Web traffic & content filtering: A response to indecent, harmful content?

Web traffic & content filtering: A response to indecent, harmful content?

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By: Hector DOTSE

The Government of Ghana has plans to put in place regulations to guide and control indecent social media content. This action the government believes would instill some level of sanity and decency in the way information on social media is disseminated by users.

Looking back at various incidents in the recent past, that have engulfed the Ghanaian cyberspace specifically social media sites such as Facebook, it is a call in the right direction.

However, though this is a good decision on the governments’ part, regulations and guidelines should not only be limited to indecent communication on social media but also extended to all other forms of content on the internet such as child pornography, extremism, hacking, malware, copyright infringement amongst others.

Also, in order for this regulations and guidelines not to be considered as policies similar to those criticised in totalitarian dispensations, the government has to adopt a careful and right approach towards this move.

Proponents of net neutrality argue that access to the internet should always be enabled for all content and applications regardless of the source, and devoid of favouring or blocking particular products or websites. This move, however, may be seen as a move to curtail the rights of citizens from accessing whatever content they choose to access or send on the internet.

This op-ed seeks to put forward recommendations on how the government of Ghana should consider in the move to guide and control certain content on the internet.

The first approach to regulating and controlling illegal and harmful content on the internet is to put in place laws which make this said content illegal to access.

Some of this content includes materials related to pornography, cyberbullying, child pornography, copyrighted materials, hacking, extremism and terrorism, suicide and self-harm, phishing, malware, spyware, and others.

Even though there are currently some laws pertaining to cyberspace, they are not adequate enough to cover the fast-growing cyberspace environment. As the internet has evolved, Ghana as a nation has been unable to move with the pace of internet growth and so has inadequate laws in such an area.

Regularly reviewing the current and also putting in place new laws is a step in the right direction.

The laws will make it a criminal offense for all users of a computer system who make any requests, suggestions or proposals that are deemed harmful, obscene, lewd, or indecent.

If users become aware that there are stiff punishments behind the breaking of such laws, then it would serve as a deterrent. It would make them responsible and accountable for what they put out on the internet.

The next approach recommended will be to have the government liaise with all industry players mainly, the NCA, Telecommunication companies, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and others to come out with technical strategies and modalities to control and block illegal and harmful internet content.

These systems can be comparable with the Internet Watch Foundation’s (IWF) system, which is made up of a database of blocked internet content which is made available to various companies and organizations around the world. In addition to this global banned content database, Ghana can also come up with its’ own localized banned internet content database customised to the country’s needs.

In line with this approach, the Telcos and ISPs should be mandated to put in place a default filtering program applied to existing and new customers. And this should be both on the fixed broadband and mobile networks.

Customers who want to opt-out of filtering for any type of content can request to be removed as long as they can confirm that they are over a certain legal age limit and own the fixed broadband or mobile account. Putting this in place would help with especially the fight on the online child-protection initiative which is currently been championed by J Initiative.

The last approach recommended would be to make Information Security Awareness and Education a priority in all areas of the economy. This would make citizens more aware of the threats that cyberspace brings with it, and this can be done through the development of a national Information Security Awareness program.

Aside from making this available on the ‘ordinary Ghanaian’ citizen level, this must be extended to law enforcement agencies and all in the public sector and civil sector, by capacity building through increased certification courses on information and cyber security. This would improve prosecution of cybercrime.

Putting in place such regulations, guidelines, and controls to control certain content on the internet seen as indecent or harmful would go a long way in bringing back and maintaining the sanity which we require in the Ghanaian cyberspace.

This would help to further the fight on the online child-protection initiative and fight against indecent and harmful content.

Hector Dotse is a Cyber Security Specialist.

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