Digital rights are human rights. This is not very familiar and is very new in Sub-Saharan Africa. In today’s world, there as an increasing number of internet users every day. This means that people spend most of their time online. Online life and offline life, therefore, becomes distorted. The United Nations recognises human rights offline must also be protected online. Telecommunication companies are Internet Intermediaries which offer internet services other than calls and text. But do these companies have a privacy policy which anyone on the digital surface can understand?

According to a report published by advocacy group Internet Without Borders, telecommunication companies that operate both in Europe and in Africa treat their respective users differently.

The report is a study on Orange in Senegal and Vodafone in Kenya through the shares it holds in the capital of the operator Safaricom. It seeks to question whether users in the said countries are given the same right to access, use and create digital media as well as access and use devices and networks as other users in Europe.

It was noted that there is a lack of publication of terms of use on Orange Senegal’s website. Safaricom, on the other hand, has vague and more law-based terms of use.  They are also not available in Kenya’s National Language, Swahili. An in-depth reading of prepaid terms of use highlights a lack of precision, which could cause harm to the user. The operator can also decide exclusively to discontinue service to subscribers, without providing any explanation. This infringes on the rights to Freedom of Expression of users as the terms of use do not even provide remedy mechanisms in case of this violation.

The lack of or unclear terms of use by Network Operators dictates that a company can shut down the internet whenever they want. Internet shutdowns is a worrying trend that is happening in sub-Saharan Africa during elections or political hostility. This threatens the very idea of being able to enjoy rights and freedom of expression on the Internet. This reveals the role of Internet service providers since they are operators of the network, they are the first to be asked by governments to shutdown access to the Internet. The rule of Law is therefore not clear enough.

The terms of use by telecommunication companies should clearly explain the circumstances under which it may shut down or restrict access to the network or to specific protocols, services, or applications on the network.

The Kenyan Constitution has a legal framework enshrined to protect Human Rights. Despite these safeguards, there were fears of an Internet shutdown during the August 8th, 2017 elections.

The report concludes that Orange Senegal and Safaricom do not meet international standards, and even national ones, in the protection of freedom of expression online, and user privacy. African and international civil society are encouraged to urgently work on the adaptation of the corporate accountability index to companies operating in sub-Saharan Africa.

Read the full report HERE.