Computer Misuse Act: Good law, but lacking alcohol control, parental guidance – Monitor

Author: Gawaya Tegulle. PHOTO/NMG
By  Gawaya Tegulle
‘‘Police could help create awareness on this. Send flyers like: “Don’t drink and tweet”

Forget the kajanja of the theory cats: truth is, in civilised places, the internet is a global “public good” – which refers to a commodity or service made available to all members of society – just like roads. The ability to communicate, the pleasure of connecting with people everywhere, is a right; not a privilege.
And as everyone knows, there are laws that regulate the use of roads, even though we all agree they are public goods. The purpose: to ensure safe, orderly and sustainable use of the roads. That is why it is hard to understand all the hullabaloo Ugandans are raising, now that we have new laws on internet use. Methinks the Computer Misuse Act (CMA, as amended) is the best thing since cupcakes! Only bad people would think about attacking a good law!
Whoever conjured up this law clearly has the country at heart – we need safe and orderly enjoyment of the internet. For example, why should people throw insults at others? And why promote hate speech? Not good at all. Kwegamba, this law intends, among its very many other good attributes, to ensure and enhance good internet citizenship, or netizenship. But then again it falls short in a couple of areas; we need further amendments, just to touch up and tighten things just a bit.
For instance, what happens if it does appear to all right-thinking members of society that the content of one’s messages on the internet are highly indicative of a swig too many? What if, after reading a post on the net, there is consensus that the content is sufficient to shock, generally offend or otherwise upset the conscience of right-thinking members of society and that no person, in their right mind and in the ordinary course of thinking, would come up with a message like that?
Suppose, just suppose, one’s digital footprints indicate they are literally staggering after a good swig, having spent most of the evening schmoozing with Jack Daniels, Johnnie Walker, Tusker Lite, and such other bottles as might be connected therewith and ancillary thereto?
In times where we are no longer sure whether it is the owner of the digital platform posting the message, or it is their drink doing so, a good law must come in, with due dispatch, to inescapably address such a scenario.
Just like we have done on the roads, where you must not drink (alcohol) and drive, because then you are danger to yourself and other road users, we need an equivalent on the internet to keep it safe, sane and basically sober.
Police could help create awareness on this. Send flyers like: “Don’t drink and tweet”. Or Pepsi could capture the moment with, “Drink Pepsi, if you must drink and tweet”. And there should be penalties for repeat offenders: a suspension from the platform, or something like that.
How about in cases where the bottle is probably innocent, but such is the content of the message that it is sufficiently disconcerting to the extent that people are raising eyebrows all over the place and even checking with their opticians, to confirm that they are still possessed of good eyesight? This is where a good law must provide for possible parental control or supervised access. Parents or guardians should constantly monitor the digital platforms of their children, and step in firmly where it appears that the kids are flying off the handle. Should the age of the child matter? Not at all; not even if the kids insist they’re grown-ups. Article 43 of the Constitution would allow parents unbridled control over their kids, especially when the actions of the kids are inimical to social comity.
What if, in the process, parents and kids clash? Parliament could introduce a code of ethics that could sort that out, enforced, inter alia, by automatic deletion of offensive content: ebyomunju tebitottolwa – domestic matters should not be sorted out on the net.
A good law should also provide for Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), including the customary bit. No need for blood and iron all the time – sijui seven years in jail or fines of several millions. Rubbish. Those guilty of poor netizenship could be sat down under a mango tree and properly talked to by the elders. Otherwise, a good law we got, all things considered.
Mr Tegulle is an advocate of the High Court of Uganda     [email protected]
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