Commonwealth pact to encourage collaboration on African online security

The cybergovernance model is a set of policy guidelines for Commonwealth countries to support each other

The Commonwealth Cybergovernance Model adopted by ICT ministers from the 53-country Commonwealth of Nations this week could encourage African nations to move forward on controversial proposals to combat cybercrime and develop common guidelines for developing the tech sector on the continent.

The cybergovernance model is a set of policy guidelines for Commonwealth countries to support each other to develop the ICT sector in their respective countries, and was adopted at a two-day meeting in London.

The model is "a cybergovernance framework that can be adopted by all Commonwealth countries, a statement on how we can all ensure that ICTs are used more effectively by people with disabilities, and a set of priorities with respect to how ICTs can be used effectively and appropriately to enhance education," said Tim Unwin, secretary general of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation, in an email.

The ministers also agreed to action on the Commonwealth Plan for Broadband Inclusion, a strategy for advancing broadband across the bloc and for ensuring that people with disabilities make effective use of IT, Unwin said.

"Ministers noted and encouraged some other ongoing initiatives, such as the Commonwealth National Broadband Strategy initiative," Unwin said. "This is a collaborative initiative between the CTO, the ITU and the Commonwealth Secretariat, and focuses on supporting those countries without national broadband strategies to put these in place as soon as possible."

The Commonwealth Cybergovernance Model encompasses guiding principles to encourage development of online security and cybercrime regulation as well as broad economic and social development. The principals will "guide Commonwealth members to plan and implement practical actions in policy development, regulation and legislation, cross-border collaboration, capacity building, technical measures and other operational activities," Unwin said.

The Commonwealth includes 18 African nations. But discussions on a common approach to combating cybercrime in Africa have not made much headway so far.

At the inaugural Africa Internet Governance Forum (AfrIGF) last year in Egypt, several meetings were devoted to collaborating on efforts to curb cybercrime and enhance online security across the continent. But a draft African Union Convention on Cyber Security (AUCC) ended up being rejected in January this year, due to lack of agreement on details.

Some proposed regulations had the potential to crimp Africans' privacy rights, harm freedom of expression and give too much enforcement control to judges, according to Kenya-based Strathmore University's Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Technology Law (CIPIT).

Efforts to find common ground on ways to enhance online security would be helped if rank-and-file IT managers had more access to training opportunities, Unwin suggested.

"There is still an immense need for capacity development across the continent, and especially amongst middle managers, in all aspects of cybersecurity and cybercrime," Unwin said. "African governments, companies and people should all act urgently together to ensure that their digital systems are indeed secure, so that all can benefit appropriately from the potential that they afford."

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