to have confidence in the Internet?

Existing legislations have to be understood and be coherent so that users are in touch with what they are exposed to when they use online services. Also technol­ogy has one constant, and that is exponential dynamism. In 2012 there was a great debate on changing the 1980’s ITU International telecom­munication regulations, this debate in Dubai changed how stakeholders ought to manage discussions.

Online privacy will continue to be a major factor of the internet resource, thus constant awareness and involvement of users in develop­ing those clear cut legislations, do’s and don’ts will be handy. The best way is to make sure users, service providers and government are aware of the acceptable boundaries that every stakeholder must respect.

How can African civil society organiza­tions engage ICT policy processes to ensure that rights are not traded for security?

The best and winning formula is to just involve everybody in every step or development that is going on. Multistakeholder approach is very important so that everyone’s contribution is factored in. The private sector is good at driv­ing most of the development and governments remains as endorsers and facilitators. That way a thriving balance will be created. I just urge that inclusivity be that main ingredient.

What are your thoughts about the African Convention on Cybersecurity, what other proposals need to be included to improve the draft document?

The Africa Union Convention on cyber securi­ty is a developing case, thus definitely, it is going to the open space for further debate. I have had a chance to look at the draft and I think with fur­ther improvement, critique and careful analysis on clauses that touch especially on privacy and rights of users both offline and offline the leg­islation will be usable. Our organization DCA, perhaps an early pioneer in IG issues to Africa has put in its early comment recently directly to the AU, soon as it was available in public domain and we are happy that it was accepted well by the African civil society organizations who have embraced our views, and included it as part of a joint voices to the AU. Individual governments have to first off develop their own legislations so that this will be a complement of such legislations.

Africa is endowed with many cultures, eco­nomic regions that operate uniquely and there­fore this is a debate that cannot be just con­cluded and accepted without involving all stake holders. Governments and especially the African Union have a chance to involve everybody in continental matters such as this convention development. Everyone has to be aware of the details of what they are signing to adopt.

What can African governments learn from the NSA surveillance and Snowden revela­tions?

2013 was indeed the year of many revela­tions and definitely the Snowden revelations surfaced and changed perceptions on internet governance. Data is big and the more you know the more powerful you are regarded. The NSA disclosure of classified information to private media organizations places dire implications for global Internet privacy. The United States of America was exposed as a country that practi­cally spies on everybody in a most indiscrimi­nate manner, including its own allies. I made a commentary for the 2013 Year End Review that DotConnectAfrica produces.

African governments are still a long way in accepting such technologies as open data. In my experience in the technology world and es­pecially championing many efforts to bridge the digital divide, I have learned, there is still a need for proper awareness creations on data, use of ICT services to provide government services. African governments can prepare proper legislations and strategize on how to handle private data in a manner that is not intrusive to rights of its citizens. The backlash of the NSA revelations wouldn’t be a good experience for any govern­ment.

All this emphasizes that internet governance should be a matter that is handled by many stakeholders to avoid giving the governments a monopoly of leadership in policy development.

What are the current technology trends and which cyber-security threats raise the greatest concern?

In the past networks and connectivity of stationary computers was the epitome of technology, then came laptops. Now we see the increased preference to powerful hand held devices, such as the tablets, phablets and smart phones have completely taken over. Currently, the trend is to provide services though Apps and mobile devices.

Businesses and Individuals have to now concentrate on ‘tech-on-the-go’. Social media seems to be increasingly driving these trends. In the coming future all these mobile services have to be synergized in a manner that supports advancement of entities. Some of the cyber security threats include rogue apps, phishing schemes and middleman attacks.

Your early career involved Internet Secu­rity and Audit. How are evolving Internet services and technologies, such as mobile and cloud computing services, affecting these security threats?

Internet and Cloud are broadening the range of devices and effectively points of weakness. This is balanced by more robust central services that have sufficient scale to justify investment in solutions to address these threats. The world of technology is always evolving, mobile devices are common place and definitely an increased use come with known security threats and those unprecedented threats as well. Cloud comput­ing being a concept that involves an exponential number of computers connected through a real-time communication supports and com­plements the mobile technologies and other services.

Security threats are real, spanning from denial of service to exposure of private documents and contacts to the public have happened in the past year and are bound to increase, its only paramount that users and service providers are better prepared to mitigate these unavoidable risks. Therefore as one who spent a good years of my career in IS Security and Audit as you noted, and founding and spear-heading vari­ous technology start-ups that was the earliest champion of digital divide in Africa, I encourage that proactive approach will be the best method of combating threats, even as we strive and look forward to setting up the first domain registry in Africa.

Adapted from CIO East Africa

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