How will killing net neutrality affect data privacy in Zambia?

The concept of an Open Internet and Net Neutrality is one that has been debated since the early 1990’s. Net Neutrality or Network Neutrality basically is where Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) are required to treat all content equally, by not favouring one application or service over the other. This implies treating all data on the Internet equally and ensuring non-discriminatory user access to desired content.

Typically Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) and governments have the power to restrict what content end users view on the Internet. This can be seen by the way some governments for example, that of China filters what content and applications are viewed by its citizens through what has become known as the ‘Great Firewall’.

Most of the current debate on net neutrality has been focused on the United States of America, where the Obama Administration fought hard to put in place regulation that ensured Net Neutrality. This was not so popular amongst major ISP’s in the US who felt not having these regulation in place would give the room to make more profits and invest them back into their businesses by acquiring better internet infrastructure, but at the end of the day these regulations looked out for the benefit of the ordinary citizen as well as SME’s by offering a level playing field.

With the ushering in of the Trump Administration, the Obama era-internet regulation on Net Neutrality was targeted to be repealed, and so the Trump Administration through the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) successfully managed to repeal the Obama era net neutrality regulations on December 14, 2017.

Now, one of the biggest questions that should be on our minds as Internet users is, how does this affect our data privacy?

Impact of Lack of Net Neutrality on Data Privacy

A lack of Net Neutrality will mean that ISP’s can now sell sensitive personal data to the highest bidder in order to make the extra buck. This information includes your geo-location, health information, web browsing history and App usage history. Not so cool is it? ISP’s can do whatever they want with web traffic as long as they disclose to their users what they will be using their web traffic for.

Problem is this data can be used for many malicious purposes for example to blackmail certain individuals as well as spy on Internet users. ISP’s will not also be held responsible for protecting their user’s data.

Impact on Internet users around the world

In my opinion the repeal of this Net Neutrality regulation will not have significant impact to Internet users in other parts of the world unless ISP’s in their country’s decide to follow the path that American ISP’s have taken, so they can earn that extra buck by selling user data, but this is unlikely to happen.

In places like Europe the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) takes effect on the 18th of May 2018 and will require any company that handles data that belongs to EU citizens to be fully compliant with this regulation. The GDPR is an excellent regulation in my opinion that puts in place stringent measures to ensure Personal Identifiable Information (PII) is kept private.

Bringing it closer to home, decisions made in the US will not affect the Zambian Internet user, for the same reasons given above. In Zambia we have a completely separate ISP infrastructure and data privacy laws that govern how data is to be handled, for more information on this you can make reference to the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act 2009.

The biggest impact that a lack of Net Neutrality or an open Internet will have on Zambia is that it will limit access to certain forms of information which may be restricted to only be accessed in certain geographical locations e.g. the US. This restricted access to information could stifle innovation and competitiveness amongst SME’s and Start-ups within our country.

Share your thoughts on the impact of net neutrality in Zambia.

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Author: Alinani Simuchimba

CISM, GCIH, ITIL (f) Software Developer, Application Security Specialist

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