South African Draft Policy Threatens Internet Privacy

Online videos and other content have become the target of new Internet censorship legislation proposed in South Africa through the Online Regulation Policy, which is now available in draft form.

The document is part of an effort to bring South Africa’s Film and Publications Act of 1996 up to speed with the Internet. In attempting to regulate online content, however, the proposal suggests censorship rules for the Internet that extend well beyond those applied to non-digital information.

In particular, the proposal aims to give South Africa’s Film and Publication Board “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.”

Such broad language, which fails to specify which kinds of content would be censored with any precision, means the government could order an ISP, website administrator or other organization in charge of a site or server to remove any information it chooses to censor.

Other parts of the proposal focus on video content, and the policy’s authors pitch the control of pornographic content as their chief concern. That makes this proposed law less restrictive than censorship policies in other some countries, which deliberately censor certain political content and may block services, like chat apps, that allow people to communicate discreetly.

However, the open-ended language in the proposal raises the possibility that the South African government could go much further than censoring only the types of content that feature prominently in the document. Indeed, the proposal mentions a religious video as another type of online content that could the government could order service providers to remove.

The proposal has been subject to criticism since its publication earlier this year, largely because of its vague language. At this time, it is unclear how the government might modify the policy or when it could take effect.

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