CJ Koome: State needs to regulate tech firms

Chief Justice Martha Koome speaks at Safari Park hotel on Thursday, April 21, 2022, during the opening of the Southern African Chief justices` forum. [Collins Kweyu, Standard]

Chief Justice Martha Koome has called for the regulation of technology companies running digital platforms and storing huge data on internet users.

The CJ said firms such as Amazon, Google, Facebook, Uber, Twitter, and Microsoft have an “untamed influence” on data gathering and use that needs to be regulated.

“They play a significant role in setting the parameters of access to markets and freedom of expression through their proprietary algorithms. Given the immense power amassed by these private entities, there is undoubtedly a need to regulate their operations,” said Koome, who spoke during a forum of South African Chief Justices on digitisation and internet governance in Nairobi on Thursday.

Koome cited online child abuse, trafficking, hate speech, fake news, and polarized political systems as among the reasons why African countries should put up systems to oversight internet use and digital technologies. According to her, the continent should take a joint approach to regulate the use of digital platforms in a similar way the world is tackling climate change.

“The aim should be to ensure the internet is used in a way that fosters respect for human rights and social justice and promotes transparency and accountability in governance and the society,” Justice Koome said.

The 12 CJs will, during the two-day meeting, deliberate on how to design regulatory frameworks and adopt judicial intervention approaches in disputes over digitization and internet governance. They will also be looking into digital transformation in Africa and experiences in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, internet freedoms, internet shutdowns and impact on access to justice, and threats to digital access.

Deputy Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu said: “Courts in the continent should weigh the opportunities and challenges that come with the technology. We must however also remember digitization in and of itself cannot be the end. It is only useful if it has a substantive, sustainable and cost-effective impact on improving access to justice for our justice seekers.”

International Commission of Jurists chairperson Protus Saende said there is an emerging trend of African governments limiting the right to access the internet. Saende noted that in 2019, at least 25 incidents of internet shutdown by governments were recorded in 14 African countries.

In the Eastern Africa region, he said, Burundi, Tanzania, and Uganda governments implemented internet shutdowns during their elections held between May 2020 and February 2021.

The time is ripe for the courts to adopt technology. They should also defend the citizen’s rights to access the internet and technology, he said.