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    Introduction

    Module 2: Restricting Access and Content

    The internet was created to facilitate the free flow of information;(1) it now allows people to instantaneously access information and services, to communicate, and to share knowledge and ideas. The internet offers an array of opportunities for the realisation of human rights and has, in many instances, been a catalyst for the empowerment of marginalised members of society. It is common cause that the internet is an enabling space for the advancement of the right to freedom of expression, the right of access to information, the right of freedom of assembly, the right to freedom of opinion, thought and belief, the right to be free from discrimination in all forms, the right to education, the right to culture and language, and the right of access to socio economic services. Access to the internet is of relevance in the African context and is a crucial component to social, economic and human development. The African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms, a civil society initiative, calls for the internet to be accessible, available and affordable for all persons in Africa to benefit fully from its developmental potential.

    However, there are growing impediments to this. Restrictions to access and internet disruptions are eroding the right to freedom of expression and associated rights.(2) Suppressive tactics by governments and private actors cause significant challenges in accessing information online. As will become apparent, the unjustifiable restriction of access to the internet is a violation of human rights. This module outlines some of the prevalent harms to access and provides guidance on how best to secure fundamental rights and freedoms in the digital age. In doing so, this module focuses on internet shutdowns, the ways in which access to content may be unjustifiably limited by employing blocking and filtering, the implications of social media taxes and the harms of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks.

    Footnotes

    1. Internet Society, ‘Brief History of the Internet’ (1997) (accessible at: https://www.internetsociety.org/internet/history-internet/brief-history-internet/). Back
    2. See Tim Berners-Lee, ‘I Invented the web. Here are three things we need to change to save it’ (2017) (accessible at: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/mar/11/tim-berners-lee-web-inventor-save-internet). Back