African governments are requesting more user data from Facebook, Google, and Twitter than ever before
8 September 2017
African governments seem to be keeping closer tabs on their citizens than ever before as new research shows that they are increasingly requesting user data from global tech companies.
The Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), a group focused on internet policy on the continent, crunched information from transparency reports published by some of the world’s largest tech companies. The resulting report found out that social media user information requests from African governments have accelerated between 2013 and 2016.
While the companies’ reports are vital to understanding censorship and surveillance by governments, CIPESA cautions that they can’t be used as a sole measure of the extent of surveillance and censorship of content by government. But they do show the scale of requests from individual governments for subscriber data and content removal.
And worryingly, there’s a “growing trend” in Africa for such requests. South Africa, Nigeria, Sudan, Kenya, and Egypt have all consistently requested user information from Google, Facebook, and Twitter. CIPESA also surveyed reports from Africa-based mobile operators such as MTN and Orange.
Facebook, which has published reports detailing government requests since 2013, said it received requests from 18 African governments last year, compared to only five in the first half of 2013. South Africa, Egypt, and Sudan made the most requests for user information. User requests are typically made for account records in connection to criminal investigations and emergencies. The social media giant has also received a request from Ghana to restrict access to content which it claimed violated its national laws.