By Silvia Nyambura
The level of knowledge of privacy, security and unfettered access in digital communications in the East African region remains low. This is according to the State of the Internet Report for East Africa released today by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA). The report reveals only 10% of respondents interviewed indicated having excellent knowledge. Almost an equal number (11%) had no knowledge at all, while 61% of those surveyed had between good and workable knowledge of these parameters.
In Uganda, those who indicated excellent knowledge (17%) were mainly academics and techies. Online transactions including trading, banking, shopping and mobile money were indicated as activities where respondents had security concerns. Also, the use of free and unsecured wireless networks (Wi-Fi) was said to increase the vulnerability of users. This indicates that privacy and security concerns were not only associated with perceived government surveillance of communications but also threats from other internet users, hackers and fraudsters.
Also evident is Ugandans understand internet freedom better than the rest of its counterparts in the regions. They identify it as the ability to use the internet and other digital communication technologies without commercial or state restrictions. In addition, most respondents ranked communications regulators and law enforcement agencies jointly as the top most likely violators of privacy.
“As the number of internet users grows, so does the content questioning governments’ democratic and transparency credentials. Increasingly, however, there are numerous challenges to free expression online in the region and these are aﬀecting the way citizens and organizations communicate over digital technologies. Governments are enacting laws that threaten the right to freedom of expression, both online and oﬄine. The region has registered a rise in abuses and attacks on internet freedom, including a proliferation of laws, legal and extra-legal aﬀronts, with limited judicial oversight over surveillance and interception,” the report reads in part.
Of the respondents, 61% believed that government agencies monitored and intercepted citizens’ communications
while 39% disagreed. The belief that government agencies were monitoring communications was highest in Kenya (91%) followed by Tanzania (80%), Rwanda at 77% and Uganda at 76%.
It is important to note despite steady growth in internet penetration across the East African region, Uganda’s penetration remains the lowest at 20%. Kenya still has the highest rate at 69% while Rwanda and Tanzania have 31% and 22% respectively. In addition, while 62% of Uganda’s population has access to mobile phones, the country still trails the pack compared to Kenya’s 84%, Rwanda’s 74% and Tanzania’s 71%.
The report further reveals the most frequently used communication technology means in the region was voice over mobile and landline with 77% of respondents indicating using it daily. Mobile Short Message Service (SMS) came in second with 69%. Email, and the instant messaging application WhatsApp, were used daily by 64% and 57% of respondents, respectively. About 30% of respondents did not use the social networking platforms Twitter and Google Plus and a similar percentage did not blog or use Viber.
The research was conducted as part of CIPESA’s OpenNet Africa initiative, which monitors and promotes internet freedom in Africa. It involved over 235 respondents targeting human rights groups, ICT agencies, tech developers, academia and so on.
Find full report here:State of Internet Security in East Africa 2015
Nyambura is a senior journalist based in Kampala