Friday, May 22, 2015

#HandsOffOurInternet: My response to the Draft Online Regulation Policy

I am submitting the text below as public comment on South Africa's Draft Online Regulation Policy. Read more at the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Deep Links blog and at the Right2Know Campaign's website.

This is the first time I am submitting comment to draft law. Normally I consider myself too unimportant and too uninvolved in lawmaking for my commenting on draft law to be a good use of my time. But this draft policy is simply so bad that I feel compelled to comment, lest the FPB underestimate how offensive this draft is, by even one person's response.

My stake in this matter is both as an occasional content creator, and as an ordinary South African who feels offended at the idea of a supposed constitutional democracy's government insisting on inserting itself into every transaction between consenting humans (adult or not), where it is not wanted. Wherever government impinges on my life, I have stress, and by impinging itself onto every instance of sharing a creative work, it maximizes the harm its regulative efforts do.

I cannot respond to every element of the draft which I find problematic. There is simply too much. In almost every sentence I find an offensively obstructionist, parochial and regressive provision. This is the year 2015, and the draft harks back to PW Botha's 1986 government. It too seemed to have the view that every publication which is not explicitly allowed, must be forbidden (or at least classified).

What I want the FPB to do instead (although cynically I cannot expect this to occur) would be to repeal its empowering laws and then disband itself. The few shreds of law that I would like to see remain can easily be absorbed into other ministries' laws - but as for the vast bulk of it, I wish it were simply gone.

The first thing the FPB should, in my opinion, do is to toss the Draft Online Regulation Policy in the metaphorical bin where it belongs, and start again. It might start again by amending the Film and Publications Act. Ideally by replacing 90%+ of its content with blank space. Any concerns of platform-neutrality are immediately addressed if the FPB had the commitment to democratic principles to give up on its (false) ideal of classifying every publication. Mandatory classification of publications is a Soviet bureaucrat's lifeblood, not the sort of stuff that a modern democracy is made of.

The FPB must choose. It must choose whether it wishes to be an embarrassment to South Africa, Africa, and humanity as a whole, or if it wants to be a respected entity in a respected democracy. Sticking to this draft policy is the former, and abandoning it and trying again is a step in the direction of the latter. It must choose between regulatory capture, and meaningful civil liberty.