Sunday, October 17, 2021

Botswana Gov’t goes China way in attempt to regulate social media

The Government is clinching close to regulating the use of social media and cyberspace, it has emerged this week.

The Ministry of Defence Justice and Security is already drawing up legal and policy instruments to govern information communication technologies. Bills aimed at amending some existing laws are being drafted.

The latest development comes in the wake of reports that popular social media Facebook recently denied all the requests made by the governments of several developing nations, such as Botswana and Indonesia.

Sunday Standard has turned up information showing that some of the social media networks that government intends to regulate apart from Facebook are Tweeter, Instagram, Cloud and Youtube.

The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Justice, Defence and Security Segakweng Tsiane confirmed in an interview with Sunday Standard that her Ministry was working on the amendment of the Cyber Crime Act among others.  She added that the amendment is  aimed at  aligning the Cyber Crime Act with the Criminal Procedure Act.

The Government is of the view that the current laws are not enough to ensure that criminal offences committed using social media can be adequately prosecuted.

“Last year we amended the Electronic Evidence Act and currently we are working on a draft to amend the Cyber Crime Act.  We want the Acts to compliments each other,” she said.

Tsiane insisted that the government was not attempting to stifle freedom of expression or encroach on people’s privacy. She said the government was cracking down on fake news and abuse of cyber space.

“It wouldn’t be a threat to media freedom when the state regulates the social media space. These laws are not for the government but for Batswana. Our Ministry is inundated with issues related to circulation of pornography material and people using fake accounts to defame others and peddle false news,” she said.

She added that “these laws are not for the government because there has to be a complainant. For instance there have been instances where people have complained that they are being defamed, there are issues of character assassination and there is no where they can seek redress.” 

Tsiane reiterated that the measures are tailored to protect citizens’ rights following a surge in social media abuse through propagating falsehoods; hence the need to monitor social media.

Facebook has since revealed that it has thrown out secret requests by the Botswana government for confidential information on a number of Batswana Facebook users.

Facebook revealed that Botswana made a number of requests during the past years for confidential information on citizen Facebook users.

Facebook, however, rejected all the requests which it felt were inappropriate.

Transparency Reports, pioneered by Google, are the latest tool used by tech companies to stand up for their patrons by exposing state surveillance and spying on citizen internet users. Through the transparency reports, tech companies expose government’s secretive requests known in the United States of America as National Security Letters.

Sunday Standard could not establish the identity of Facebook users that government is trying to keep tabs on.

In a previous interview, Government spokesperson, Dr Jeff Ramsay,  said he did not have information about who might have asked Facebook administrators for details of the seven users.

Facebook listed Botswana among three African countries that asked administrators of the social networking site for details of its users.

Responding to Sunday Standard queries in the preview query, Ramsay said: “I do not know who, if any, in Government might have made such a request. Therefore, I have no response to 2 & 3 (questions from Sunday Standard).”

It is understood that the requests are made under the dockets of national security and criminal investigations by governments. But Ramsay insisted that he does not have information as to who could have sent the request to Facebook.

Facebook’s general Counsel, Colin Stretch, noted that the reports released are aimed at helping the on-going global debate about proper standards for governments around the world to access user information.

However, the social network site declined to disclose the data of the users that government had requested for.

“Transparency and trust are core values at Facebook. We strive to embody them in all aspects of our services, including our approach to responding to government data requests,” Stretch said in a blogpost. “We want to make sure that the people who use our services understand the nature and extent of the requests we receive and the strict policies and processes we have in place to handle them.”

Not a single African government request for Facebook data was accepted by the social network.

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