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US NGO pledges commitment to Africa

AN American non-governmental organisation–the Center for Democracy and technology (CDT)– has expressed interest in increasing its partnerships with advocacy groups and civic society organisations in Africa in order to promote media freedom and freedom of expression.

Hazel Ndebele

This comes as the number of journalist attacks in the world is increasing. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in 2016, 259 journalists were in prison worldwide, the most ever documented by the Committee.

CDT, headquartered in Washington, is a champion of freedom of expression and supports laws, corporate policies and technology tools that protect the privacy of internet users.

The organisation also advocates for stronger legal controls on government surveillance.

At the just ended reporting tour on media literacy and press freedom in the 21st century which took place in Washington DC, New York and San Francisco, CDT director Emma Lianso said there is need for her organisation to have partners in Africa in order to ensure that rights are also enjoyed online for free expression to prevail.

18 journalists across the globe attended the reporting tour which was organised by the United States department of State and administered by Meridian International Center.

Lianso said; “We have done some work with different partners in Africa before, in particular we were looking at cybercrime regulations. We are always looking for more partners and if you know of any in your countries that might be interested in our work please do let us know.”

Lianso said other companies such as London based Global partners digital are also doing some work in Africa and are focused on trainings around issues to do with cyber security and cyber crime regulations.

CDT chief technologist Joseph Lorenzo hall said training on cyber security especially for journalists are important in the 21st century where almost everything has become digital.

Lorenzo said journalists need to protect themselves in the digital world as they are doing their work since they are often targeted.

“Unfortunately the only way to prevent the installation of malware (malicious software) on your devices is to have extremely secure device such as the apple devices (iphones and ipads),” said Lorenzo.

“However telling you to go buy iphones is not a solution and so in that case I would highly recommend that journalists try to communicate without using their devices whenever they can they should meet up with their sources.”

Lorenzo also recommended that journalists wrap up their devices such as laptops in as much aluminium foil as they can especially when moving around so as to put a cage to avoid penetration of signals.

Every year, hundreds of journalists are attacked, imprisoned or killed because of their work. According to CPJ which is one of the organisations the journalists on the reporting tour managed to meet, attacks on the press has now become new face of censorship.

Zimbabwe is currently drafting bills to combat cyber crime, however concerns have been raised that the bills will allow government to spy on its citizens and thereby infringing on the rights of freedom of expression. The Computer crime and Cybercrime bill will allow government to install a forensic tool on its citizen’s devices to monitor use of the internet.

Another non-governmental organisation (NGO) which met with journalists, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) encouraged that citizens including journalists should encrypt their devices in order to protect themselves from government surveillance and to maintain privacy.

EFF officials during their presentation said part of its important projects was to encourage encrypting the web through the use of an encryption tool Https which blocks surveillance and malware.

The organisation said the project which they named Https everywhere had seen over five million of the world’s internet users install the encryption tool on their devices.

Journalists also met with officials from one of the world’s leading NGOs in the defense and promotion of freedom of information, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) who revealed that press freedom was in a dire state worldwide.

The officials presented RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom index which showed that Zimbabwe has dropped four places to position 128 out of 180 countries in the index. In 2016 Zimbabwe was ranked at position 124.

RSF Advocacy and Communications director for North America Margaux Ewen said her organisation will monitor and pressurise the Zimbabwean government to allow for press freedom ahead of the country’s 2018 general elections.

Social media platform Facebook officials, also gave the 18 journalists an opportunity to meet with them at their offices in New York. The officials told the journalists that it has stringent conditions on giving out subscriber information to governments and does not comply if a government wants access to user information for political reasons.

Other organisations which the reporters met during the tour include ; The Heritage Foundation, Sunlight Foundation, Bloomberg, The Washington Post, San Francisco Examiner, Udemy ,Wikimedia Foundation and American University School of Communication.

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