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Cybersecurity and online freedom in Africa

A new proposed convention on cybersecurity has some citizens feeling concerned about the implications it could have on the state of internet freedom throughout the continent.

Security and freedom have often been seen on two opposing sides of the Internet spectrum in recent discussions. The National Security Administration's PRISM program can be seen as a prime example of this phenomenon. In this case, invasive surveillance and data mining has violated many of the privacy rights of citizens in the name of "national security."

The intersection of these two ideals has become the topic of much debate, especially as cybercrime continues to grow more prevalent throughout the world. Now, a proposed convention in Africa could find itself at the forefront of this debate.

Cybercrime growing
According to All Africa, cybercrimes are among the most common forms of criminal activity throughout the world. Kenya has seen much of this activity first hand. The country's Internet penetration rate has reached about 16 million people, with many taking advantage of online government services. However, with this increased online activity comes the greater potential for threats, which is costing the government billions. 

The news source noted these kinds of crimes will cost the government 2 billion Kenyan Shillings by the end of the year, which is around 23 million USD. Because of the large expense that this activity has cost Kenya along with many other countries throughout the continent, the African Union vote on a convention on cybersecurity in January 2014.

Concerns about online freedom
While preventing these crimes is important, many are concerned that the measures taken at the conference will lead to limitations on freedom of expression. According to the Index on Censorship, many feel that some of the proposed rules will allow for the interception of content and traffic data that could be used in the wrong way.

The source noted that the Kenya-based Strathmore University's Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Technology could give the government too much power to impose limitations on the rights of individual citizens

The news source noted that the proposed convention could grant judges the authority to intercept an individual's electronic communications in the name of the "public interest." While cybersecurity is extremely important, it is essential that it does not interfere with the individual liberties of citizens. These rights are vital when it comes to allowing the free flow of information, and ensuring strong democracies both on and offline.

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