Netwoman: Policy and safer internet spaces for women

Netwoman

Image sourced from author

The internet has been identified as the most powerful tool and dubbed “a global resource”, similar to how electricity changed lives in the 20th century. While internet penetration is increasing rapidly, most developing countries are still working on how to get everyone connected and at the same time coping with the need for good policies for a safer internet. With increase in usage, gaining an online presence is fast becoming a norm. But netizens are often left exposed in terms of their data and privacy. The big question is – how can we make online spaces safer and accessible to women? And what is the image that the internet portrays of women?

 

The big question is – how can we make online spaces safer and accessible to women? And what is the image that the internet portrays of women?

In a world where digital footprints bear weight and significance, more internet users are now concerned with their online reputation. With an increasing number of online social platforms and usage of social media apps like Whatsapp, Facebook and many more, it's becoming harder to control what information goes out to the public. A rising threat to the privacy of users is around data such as usage of images illegally obtained, which is now more common than ever and is fostered through exchange of media online.

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People walking, cycling between houses. Various data collection points via cameras, phones, surveillance are visible.

Illustration by Paru Ramesh

There's also a growing wave of porn sites that are frequented and a majority of women knowingly or unknowingly end up finding images/videos of themselves online on such sites - images that they had intended to be private. Cautious of this, majority of victims of nonconsensual use of their images/and videos online tend to withdraw or self-censor while using the internet. Sometimes these cases happen through hacking of the victim’s phone, resulting in the posting of images that the owner would have preferred to keep secret.

Majority of victims of nonconsensual use of their images/and videos online tend to withdraw or self-censor while using the internet.

Women are more vulnerable to such cases of “nonconsensual porn sharing”. In many ways this is similar to online abuse,bullying, stalking and threats which from an international survey shows nearly one in four women have experienced such abuse, including physical threats.

 

The case of Tanzania: policy,measures and gaps

 

Consensual pornography

The Cyber Crimes Act of 2015 under S.14 prohibits publication of pornography. The law doesn't however define what amounts to pornography, but it does impose a hefty punishment of 20-30 million shilling fine or 7 years imprisonment or both. We can equally argue that that the law criminalizes any form of publication of pornographic content, be it consensual or otherwise.

 

Recently a video of a Tanzanian celebrity Nandy and her boyfriend (also a celebrity) having sex was leaked to the public via social media platforms by an unknown source and gained vast popularity on Youtube, social media as well as porn sites. Nandy and Billnass, her boyfriend at-the-time, are said to have been targeted due to their celebrity status as they both are famous musicians. It is speculated that that anonymous person who leaked the video thought this would make a huge scandal for the artist on media.

 

The artist stated candidly that she had changed phones twice since 2016 and her boyfriend's phone was recently stolen so the video could have leaked through any of these sources. The video went viral quickly and spread like wild fire. The Tanzania Communications Regulatory authority brought her in for questioning and she was asked to apologize, as it is against the law to post naked or half-naked images “to the public” in Tanzania. The other party Bilnass was also brought in for questioning by the authorities to determine if he was involved in leaking the video, but further updates on the case have not been made public. Other sources allegedly claim that it could have been their own attempt at gaining public attention and both parties have denied this accusation.

The Tanzania Communications Regulatory authority brought her in for questioning and she was asked to apologize, as it is against the law to post naked or half-naked images “to the public” in Tanzania.

Despite the taking on of the case for further investigation there is no further news on whether or not the perpetrator was identified and steps taken to address the issue accordingly. As a result this video still exists online as the take down law only applies within the territorial boundaries of Tanzania. Also the video is still very much popularly shared on Whatsapp among other platforms. It was unclear whether or not efforts were made from her end as well to take down the video.  There is no clear path on how any perpetrator can be prosecuted and redressed. While online spaces have proved to bring about empowerment of women and girls and provide a platform for change, there is still a gap there.

 

Intellectual property

Tanzania is home to a number of tourist attraction sights including UNESCO’s world heritage centers such as Ngorongoro. It is a common trait within indigenous communities to welcome tourist visitors who often take photos of natives without their consent and publish them in postcards, online and other platforms. The intellectual property expert Dr.Eliamani Laltaika says “The current copyright regime gives them all rights to the images. Copyright subsists to(sic) the one who took the photos; I mean the one who owns the camera and not the one who owns the face.” This is another angle to look at in relation to illegal use of images i.e. images made without the owner's consent, which are then used for profit.

 

Section 5(2)(h) of the Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act Of 1999 of Tanzania states that other works that are protected by the Law includes photographs but the law says it is the author who is entitled to that protection. But in many cases, the author is not the proprietor or owner of the image and this brings about about further uncertainties. So far, as stated by Advocate Henry Mwinuka, there are no reported cases of women suing for illegal use of their images - “There are no reported cases on(sic) the same as most do not even know if they have the right to sue for the same”.1

Advocate Henry Mwinuka states that, “There are no reported cases on women suing for illegal use of their image as most do not even know if they have the right to sue for the same".

However the Cyber Crimes Act of 2015 under Section 45 provides for the so-called "take down notification". This provision gives a chance for someone who is offended by certain unlawful material or activity to inform the internet service provider so as to take down material which is offensive to them. But this section will be easily enforced with ISPs within the boundaries of Tanzania and not beyond that.

 

 

Conclusion

 

Majority of content online especially images do not portray a strong, confident image of women. What is shown is a vulnerable, fragile and dependent figure of a woman, which is far from the truth. While women are gaining clarity in their expectations, online safety is not gaining the same attention. Hence there is a need to foster more concern over online violence as we do offline. Policy and law are essential groundwork to ensure safer spaces for women and foster digital citizenship among the masses of netizens.

 

Despite the growing awareness in law, there is still a great demand for policies that better address gaps in terms of online violence, stalking, harassment and illegal use of images/videos especially for women. There are also inititatives to be taken from the user’s end, such as being mindful of the digital footprings we leave online. If there is such thing as internet culture then it should be one that protects and portrays a positive image of the female population.

 

Despite the growing awareness in law, there is still a great demand for policies that better address gaps in terms of online violence, stalking, harassment and illegal use of images/videos especially for women. There are also initiatives to be taken from the user’s end, such as being mindful of the digital footprings we leave online.

 
Footnotes: 

1 Henry H. Mwinuka, LL.B and LLM in Information Technologies Law (Tumaini-Iringa), also an Advocate of the High Court and Subordinate Courts thereto save for Primary Court.