Is a VPN needed in Bioko?
Nestled within the Gulf of Guinea, Bioko Island boasts a lush terrain that belies the complex modern-day challenges it encounters. As the 21st century unfolds, this secluded paradise finds itself amidst a growing storm of privacy and security concerns. The influx of digital technologies, while a harbinger of global connectivity, also poses significant threats to the once untouched realms of Bioko. The island, now at the cusp of a digital era, grapples with the intricate dance between preserving the sanctity of its cultural heritage and addressing the exigencies of modern-day security and privacy.
Censorship and Free Speech
Equatorial Guinea, encompassing Bioko Island, has grappled with serious restrictions on free speech and censorship. The legal framework surrounding media is stringent, with Equatorial Guinea’s media legislation being one of the toughest in Africa. Press offenses are not decriminalized, and lawsuits for slander or defamation are common, engendering a culture of self-censorship. While the constitution guarantees access to state-held information, legal provisions significantly hamper the exercise of this right.
Incidents highlighting the erosion of free speech are not uncommon. Notably, two journalists, Melanio Nkogo and Ruben Bacale from the country’s only privately-owned TV channel, were arbitrarily detained following an interview with a recently-fired judge, underlining the precarious situation of free speech and press freedom.
Additionally, the government’s tight control over news and censorship extends to the extent that not even the coronavirus pandemic escaped its ambit, as pointed out by the head of RSF’s Africa desk. The internet, a modern frontier for free speech, is not exempt from oversight. Despite constitutional provisions for freedom of speech and press, the law grants authorities expansive powers to restrict media activities, which the government actively utilizes to limit internet freedom and surveil telecommunications.
These restrictions are further corroborated by a report from the United States Department of State, which details violence or threats against journalists, unjustified arrests or prosecutions, censorship, the existence of criminal libel laws, and substantial restrictions on internet freedom. There’s also significant interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, with overly restrictive laws impacting the operation of non-governmental organizations.
This narrative underscores a broader tableau of suppressed free speech and stifled civic engagement, raising pressing concerns over the right to express dissent and access information in Equatorial Guinea.
Torrenting and P2P
Torrenting, which essentially refers to the sharing of files over a Peer-to-Peer (P2P) network, has been deemed illegal in Equatorial Guinea due to its common association with the piracy of copyrighted material. The legal framework in the country provides for the protection of economic rights tied to intellectual property, outlining penal sanctions and compensation for losses and damages related to copyright infringements.
The restriction on torrenting aligns with broader digital rights issues in Equatorial Guinea where certain measures have been enacted to control or monitor online activities. Individuals in Equatorial Guinea have resorted to utilizing Virtual Private Network (VPN) services to bypass these restrictions, maintain online anonymity, and engage in P2P file sharing activities safely. Specifically, services like TorrentPrivacy are available, albeit not highly recommended, as means to engage in torrenting while in Equatorial Guinea.
Social Media Restrictions and Internet Shutdowns
The landscape of social media and internet accessibility in Equatorial Guinea has seen significant restrictions, particularly during politically sensitive times. A notable instance occurred in May 2013 when the government, at the behest of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, blocked access to Facebook and several opposition websites. This move came ahead of the parliamentary and municipal elections scheduled for 26 May, specifically targeting the site of the main opposition party, Convergence For Social Democracy (CPDS), which was fielding candidates for the elections. The blocking was seen as a grave violation of freedom of information by entities such as Reporters Without Borders, who condemned this act of censorship, especially considering its timing right before the elections.
In a more severe control measure, during the 2017 legislative and municipal elections, the government of Equatorial Guinea imposed a near-total internet shutdown that lasted for approximately 10 days. This shutdown restricted access to not just social media platforms but the entire internet, significantly impeding the flow of information during a critical political period.
Furthermore, there was an incident in August 2022, where the country faced a threat of internet shutdown due to unsettled bills concerning the use of international submarine fibre optic connectivity. This situation arose as Equatorial Guinea is connected to the external world via a single international submarine cable system, the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) cable. However, the government managed to avert a complete disconnection, although details on how this was accomplished are not explicitly provided.
Equatorial Guinea’s legal framework concerning digital privacy and security is encompassed within broader media, communication, and copyright laws. The nation’s Copyright Code safeguards intellectual property, but specific laws addressing digital privacy and cybersecurity seem lacking or not well-publicized. The restrictive media landscape, where the government significantly controls information flow, further compounds the scenario. Although there’s a Personal Data Protection Law (Num. 1/2016) in place, the enforcement and adherence to international privacy and security standards remain unclear.
The digital era presents numerous challenges for Equatorial Guinea, especially in aligning its legal framework with evolving privacy and security dynamics. Instances of internet shutdowns and social media blocking hint at a landscape where digital privacy may be compromised. The absence of a comprehensive legal framework addressing modern cybersecurity threats could leave the nation and its citizens vulnerable to cyber threats and privacy infringements, emphasizing the need for aligning national laws with international digital privacy and security standards.
Equatorial Guinea, amidst its pristine natural beauty, grapples with the multifaceted challenges of the digital era. The landscape of free speech is marred by instances of censorship, especially during politically sensitive times, reflecting a broader issue of governmental control over information flow. While there exists a framework for intellectual property protection, the absence of a comprehensive legal structure addressing digital privacy, cybersecurity, and the modern-day concerns related to P2P sharing and torrenting highlights a critical area for development. Instances of social media blocking and internet shutdowns, particularly around election periods, underscore the pressing need for evolving the legal framework to align with international standards of digital privacy and security. As the digital realm continues to expand, fostering a conducive environment for digital innovation, bolstering infrastructure, and nurturing a culture of digital literacy are imperative for Equatorial Guinea to secure a robust and inclusive digital future for its citizens.