June 18, 2003 - Updated on January 20, 2016

South Africa

The country started off as the spearhead of the Internet in Africa but in early June 2002, its parliament passed a controversial law to fight cyber-terrorism. The law's opponents also criticised the government for moving to take over assignment of the country's ".za" domain names. The explosion of the Internet in South Africa delighted Internet fans all over Africa. The country has far and away the most connections. It has been online since the mid-1990s, with the big advantage that nearly all the continent's Internet traffic passes through its "backbones" (connection nodes enabling world-wide routing of messages). This gives South Africa a solid technological infrastructure to boost its own Internet growth. The road to democratising the Internet began about two years ago and the fruits are now visible. ISPs are flourishing and competition is fierce. The government is keen to get all sectors of the population online as quickly as possible. This has not yet happened but the steady growth in the number of Internet users is very promising. What kind of monitoring of what networks? Two events however clouded the picture in June 2002 - passage of a law to combat cyber-terrorism and the government's move to take over attribution of ".za" domain names. Parliament passed the Electronic Communications and Transactions Bill with the declared aim of protecting the country against cyber-terrorism. South Africa had earlier signed the first international convention against cyber-crime in Budapest on 23 November 2001, along with 30 or so other countries (the United States, Canada, Japan and members of the Council of Europe). The new law was strongly criticised, especially by the Democratic Alliance party, which voted against it, and by Internet freedom organisations and private firms. The law allows telecommunications minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri to appoint inspectors to monitor telecommunications networks and their content, which they are authorised to seize. Private companies are worried about the government's interference with e-commerce, even though the minister told parliament she did not intend to monitor traffic. Apart from economic interests, privacy and freedom of expression campaigners fear a lack of openness by the inspectors and wonder which communications networks they will monitor and what kind of data they will seek access to. Resistance over domain names The government's decision to take over assignment of domain names has also sparked controversy. Until the measure allowing this was passed, it was done by a users' group called NameSpace ZA, run by Mike Lawrie. The government says this should not be done by just one person working in the private sector. Lawrie says the move is plain nationalisation and is unacceptable because the degree of surveillance and control the government would have would threaten the independence of the Internet in the country. He has refused to comply with the new law and in June he switched some of his data and ISPs out of the country so as to protect them, he said, even if it meant being prosecuted. Links: The Internet users' group Namespace ZA The South African ISP Association ISPA