Tanzania: Why U.S. Law Threatens Websites


Local information technology experts have expressed misgivings over the move by the US government to enact laws aimed at controlling internet use.Speaking in Dar es Salaam yesterday, they noted that the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (Sopa) and protect IT Act (Pipa) would curtail the people's right to interact, as well as obtain information and useful data.

Thousands of websites were shut down for 24 hours last week, to protest the proposed law over concerns that it will infringe on the people's rights to communicate and access free information. One of them was the popular Wikipedia. Sebastian Nkoha, a Dar es Salaam-based ICT expert, said the decision by the bigger websites to shut down would affect millions if not billions of people worldwide.

He said it was unfortunate that this was happening even before the law was introduced."Who knows if the Wikipedia or any other website will decide to shut down its services completely when the Bills are passed...it is alarming because it will create a knowledge vacuum," he said.

Nkoha said if the US House of Representatives passes the bill, more than 75 per cent of websites, whose servers are located in the most powerful country in the world, would be affected.His comments were echoed by University of Dar es Salaam Deputy Managing Director for ICT services, Dr Respickus Casmir, who noted that Tanzanians would be affected by the law.

Elaborating, he said a lot of websites in the country have their servers in the US and it was dangerous if the US government gives itself powers to control them.

"Tanzania websites are dependent on US servers. So, if US government does anything to the servers, it means that we are going to be the victims with little options to defend our rights," he lamented.

"If passed, the bills will also limit the right of people to express their opinions as well as accessing information," he said. For his part, GodblessMushi, a system administrator at one of the local telephone companies, said the Bills, if passed, would "colonise the internet industry," and elaborated: "Since most servers are in the US, the country would dictate what should or should not be online."

However, the US government maintains that Sopa and Pipa has been designed to basically thwart copyright infringement but the protesting websites warn that such concentrating such power in one authority could threaten the functionality of the internet.

In addition to Wikipedia, other major websites like google also joined the protest. Google placed a black redaction box over its logo on its much-visited US home page to draw attention to the bills, while social news site Reddit and the popular Cheezburger humour network was planning to shut down later last week.

The legislations which are backed by the Hollywood, the music industry, the Business Software Alliance, the National Association of Manufacturers and the US Chamber of Commerce, seek to allow the Justice Department and content owners to seek court orders requiring search engines to block results associated with piracy.

The critics, however, seem to have managed to make their point as on Saturday, the White House issued a statement that appeared to side with critics of the legislation.It said: "While we believe that online piracy by foreign websites is a serious problem that requires a serious legislative response, we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cyber-security risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global internet."