Johannesburg - New laws could undermine the neutrality of internet service providers (ISPs) and harm online freedoms, says a local association.
The Internet Service Providers’ Association (Ispa) said in a statement on Monday that a “robust balance needs to be struck between combating growing online threats to South Africa and its corporate and individual citizens and maintaining the essential neutrality of internet service providers (ISPs)”.
Highlighting its concerns, Ispa said the Film & Publications Board's draft online content regulation strategy risk threatening ISPs neutral stance in the country.
Ispa says that its comments were primarily targeted at the draft Online Content Regulation Policy released by the Film and Publications Board (FPB). Ispa further says that it has engaged with the Department of Justice and Correctional Services regarding the proposed Cybercrimes and Related Matters Bill which is expected to be released for comment later this year, and welcomes the constructive manner in which its concerns have been addressed."
"Regarding an ISP as controlling the content flowing over its network or making ISPs jointly liable with customers for unlawful acts is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what an ISP is and sets the sector down a problematic path," said Dominic Cull, Ispa regulatory advisor, in a statement on Monday.
"An ISP is no more responsible for content on its network than the Post Office is responsible for the content of letters circulating through the postal system," said Cull.
"No one expects that the Post Office should be fined for an inflammatory letter sent by one user of the postal system to another," he added.
The Film and Publications Board (FPB) has put together a draft on internet regulation that calls for content producers to apply and pay for classification before their content is made available online.
Civil society watchdog Right2Know has said the proposed move by the FPB is a form of censorship.
Ispa has further said that currently, Chapter 11 of the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act of 2002, describes ISPs as “mere conduits” for the information their networks carry.
The Act further says that ISPs are not obliged to monitor the content flowing over their networks.
Ispa has further said that to operate as viable commercial entities, ISPs must protect the constitutional rights to freedom of expression and privacy.
"Increasingly members of the public and organisations are exercising our fundamental rights to freedom of speech and privacy within the online environment. It is vital for South Africans to appreciate that their ISPs should be allowed to maintain their neutrality if their Constitutional rights are to be protected," said Cull.
Ispa says it represents the interests of over 175 members which consist of ISPs and related organisations such as academic institutions.