As it has come to most people recently, the foundations of democracy and fundamental human rights are about to be shaken by the Information and Communication Technologies Authority of Mauritius (ICTA). Particularly, by a legislative proposal regarding the misuse and abuse of social media platforms in Mauritius.
In short, this documents proposes a measure to identify, prevent and remove illegal, hateful and harmful content from social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. The aim of this paper seems positive firstly BUT the method being used is NOT.
These type of contents are already being monitored by the respective companies, however since most content in Mauritius is in creole, it is difficult for those companies to monitor them and for local authorities to liaise with them. Therefore, this paper proposes that the local authority takes matters into their own hands. In order to achieve this, local authorities need to set up softwares and technical protocols which sends social media traffic first to them and then to Facebook, Instagram, etc.
In doing so, ICTA and all will decrypt the traffic, read all of it, archive them, re-encrypt it and forward the latter to respective servers.
A detailed technical overview of this process has been covered by my friend on his blog.
Freedom of Expression
The Mauritian constitution in Section 3(b) & 12 guarantees the Freedom of Expression of a Mauritian Citizen. Moreover, international laws such as Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) strengthen the right to freely express opinions and thoughts.
The above proposal interferes with the enjoyment of such rights. Social media has brought a change in how our society voices out thoughts and opinions. One can reach millions of people at the press of a button. Sure, it has some bad actors but so does society in general.
One of the fundamental ways how "normal" laws work is by punishing offenders, not by prevention. One has the liberty to carry out any actions be it legal or illegal. It is only after the Court has deemed someone to be guilty without reasonable doubt, then and only then, one is punished by the laws.
In this situation, my opinion is that local authorities are acting as Judge, Jury and Executioner. Even before content is sent to social media servers, it could be taken down. It will be upon the proposed National Digital Ethics Committee (NDEC) to decide which social media content is considered to be illegal or harmful.
By now, you all must have a picture to where this is going; CENSORSHIP.
If this proposal goes through, local authorities will have the power to remove any content deemed harmful. Emphasis on "harmful" as this has not been explicitly defined in any documents. Harmful may range from degrading comments about someone to whistleblowing corrupted persons online. It will be upon a handful of members within the NDEC to decide which content to remove.
In my honest opinion, Statutory implemented censorship is just a start towards a totalitarian regime. This may be a really exaggerated future but China and Russia are "examples".
There should be another way of regulating illegal and harmful content on social media without interfering with our Freedom of Expression.
Right to Privacy
While the Constitution of Mauritius does not outright guarantees the right to privacy, Mauritius forms part of international treaties which do so. Article 12 of the UDHR guarantees the right to personal privacy.
ICTA's document proposes an Enforcement Division within to monitor social media traffic. This obviously implies that one's internet traffic for social media will be monitored, read and archived.
To summarise in Creole:
Li kuman dir pe invite baye louké dan lakaz mai li pa zis ggn louké, li kav participé si
At the end of the day, this is a call to all fellow Mauritians, to reject this proposal, to uphold the foundations of democracy, to fight for your rights and to safeguard a digital future where everyone can freely express one's ideas, thoughts and opinions.
I encourage everyone to send their thoughts to ICTA on this email address firstname.lastname@example.org by latest 5 May 2021 at 16h00.
On an ending note, it is sad for me to say that I trust Facebook more than my government.