Monday, July 16, 2007

Zimbabwe's internet censorship

Following up on a previous BB post about internet-related aspects of the current meltdown in Zimbabwe, BoingBoing reader Bretton Vine writes:

I'm in from South Africa, currently experiencing what the popular media calls a 'human tsunami' of illegal immigrants from Zimbabwe across our borders for everything from work to medicine and even basic foodstuffs which are smuggled back into Zimbabwe for resale.

The recent enforcing of price controls has left Zimbabwe shelves empty, militia going ape, major cross-border escape (5000 captured in last two weeks, and that's barely a dent in the number that make it though).

Add to this is bittersweet irony that the 'Rainbow Nation' of South Africa is experiencing a form of African xenophobia historically unparalleled despite more than a decade since apartheid become the past. But this is another heated discussion not related to my email.

I just wanted to point out that the Internet Service Providers' Association of South Africa hosts an annual free Internet conference every year, with this year being out 6th.

Back in 2004 we had Declan McCullagh out for one of the talks[1, 2]. While he certainly seemed to enjoy himself, he also left a huge impression over interception issues (and made some government people quite uncomfortable in the process). At last year's event (10th anniversary for ISPA, 5th for iWeek) we even had vendors for lawful intercept technology exhibiting and giving talks [3] along with talks from Wim Roggeman[4], Prof Michael Rotert[5] and representatives from the OIC (central interception spooks, not clearly functional yet) trying hard to remain inconspicuous in their suits among geeks of varying shapes and sizes.

With regard to the whole Interception in Zimbabwe issue it's a little bit of a non-event given so few people have access to either phones or the Internet in that country, and that no Zim ISP can afford to purchase the equipment necessary to implement anyway.

It's a slightly similar situation here in South Africa, except for the following...

* our legislation is older :-P

* we have 30+million cellphone users

* we have ~5 million internet users (give or take a few)

* ISPs/ISOC have been fighting the fight for a decade, and especially with regard to issues such as forcing ISPs to pay for interception equipment from the ISPA perspective

* we *didn't* more than 50 stories within 7 days in all the world's major newspapers (online and off) despite having just as draconian an attempt at legislation.

* we're hosting the FIFA world cup in 2010. If you have a cellphone, and are an international visitor you either won't be able to use it, or if you try and obtain local cellular/internet access you'll have to prove identity (original and certified copy) plus understand that the providers are forced to provide intercept capabilities as well as other inane things.

* the ECT act requires authors/developers/publishers of cryptography software to register and make themselves available for 'decryption assistance' or 'decryption warrants' (clearly the repeated attempts at explaining public-key crypto were ignored ...)

There's a mountain more relevant information, but the following is from sites I maintain: Link 1, Link 2, Link 3, Link 4.

And this site needs an update, we're just for workload to drop but the relevant legislation is there: Link.

At the moment due to uncertainty over ETSI standards and overseas policy it seems that the OIC is sticking to real-time intercept capabilities as opposed to data retention, but unrelated legislation places onerous requirements for the keeping of records, financial or otherwise, in electronic format.

So yes, Zim is quite fscked, but the people affected by the interception legislation (which essentially just makes legal an established practise and passes to the costs to business) are in the thousands, while in this country it's in the the millions.

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