By Jackline Akello
The Cyberrights Research Initiative and Localized Legal Almanac (CYRILLA – https://cyrilla.org/) is producing an open and federated resource toolkit and online database, of legal information on digital rights. It addresses an increasingly urgent need “for comprehensive databases aggregating legislation and case law across a variety of jurisdictions” expressed by digital rights researchers, journalists, civil society advocates, human rights defenders, legal professionals, and others seeking to shape rapidly evolving legal frameworks for digital rights worldwide.
CYRILLA aims to organize and make accessible the world’s digital rights – related laws so that a wide range of actors can more readily and confidently assess legal trends as they shape and impact digitally networked spaces, highlighting threats to human rights and opportunities for legal reform.
CYRILLA Collaborative Partners
Formerly known as the Arab Digital Rights Dataset, the CYRILLA database was launched in late 2017 with a dataset of bills, law, and case law from the 22 Arab League states. With the addition of new CYRILLA Collaborative partners – Association for Progressive Communications (APC)1, Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Technology Law (CIPIT)2 at Strathmore Law School, Columbia University’s Global Freedom of Expression Program, Derechos Digitales3, HURIDOCS4 and Social Media Exchange (SMEX)5 – the database will expand over the next two years to include legal information on digital rights from more than 90 countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia.
CIPIT, a think tank established under Strathmore Law School, is the African partner in this Collaborative, whose mandate relates to sub-Saharan Africa countries. As part of its role CIPIT has been reaching out to partners across Africa and collating, developing and populating a repository6 with digital rights data from across sub-Saharan Africa. This data includes both hard and soft law instruments such as legislation, case law and policies from various African jurisdictions.
The aim of this work is to create awareness and advocate to non – state actors (citizens, media, private sector, civil society groups) and state agencies (law enforcement, the judiciary, legislature, and regulators) on digital rights and the importance of observing them.
Digital rights are basically human rights in the internet era. The rights to online privacy and freedom of expression, for example, are really extensions of the equal and inalienable rights laid out in the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights7. Information is power, and the awareness of digital rights has become imperative due to an increase in the violations of digital rights observed in Africa by some governments which have restricted access to the internet, citizen’s right to free speech, privacy and access to information. In addition to restriction of digital rights, there have been instances where African governments have enacted laws and regulations that undermine digital rights.8
Some African jurisdictions have, for instance, made it a common practice to pass laws that restrict online freedom of expression in purported efforts to fight hate speech, and misinformation (fake news), among others. Tanzania, Uganda, DR Congo, Burundi, Kenya and Zambia are among countries that have proposed or passed such laws.9 Kenya for example, passed a Cybercrime law in May 2018, which had some provisions suspended by the High Court on grounds that they violated rights to freedom of expression, privacy and association.10
Network disruptions have also been a commonplace in Africa, where more than 20 countries have experienced internet shut downs primarily ordered by governments eager to curtail citizen’s access to information by limiting what the citizens can see, do, or communicate. Governments have often cited digital technologies’ increased use to spread disinformation, propagate hate speech, fan public disorder and undermine national security as the basis for this action.11
As noted above, the violation of privacy rights and lack of sufficient legislative frameworks for protection of personal data has also been of great concern.12 According to CIPESA report on Digital Rights in Africa 2019, only 23 countries have a data protection framework.13 Despite this, the mass collection of personal data, including biometric data without safeguards for safekeeping of such data has continued. Without comprehensive data protection laws (and accompanying implementation and practice by government agencies and the private sector to robustly protect such data), users’ personal data is at great risk of abuse by state and non-state actors.
In light of this, CIPIT through the CYRILLA digital rights repository, intends to provide free, open source, digital rights data with the aim of increasing public awareness and information sharing between jurisdictions, as well as fostering the advocacy of digital rights in this space so as to reduce the promulgation of regressive laws and regulations in sub – Saharan Africa.
The CYRILLA collaborative project will provide users with the opportunity to;
- Gain free access to digital rights instruments and information – relevant law, articles, case law and legal analysis.
- Visualize legal frameworks for digital rights by country or issue.
- Monitor emerging draft law and provisions.
- Identify and characterize regional and global legal trends and Conduct comparative country analyses among others.
This in turn is expected to enable users to;
- Identify problematic provisions and initiate rapid – response advocacy campaigns or shape model legislation
- Conduct country – level legal threat assessments
- Evaluate legal trends in the context of a given issue, such as cybercrime, fake news, or terrorism, and their effects on digital rights, and
- Identify proper cause of action in strategic litigation cases among others.
At its core, through the CYRILLA collaborative, CIPIT aims to organize and make accessible African digital rights related laws so that a wide range of actors can more readily and confidently assess legal trends as they shape and impact digitally networked spaces. Importantly, it will allow these actors to highlight threats to human rights and opportunities for legal reform in jurisdictions where the curtailment of these rights has been identified.
6 ICT Policy Africa
8 Digital Rights in Africa: Challenges and Policy Options
https://cipesa.org/?wpfb_dl=287 <accessed on 8/10/2019>
10 Bloggers Association of Kenya (Bake) v Attorney General & 5 others  eKLR
12 Personal Data Protection in Africa