Published on iGmena website.
One of the challenges facing the “startup democracy” nowadays is to reform the ICTs legal framework, such as Tunisia seeking to develop a sustainable digital economy and become a technology hub in the region. More than three years since the revolution, even if there are relevant and continuous effort towards respecting human rights online, Tunisia is still at a crossroads leading to real ICT reforms.
No doubt the willingness of the government to implement serious development plans, if we compare with other recent decisions, we wonder if, in their governing approach, they would ever care about others actors’ opinion and how they could have voiced their concerns?
For example, the former government created the Technical Telecommunications Agency (ATT). Additionally, they drafted a counter-terrorism law [Arabic] that is currently being discussed at parliament commission. Lately we’ve heard talk of a future cybercrimes law. These decisions demonstrate how the participatory model has rarely, if ever, been applied to the drafting process.
“The real danger lies in ‘closed doors’ which brought these laws.”
In terms of participation at various conferences and events that advocate for an inclusive IG model, Tunisia gives the impression that it supports a multistakeholder approach. As examples, Tunisia hosted the first national IGF in the region, was the first and only Arab country to joined the freedom online coalition and organized the third edition of the conference, few weeks after the release of initial Snowden leaks. Tunisia also organized several editions of the ICT4ALL forum. Unfortunately, in reality, neither civil society nor netizens have had the right to express their own views on Internet reforms and building a multi-stakeholders model.
This crucial problem of exclusion has resulted in numerous fractures between the government and civil society. For example in the case of ATT, members of civil society were opposed to its creation, widening the gap between the different stakeholders of the Internet ecosystem. Moreover, the definition interpretation and use of technology differ from one actor to another.
The authorities could benefit from the events they have participated in, so they consolidate the ecosystem, but they have preferred to ally themselves with the private sector while ignoring civil society and netizens. As a result of this exclusion, few users care about their rights and duties on the Internet, they’re passive consumers.
With an awareness of the recent history of Tunisia, as one of the countries that experienced the worst practices of surveillance and Internet censorship, and if we add the NSA scandal of the Snowden revelations on mass surveillance, it is reasonable to challenge the government’s unilateral decisions, whatever their important motivation is.
If we are asked to believe in the urgent need to face the cybercrimes (i.e., to restore surveillance), would it not be more urgent to first guarantee the rights of privacy and freedom of every netizen? If we have to trust the institutions, why aren’t we allowed to ask for their transparency and openness? And if we are promoting the multi-stakeholder IG model at every international event or media appearance, why are some important actors still excluded from important decisions at a local level?
Tunisia’s existing laws on data privacy are deciduous; no amendment has occurred since the adoption of the new constitution. For freedom of access to information on the Internet, it is also the case, although internationally Tunisia became a strong supporter of online human rights and was even among the group of countries drafting the consensus-text of the UN resolution on human rights on the Internet. In Tunisia, censorship laws no longer exist officially, but the laws are not consistent and we still see, for example, in defamation trials and convictions. All this and even more shows the urgent need of regulatory reform.
But to carry out any reform, we must undoubtedly restore the trust. This trust that we lack due to the country’s history, can only be restored if all the actors commit to the principles of openness and transparency. Such an environment would be conducive to any kind of national dialogue on issues as important as cybersecurity. It is further necessary that all stakeholders understand that restoring trust is the basis of development of the Internet sector, particularly in relation to digital content. Content production, security of users’ personal data, the digital identity of a country, all depends on trust.
In a country that has incorporated the Internet as the first tool of communication between governors and the governed, the multi-stakeholder dialogue on general and specific rules of the Internet has yet to begin contrary to the laws that are drafted, discussed and adopted, in total exclusion of those who have to comply with once they come into force.
In sum, it’s still a one-sided conversation. Communication exists only between public and private sectors, and Tunisia is missing a chance to develop an IG process in which all stakeholders enjoy the right to participate, in a collegiate way, so that we can declare that the Internet truly is for everyone and by everyone.