An interesting revelation from BBC reports that African governments are employing more sophisticated techniques to block internet sites and bloggers who they perceive to be a threat.
The report comes from a gathering of The Committee for the Protection of Journalists, Google SA (South Africa) and African Journalists where they gathered in Johannesburg’s financial hub Sandton to measure up the situation in the wake of the North African uprisings.
The gathering disclosed that Uganda turned off social networking sites in April during the peak of the “walk-to-work” campaign to protest the rise of fuel and food prices. Citizens were urged to do just that – walk through Kampala rather than drive or take public transportation. Many citizens were shot and arrested.
Though Uganda denied doing so at first, the country’s Communications Commission wrote to service providers asking them to “block the use of Facebook and Twitter” and “to eliminate the connection and sharing of information that incites the public.”
In June, the Rwandan site Umuvugizi was blocked while the editor received sentenced in absentia, where the defendant is not present at his trail. He is serving more than two years in jail for insulting the President Paul Kagame in an opinion piece he posted on the internet.
And in Swaziland, a country in Southern Africa, SMS and the Facebook site were suspended during the sound off protest marches that failed to take off effectively after at the beginning of April. A protester reported having his mobile phone seized to prevent him from organizing the protests.
However, the efforts to create these “technical blocks” are quickly advancing to more sophisticated and targeted tools such as Malware, according to BBC’s report from CPJ’s Danny O’Brien.
The blocking tactics are being used by governments who feel threatened by social media. Cloning websites is a tactic where malware “controls” an individual’s website. Then, it is infiltrated via a virus or spyware in order to damage a user’s system and pull out important content. The “infiltrator” can clone the original system and distribute false information that would be difficult to perceive as fake. BBC reports this is being used in Tanzania and Sudan via JamiiForums, a Swahili language version of Wikileaks, according to Tom Rhodes, CPJ’s East Africa lead.
Also reported is that 80% of those Africans using the internet are accessing it via mobile phones are more likely to have their information gleaned. To own a mobile phone requires government licenses and co-operation between providers and the authorities.
Gleaning information enables the government to monitor and speculate who the mobile phone users are talking to as well as collect geographical information on precise locations and what they are viewing. Overall it is an interesting predicament that can only get worse as the internet becomes more sophisticated.
It will be interesting to find out who is helping these African governments infiltrate mobile devices and who is interested in this technology overall. I am curious to see whether or not more sophisticated counter-infiltration software or hardware will surface in the coming months.