The United Nations Human Rights Council 32nd section seeks to promote, protect and enable enjoyment of human rights on the Internet. This section is concerned about ‘all human rights violations and abuses committed against persons for exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms on the Internet, and by the impunity for these violations and abuses’.

Internet shutdowns have been happening frequently in developing countries across the world from India to a number of African countries. According to a report on Digital Rights in Africa, at least 11 African countries, which had their election year, faced internet shutdowns in 2016. This was followed by the arrest of journalists, bloggers and citizen who exercised their freedom of opinion and expression online. Legislation and policies in African countries have been seen to violate digital rights.

With internet shutdowns becoming a trend for governments in African countries during the election period, civil society organisations and the technical community can provide support for citizens towards circumventing shutdowns as they happen. It is of importance to note, the whole internet can be shut down through interference with routing protocols. This happens when someone intentionally disrupts the internet or mobile apps to control what people say, see/do on online platforms. Shutdowns can be used in order to shape the outcome of elections or hide the fraud.

Therefore, how can citizens be able to access the internet, especially, through mobile phone platforms without resorting to chaos because of lack of internet access?

Kenya’s population stands at 46,050,300 and the country’s Internet dissemination is at 45.62%. Internet service providers such as Safaricom have assisted in the spread of the internet across the country. WhatsApp has the highest number of users in Kenya at almost 49% of the total population followed by Facebook with close to 5 million active users. This are platforms where people can exercise their freedom of opinion and expression openly.

At a recent training held in Kisumu on Digital Security, participants were able to learn different circumvention tools that can be used in the case of a shutdown. This highlighted how it is nearly impossible for a government to shut down the entire Internet. Web-based proxy tools, Psiphon and Lantern are some of this tools. Lantern is unique because it uses peered connections as a source of internet connectivity when servers are unavailable.

Other tools that can be used during an internet shutdown are tails and Virtual Private Networks. This are used to protect privacy and anonymity, helping internet users be able to circumvent online censorship. Different VPNs like Bitmask and Tor create an encrypted tunnel between your device and a server somewhere else on the Internet. This is how a VPN works.

Participants at the training were educated on the concept of domain poisoning. This is where website domains can be deleted from the DNS server making it difficult to access them. For bloggers, this may prove harmful as all the information on their particular site will be deleted hence rendering the site obsolete. In the case of an internet shutdown, this would happen to bloggers who choose to express themselves online on a political front.

The Kenya Information and Communications Act, 1998, is responsible for facilitating the development of the information and communication sectors. However, Information Communication and Technology Practitioners Bill 2016 and the Security Laws Act 2014 have clauses that intrude on freedom of expression on the Internet. The National Cohesion and Integration Act of 2008 also restrict freedom of expression online. Kenya, together with South Africa and Ethiopia went ahead to vote against the 32nd United Nations Human Rights Council resolution on human rights on the Internet in 2016. With the recent statement by the National Cohesion and Integration Commission to prosecute WhatsApp group admins who allow hate speech on their groups, freedom of expression online in Kenya is limited.

The digital security workshops seeks to increase the knowledge of Bloggers and Social Media users on how to be safe online while creating content online.

There will be workshops happening in 3 counties on the 5th of August 2017 in preparation for the elections; Nairobi, Nakuru and Mombasa. Bloggers and social media users are encouraged to attend.