Weak laws exposing national interests

April 27, 2009
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, NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 27 – Approximately Sh8.3 billion worth of SMS were sent in Kenya last year. This represents a 400 percent increase from 445 million texts sent in 2007. The statistical “weighted” average cost of an SMS in Kenya is Sh4.60.

Add private information uploaded to popular websites, such as, Facebook which, incidentally, is the 4th most popular website both globally and locally on 12 April, according to alexa web rankings.

Besides the revenues, the data indicates how rapidly we are digitising details of our lives without an Freedom of Information Law, Data Protection Law, Data Retention Law, and in an environment of inadequate Privacy Laws, thereby exposing us to a dangerous legal lacuna of profound plausible consequences.

Rushed digitisation of medical records, for example, for quick access via the internet, PDAs or mobile phones would contravene medical law respecting patient-doctor confidentiality and the requirements that such records be in writing, for at least seven years.

What is the information and communications privacy policy?

“We talk about Data Protection because privacy is itself a very controversial field of law and even the best legal minds in the world do not seem to agree on the subject. In our case we still rely on the provisions of KCA ’98 (Communication Act). However, as soon as the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill and law are finalised we shall quickly move with more rigorous provisions on Data Protection,” said a senior ministry of information official.

Information PS Ndemo adds; "The Data Protection Bill is ready but it assumes that FOI will pass. I will post it [to mailing lists] for discussion even though FOI has delayed.”

Few users read “Terms of Service/Use” by service providers before using communication services, sending an SMS, or uploading their personal data on websites. Privacy and Data protection in developed countries taken seriously.

The Vodafone website, for example, clearly explains the circumstances under which they transfer personal information outside of European Economic Area (EEA), and the destination, citing “data protection and other laws of these countries.

To illustrate the need for legislation urgency, a look at the underlying issues is necessary. Technology, as a double-edged sword, is an enabler for both the-good-and-the-bad.

New media, and particularly the Internet, provides the potential for a democratic postmodern public sphere, in which citizens can participate in well informed, non-hierarchical debate pertaining to their social structures, according to critical theorists Douglas Kellner and James Bohman.

Scholars Ed Herman and Robert McChesney differ,“The transition to new media has seen a handful of powerful transnational telecommunications corporations who achieve a level of global influence which was hitherto unimaginable.”

As we transit from the “Information Society” to the knowledge economy where knowledge is a product, it is imperative to question who holds information – the “raw material” to knowledge?

Delivering the keynote address to the Freedom of Expression conference held in Nairobi, Professor  Kwame Karikari of Media Foundation for West Africa based in Accra, Ghana said;

"Most of the data and information and knowledge material about our societies are not in our possession, but in the North. If an inventory is made of the personal library of any educated African it will be observed that the overwhelming majority of the material will be on subjects regarding cultures other than that individual’s own society."

Karikari observed that historically, modern (industrial era) communications technology were introduced into Africa by external forces for purposes of enhancing interests and objectives other than those of the African peoples. The coming of the telegraph and the laying of submarine cables around the continent from the late 1880s had the explicit objects of imperial military and political dominance and colonial commercial exploitation.

"Symbolically this is why the early telegraph and telephone connections ran along railway networks and into mining and other raw material resource areas. Radio broadcasting was also introduced with declared intentions of ideological and political purposes of colonial control,” he said.

James Shikwati, the Director of Inter Region Economic Network, reflects on a farmer who startled other delegates saying, “Experts” from the West on the other hand position themselves as “knowledge sources” that end up destabilising the existing farmer knowledge that would otherwise have worked to everyone’s benefit if one were to listen and simply add value to it.

Agreed- it extends to West’s "knowledge sharing" with supposedly totally un-knowledgeable Southerners. Precisely the reason why "knowledge exchange" is more accurate. Worse still, knowledge harvested locally by Western "researchers" through cunning "research grants" ends up owned, re-packaged, and re-sold as highly price intellectual property we can hardly afford.

Unless urgent enactment of surrounding laws is undertaken, the mobile phone and various upcoming cables, like early the telegraph, will serve others’ but our interests.

In the prevailing weak laws environment, envisaged benefits risk vanishing and instead technology could turn into an instrument of extended exploitation, oppression, widening poverty divide, alongside cultural alteration, among others, thus eroding the very promise of a prosperous technology-driven future.

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