By Muhindo Apollo Morgan
On 16th April, 2021, Daily Monitor’s Mr. Odoobo C. Bichachi published an article titled “What digital footprint have you left on online?”. In that article, he rightly argues that whatever we post online permanently becomes a trail that defines us as internet users (Netizines).
He further argues that we should be “extremely” careful about what we search and post online. While reading his piece, we parted ways at this point, for several reasons including driving his readers into a bottomless ditch of self-censorship for fear of inevitable social and political repression. I am sure if Jesus lived in this era of the internet, he would still be crucified for the once detested values but cherished today by the biggest part of the world. In short, no view is good or bad for all.
Self-censorship has its own selfish diamonds, but pushing for it is to lose the forest for the tree. Why? Internet has evolved from a mere social communication platform to shaping how we shop, drive, eat, and interact, it is inevitable. In each man’s castle he will surf the internet to the “darkest” part of it that he would not love the rest of the world sometimes including those who share the same castle with him to know, and that is the unprecedent value-the autonomy and privacy tags.
The internet decentralizes many things from shopping contraceptives to publishing the most “unpopular” views that would otherwise arouse the never dying appetite for repression from “chainer” societies and autocratic governments. For this and many other convincing reasons, making the online space a safe place for everyone is the silver bullet.
The protection of the online space anchored on principles of accountability, transparency and human rights allows Netizens to negotiate who has access to their bodies (conscience), places, communication and information without intrusive and unwarranted interference.
From the above principles, Netizens have a reasonable expectation of privacy; a protected inner sanctum helps each one to achieve a valuable good-one’s own autonomous identity. Privacy is valued for instrumental reasons, including the contribution it makes to the project of ‘autonomous identity’. Courts elsewhere have concluded that this protection in return seeks to protect the human dignity of an individual. Privacy should be a shield for netizens.
No wonder, the said principles are becoming more significant in the face of power imbalance between big-tech companies, States and Netizens.
Many countries across the world have codified the aforesaid principles into their legal regimes. Uganda as well passed a Data protection and Privacy Act, 2019 to regulate personal data collection, processing and retention.
One of the rights relevant to this debate is the right to be forgotten which includes a data subject (read owner of an online footprint) having his or her personal data held by a data controller like Facebook, google, hospitals and police among others likely to be processed and (mis)used by platforms like www.internetreputation.com deleted if it is inaccurate, irrelevant, excessive, out of date, incomplete, misleading or obtained unlawfully among other grounds.
With a strong legal regime protecting and liberally regulating the online space, no one should be literally or figuratively “slain” for what and how they express themselves while online unless the expression is illegal.
By Muhindo Apollo Morgan
Co-founder Enset Tech Ltd
Human rights and Digital rights Lawyer
At Kiiza & Mugisha Advocates.