CONTENT REGULATION

Internet blockage not solution to teen pregnancies

Systems used to block content run the risk of being hacked, users' data harvested.

In Summary
  • Empower children, parents, guardians, educators and peers to identify and deal with harmful content on computers, the internet, mobile phones.
  • Also, teach young people how to use technology both safely and responsibly, and make available easy-to-use adjustable tools to manage access and content.

Prof George Magoha’s proposal to block pornographic sites after the recent report on teen pregnancies is the second such suggestion after a similar one was made in 2018 after the then KCSE candidates completed their examination papers.

These proposals are a well-intentioned start of a conversation on how to prevent or reduce teenage pregnancies reported across numerous counties. Worryingly, it would involve, if done at the network level, roping in core internet infrastructural parties such as internet service providers to be implemented.

These proposals, while flawed, encourage discussions about people’s right to freely seek and exchange ideas and information. Additionally, the proposals call for scrutiny on whether all parents and guardians should abdicate their responsibility to parent their children and leave it to society. Ideally, instead of pushing for a network block, the relevant government ministries should invest in encouraging parents, at the individual level, to monitor their under-age children.

 

Parents should be more involved in raising awareness about child online safety and encourage the development and adoption of technologies for the protection of children online that respect the rights of children and the freedom of other internet users.

The solution would involve empowering children, parents, guardians, educators and peers to identify and deal with harmful content on computers, the internet and mobile phones. Also, teach young people how to use technology both safely and responsibly, and make available easy-to-use adjustable tools to manage access and content.

Importantly, while the teen pregnancy statistics are alarming, blocking sections of the internet is not the solution. There are various reasons to this, some of which are already identified by Prof Lukoye Atwoli from Moi University School of Medicine in his June 21, 2020 Daily Nation Column titled, ‘Teen pregnancy not all about lewd music, porn’.

The Act requires all online commercial porn providers to check the ages of all users which, it is proposed, will prevent vulnerable groups (such as children) from accessing undesirable and explicit content. Importantly, this jurisdiction demonstrates the challenges associated with content regulation, even where the underlying public policy reasons have substance.

Additionally, there are four identifiable reasons why internet blocking is a flawed idea. Firstly, the process can be non-transparent, especially if there is no judicial or quasi-judicial order backing the same.

Secondly, these bans are often effected via the use of ‘voluntary agreements’, which are usually endorsed by the state itself. On the face of it, such an agreement would also involve coercing service providers. This would then encourage intermediaries (eg internet service providers) to either over-block or under-block content. This reveals that a blanket content block would be ineffective and must consequently be prohibited by the law.

Thirdly, Kenya runs the risk of violating her constitutional and international commitments to protect free speech, free access to information and the right to privacy. This is because some of the systems used to block content can invasively analyse the content viewed by a data subject and be traced back to that individual.

Further, these systems run the risk of being hacked and the data of all internet users harvested and used for targetted political advertising and data mining similar to the Cambridge Analytica mining of social media patterns for various elections across the world, including Kenya, Nigeria and the United Kingdom referendum.

 

Kenya can draw comparative lessons from the UK, which has been trying to restrict access to porn since 2015 in a rights-compliant manner. This responsibility, under their Digital Economy Act (2017), falls to their film classification board (BBFC).

The Act requires all online commercial porn providers to check the ages of all users which, it is proposed, will prevent vulnerable groups (such as children) from accessing undesirable and explicit content. Importantly, this jurisdiction demonstrates the challenges associated with content regulation, even where the underlying public policy reasons have substance.

It is clear that a blanket block of pornographic sites is not an effective solution. Instead, the government should encourage parents and legal guardians to vigilantly and voluntarily filter the content their children can access, both online and physically.

This would avoid an extensive infringement of the rights of data subjects in Kenya and adhere to the Constitution of Kenya and the Bill of Rights specifically.

Kenyanito is senior program officer at Article 19 (UK); Mwanzia is Digital Policy Consultant at Article 19 Eastern Africa Office