By Alfred Wandera
Government and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) stakeholders have engaged in a debate on how to balance between cyber security and internet freedom.
The function held at Katikati Restaurant in Kampala, addressed a flurry of measures to be undertaken in order to address the challenges involved in balancing government’s efforts to ensure cyber security and at the same time ensure internet freedom to Ugandans.
The debate was premised on the fact that going online presents many opportunities and dangers – there are hackers and fraudsters, but online forums also present a place for people to express themselves, find useful information, and grow their businesses.
Vision Group CEO, Robert Kabushenga, who participated in the debate, said developments in technology are moving at a faster speed than Ugandans can handle, hence posing the dangers of misusing the technology that is readily available to the public.
“We have two extreme situations – the western world is completely unregulated whereas in Africa, for example in Eritrea, the developments have been withheld,” said Kabushenga.
He added: “How do poor countries deal with offensive materials that threaten our security? How do we balance that with freedom to access to information? There are also questions on the young ones accessing materials that they don’t need to. Do we have resources to go into the issues of cyber security? Do we have skills in our security services to cope with threats of security nature?”
Stella Alibateese, the Director of Regulation and Legal Services at National Information Technology Authority (NITA-U), said information shared on internet is supposed to be accessed by all groups in the society.
“But is it the right information,” said Alibateese. Alibateese noted that since statistics show that over 12.6 million Ugandans are now in the middle income bracket; their children have access to ICT devices like smart phones.
“A parent therefore needs to know what children do beyond the passwords they hold. They are on Whatsapp, Facebook and Twitter. Do we know the kind of pictures they get access to? The pictures and information that our friends send to us; the children who are our friends on social media also access them,” added Alibateese. She said Uganda Computer Misuse Act, 2011, provides regulations on the ICT use.
The debate also delved into how to domesticate the guidelines developed by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), which Uganda is a member.
ITU, the United Nations Specialized Agency for ICTs, has drawn a number of guidelines to protect children online. These guidelines focus on children, parents, educators, equipment manufacturers and policy makers.
“How do we handle issues of children exposed to pornographic content and how do we deal with those who involve children in pornography using technology?” asked Ambrose Ruyooka, assistant commissioner for Information and Technology from the ministry of ICT.
Ruyooka exposed concern on how to domesticate the ITU guidelines in the Ugandan context that is driven by cultural diversity.
Kabushenga said although children have a right to freedom of information, it’s the responsibility of parents to do regular surveillance on the ICT devices they operate.
“As a parent, I am the one who buys the phone and airtime for my child. So I have to do surveillance all through. The issue of internet freedom cannot bar me from regulating what my child access on internet.
Dr Dorothy Okello, the Coordinator for Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET), that organized the function, said women are uniquely affected by ICT policy decisions as the Internet presents space and opportunity for women’s greater involvement in society and the economy as a whole.
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Gov’t, stakeholders debate cyber security, internet freedom