Sierra Leone, known for its rich culture and natural resources, is facing crucial developments in its digital landscape. The introduction of the Cyber Crime Bill (2020), disruptions to internet services, and instances of targeting individuals for online speech raise concerns about digital rights and privacy. This article aims to provide a balanced overview of the evolving situation in the country.
Internet Censorship and Freedom
Cyber Crime Bill
The Cyber Crime Bill (2020) has raised significant concerns about freedom of expression online. The bill’s controversial provisions have triggered public outcry, fearing it would erode hard-won freedoms.
Targeting of Online Speech
Recent cases, such as that of social media personality “Adebayor,” highlight the government’s resolve to act against what it perceives as hate speech or incitement. Adebayor, an opposition voice based in the Netherlands, allegedly incited youth in Sierra Leone to protest against governmental decisions. His actions reportedly resulted in multiple casualties and have led to proposals for strengthening the Cyber Crime Bill to criminalize the distribution of similar content.
On August 10, 2022, the government disrupted internet services nationwide amid anti-government protests. The interruption hindered the majority of internet users and limited coverage of unfolding events.
Peer-to-Peer Services and Torrenting
Peer-to-peer services and torrenting do not currently appear to be a government target, but the evolving digital policy could change this landscape in the future.
Media Websites and Social Media Access
While social media remains accessible, the government’s capability to disrupt services and target individuals for their online speech indicates a less predictable future for digital freedom.
Sierra Leone has not reported substantial changes concerning net neutrality. ISPs generally do not violate net neutrality principles¹.
The constitution guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press. However, the Cyber Crime Bill’s controversial elements cast doubt on these constitutional protections.
Surveillance and Privacy
As of the latest data, there are no credible reports of government monitoring of emails or Internet chat rooms. However, given the government’s capability to disrupt internet services and the evolving landscape of digital rights and privacy, it would be prudent for users to operate under the assumption that they could be monitored at all times. Therefore, taking proactive measures to reduce one’s digital footprint to minimize the risk of surveillance is advisable.
The government has launched a national digital identity platform using blockchain technology, signaling steps towards increased digitization and potential surveillance.
Sierra Leone’s digital rights landscape is in a state of flux, with a mix of progress and setbacks. The Cyber Crime Bill, proposed changes in legislation, and the targeting of individuals for online speech represent emerging threats to digital freedom. It is essential to stay updated on these evolving circumstances for a nuanced understanding of the country’s digital environment.