South African Internet Censorship – FPB earmarks R8m to censor the internet

Reminder: Submission deadline 15th July 2015 4pm – please send an email to [email protected] with this:

Dear Film and Publications Board,

I am writing to add my voice on proposed Online Content Regulations as invited by Notice 182 of 2015 appearing in the Government Gazette.

It is my respectful submission that the proposed regulations are irrational and unimplementable.

Further I am gravely concerned that written public comment is closed on a date before the final public workshop/hearing event and submit that this is indicative of the fact that there is no intention to have proper public participation.

Kind Regards,

 

In March 2015, the Film & Publications Board (FPB) of South Africa announced that they will earmark R8m for online censorship. The intentions of this censorship are highly questionable as the FPB markets the gazetted version as “a means to protect us from child pornography” and other evils of the internet.

I suggest that as an active citizen of this country, it is actually your responsibility to read through the gazetted version and provide feedback to them. Submission dead-line is 90 days – so this means end of May 2015 (i.e. 90 days after it was published) – oops, guess what, as an active citizen you have already missed that deadline. This will eventually affect you and your family and I do not believe that FPB’s intentions are as honest as they should be.

Content providers currently have mechanisms in place to report inappropriate content and ISPs already work with ISPA regarding take-down-notices. We have criminal laws in place to protect children from abuse and topics such as child-pornography and hate-speech are already a crime, so I fail to understand why the FPB needs to introduce a new framework. If the current criminal procedures act and any laws related to ECT are inadequate, why not fix those?

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for protecting children from harmful content, but I then also think that this needs to become responsibility of schools, parents etc. Some snippets about the FPB policy below:

and for the first time, industry, civil society and the Film and Publication Board (“FPB”) will join hands and share the costs and responsibility for digital content classification and compliance monitoring to ensure that children are protected from exposure to disturbing and harmful content. For all intends and purposes, content includes films, games, publications and self generated content uploaded or posted on social media platforms.

 With regard to any other content distributed online, the Board shall have the power to order an administrator of any online platform to take down any content that the Board may deem to be potentially harmful and disturbing to children of certain ages.

Case in point: We frequently receive complaints on our bidorbuy marketplace about “pornographic” content (read: lingerie). We also receive complaints about products not agreeing with cultural, religious, political background – none of which are offensive (i.e. people complaining about the insensitivity of books critical towards a religion, political group etc). This goes as far as people complaining about “50 Shades of Grey” being sold online, where the same is tolerated by people walking through a CNA or bookstore. 99% of those complaints are baseless, as they do not violate or infringe on any person’s rights. I also think that accessing certain content is by choice and as such, if a school allows access to PornHub on their WiFi network, it should really be the school made accountable and not the children accessing such content (or the Internet Service provider held accountable for it). In the same sense, parents should install content filters on phones and laptops to provide age-compliant content. There are many applications and web-content filters out there, which allow families, companies and public institutions to filter out inappropriate content.

My biggest worry is that under the umbrella “let’s protect our children from the evil of the internet”, that SA will result in a nanny-/police-state, comparable to the SOPA-days in the US or how Russia, Turkey, Korea police internet content. Would the FPB now decide if gay marriage/relationships is inappropriate for kids and as such censor all such content (although such content might be opinion pieces and does not include nudity)? What about a critical documentary against the leading party? Or a church? Or a specific demographics?

I think if you read a few of the pages of the FPB censorship draft you will notice, that the FPB makes the draft out to be protecting children, but paints this with a very broad brush – i.e. covering religion, politics, race etc and I would fear that such attempt would stifle any open discussion about issues, since the FPB would just make content disappear before it actually sees it’s light (I doubt that they will ever manage to do this, as this would mean, they would have to take control of the actual Internet).

The scope of content is broad:

This includes self-generated content uploaded on platforms such as You-Tube, facebook and Twitter, feature films, television programs and certain computer games which are distributed online by streaming through the internet.

When the FPB means “Online content” it is actually pretty much everything online:

“Online content” in relation to the distribution of films, games and certain publications, means distribution that is connected by computer or electronic devices to one or more other computers, devices or networks, as through a commercial electronic information service or the Internet.

Let this sink in for a moment:

Internet intermediaries, including application service providers, host providers and internet access providers will bear the responsibility of putting in place content filtering systems to ensure that illegal content or content which may be harmful to children is not uploaded in their services.

So in essence, how will those intermediaries be able to filter content without “spying” on your every move. With this would then also come bypassing of encryption/HTTPs/VPNs to be able to classify such content. This has broad implications for all our privacy.

The policy covers anyone and any content, irrespective of where the content originates from. So technically, if you bypass local filters via VPN or other means, you could get yourself into trouble for showing/viewing content which the FPB deems illegal (which is in their policy really undefined what inappropriate means and seems to be rather subjective):

This Online Regulation Policy applies to any person who distributes or exhibits online any film, game, or certain publication in the Republic of South Africa.

If you think about all of the above, the FPB’s policy is not enforceable – and I leave it with this (and why we should not burn tax-payer money):
– Youtube: 1bn MAU’s (monthly active users) and 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute
– Twitter: 350,000 tweets sent per minute, 500 million tweets per day (http://www.internetlivestats.com/twitter-statistics/)
– Facebook: 1.39 billion MAU’s. 300 million photos uploaded per day. Every 60 seconds: 510 comments are posted, 293,000 statuses are updated, and 136,000 photos are uploaded.
– Blogs: Several million blog posts per day (http://www.internetlivestats.com/watch/blog-posts/)

What can you do as a concerned netizen?

  1. Particpate in the Rights2Know campaign – http://www.r2k.org.za/handsoffourinternet/
  2. Sign the Change.org petition – https://www.change.org/p/film-and-publications-board-stop-the-internet-censorship
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