DSS 216 and IGMENA Meeting on Policy Development for Internet Security in Tunisia  

In an effort to discuss the current status of digital security in Tunisia and highlight all related concerns, a meeting was held and hosted by DSS216. DSS 216 is an active member of civil society in the fight for digital freedom and freedom of expression in general .The participants came from different affiliations and professions including a number of civil society groups, to share their own views about the current situation and propose possible reforms and actions to improve the future of Internet security in Tunisia. The intention was to bring representatives from all stakeholders groups to ensure different views were included. The first part of the meeting focused on analyzing the current situation.

Ines Hfaieth, who has a background in education and ICT, focused on issues concerning Internet development. In her opinion, connectivity issues in schools, universities, and public sector institutions and similar basic access problems are the main obstacles to development in Tunisia. She also discussed the lack of transparency in state surveillance practices and mentioned that these measures are currently under scrutiny after they failed to prevent the latest terrorist attacks. Tunisian policymakers are re-thinking their effectiveness.

Hamza Ben Mehrez from IGMENA brought up the dilemma of the legal system. He stressed the disharmony between the different legal texts as a direct result of absence of reforms and updates to old laws such as the telecommunication law. He also drew attention to the ways in which those laws failed to adapt and evolve to suit the current situation. A striking example is the fact that bloggers and online journalists are not protected under Tunisian press code like traditional journalists. Hamza concluded that vagueness of definitions in Tunisian legal texts is the main cause for issues with both legislation and implementation in the legal system.

Med Amine, co-founder of hackerspace Djerba, agreed with Hamza, stating that vagueness of definitions is an international problem that is not limited to Tunis. He also highlighted the equal importance of drafting and implementing laws and argued that cyber-security and cyber-crime laws have become a necessity for economic development. Banking and money transactions can be accessed by state surveillance.Criminals are constantly searching for creative new ways to obtain money from banks and customers through fraud and cybersecurity vulnerabilities. Lack of trust between different stakeholders is a major barrier to any possible advance. Med joined Ines in her concerns about transparency related to government surveillance practices, especially regarding the possible use of censorship and surveillance tools and systems that once belonged to the past regime. He said that the government should be transparent if these systems are currently in use.

Senda, a feminist activist from the ‘Chouf’ organization, had a different focus, highlighting issues concerning women and minorities online. She indicated that these issues are sensitive to discuss in society right now. The online situation is a reflection of the situation in the offline world. She took online harassment as an example. Victims are not protected by the law and it is very difficult to prove cases based on current legal conditions. In addition, the use some social media data, like Facebook status or private messages, for the purposes of advertising raises concerns about the privacy and security of end-users.

Hackerspace spoke next, summing up their extensive experience in Tunisia. The main challenges they identified were funding and finding individuals interested in digital security. CSI-ENSI members pointed out that the majority of students are not conscious enough about the importance of digital security. Young people interested in the technical side of digital security don’t know how to protect themselves and avoid legal persecution. The “Fallaga” group was used as an example.

In the next phase of the discussion, the group outlined steps to ensure that cyberspace and digital media is not misused. By using ICT tools to prevent harassment, Chouf is developing a project in this field. Local communities need to take the initiative to circulate information and protect the local heritage. A dialogue between different stakeholders is needed to restore the trust.
The importance of gathering (online and offline) civil society groups (such as NGOs and university clubs) was also mentioned. Moreover, meeting participants identified a need to follow-up with similar meetings to make progress. Finally the group agreed that it is necessary to organize campaigns and draft policies to raise the awareness of both citizens and decision makers regarding digital rights and freedoms.
To address these issues, ‘Chouf’ and IGMENA IPA contributors from Tunisia will seek to collaborate with DSS216 by organizing Training of Trainr sessions. It was suggested that in order enhance youth education in digital security, university clubs can organize events about digital security. Civil society gatherings on digital rights will also be beneficial.

As a starting point, groups can work together on the proposed cyber-crime law, promoting civil society recommendations and highlighting the gaps present in the current drafts. Moreover, by simplifying the laws related to digital rights and security the application of the laws will become more predictable. Regular meetings regarding the Internet in the Tunisian interior regions in collaboration with IGMENA will also be fruitful.
Hamza Ben Mehrez is the Policy Analyst Lead at IGMENA.