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Lobby groups fume over proposed new social media laws in Mauritius

By , Sub Saharan Africa Business, Tech, News and Development Journalist
Mauritius , 12 May 2021

Digital rights campaigners have lambasted the government after officials tabled proposed amendments to the island nation’s Information and Communication Technologies Act, including social media.

The amendments include establishing a government-run Digital Ethics Committee to determine illegal and harmful social media content.

Digital freedom lobby group Access Now is among several campaigners that have criticised the legislation, saying it will “vandalise privacy” and have called on authorities to review the amendments.

“As it stands, the potentially dangerous draft threatens the privacy and freedom of expression of people across Mauritius,” said Bridget Andere, the Africa policy fellow at Access Now. “In its current perilous form, the proposed amendments in Mauritius’ Information and Communication Technologies Authority consultation paper would vandalise privacy, and damage freedom of expression for years to come.”

Under the proposed structure, the regulation of social media will be vested in the hands of government agencies “rather than judicial authorities” which is deemed at odds with due process.

The amendments also empower authorities to decrypt and archive social media traffic.

“The technical toolset requiring the interception, decryption, and archiving of all internet traffic - including social media traffic - will break encryption, and with it, the privacy and security of user communication,” noted Access Now in its report on Wednesday.

While authorities argue that the mooted amendments are aimed at countering offensive speech on social media, critics believe this will create space for “state surveillance of the lawful conduct of private citizens” while it also undermines “digital security through attacking encryption”.

Campaigners have also singled out the National Digital Ethics Committee and accused the body of eliminating any space for appropriate checks-and-balances.

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation Mauritius is pursuing a social media regulation strategy that is similar to frameworks in India and Turkey.

“The Mauritius amendments are reminiscent of those in India and Turkey in that they seek to regulate foreign social media, but differ in that Mauritius-a far smaller country-lacks the ability to force foreign companies to maintain a local presence,” the organisation has stated.

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