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‘Internet Censorship Act’ requires R120m tech budget


The budget for the technology resources needed to implement the digital strategy of the Films and Publications Amendment (FPA) Act (2019), is expected to reach up to R120 million annually.

The Film and Publication Board (FPB) says it has commenced with the process to review and amend regulatory instruments to accommodate the institution’s expanded mandate. This includes the obligation to execute the amended regulations of the controversial Act, dubbed the “Internet Censorship Act”.

The FPA was signed into law in 2019. However, its operationalisation was put in abeyance to allow the FPB to adequately prepare and undertake certain critical regulatory exercises as required by the Act.

The regulations, gazetted earlier this month, seek to make provision for online content distribution, and allow the FPB to be the final arbiter to determine what forms of expression are allowed or not allowed online.

It stipulates that commercial online content distributors have to submit content available on their platforms for classification by the FPB, or enter into individual exemption agreements with the FPB.

In line with advancements in digital technologies, the Act also seeks to ensure citizens of SA are protected from content in films, games and online platforms, which could cause them moral, emotional or psychological harm.

In an e-mail interview with ITWeb, Dr Mashilo Boloka, interim CEO of the FPB, explained the analysis of online content requires an array of tech systems to adequately detect harmful content and any content that may contain child sexual abuse material (CSAM).

The content analysis, conducted by internationally-certified FPB content analysts, also applies to content that is escalated to FPB by other countries – that can be accessed in SA but hosted internationally.

This process is conducted using the INHOPE system, which is an international association of hotlines that deals with CSAM. The system identifies potential CSAM content using the URL and track history and direct hosting country, which allows members to refer, track and receive feedback of the outcome.

Dr Mashilo Boloka, interim CEO of the Film and Publication Board.

Dr Mashilo Boloka, interim CEO of the Film and Publication Board.

“The new strategy will require additional funds for the FPB and a substantive investment that will be needed to implement the digital roadmap that has been developed in response to the expanded mandate,” explains Boloka.

“Based on the technology required alone, the funding requirements range from R50 million to R120 million per year. However, no entity can achieve this mandate on its own, irrespective of the size of its resources. More collaborations and partnerships are required.”

In addition, the FPB is working on a matrix that will be introduced for distributors of games to populate their own metadata that will generate the classification rating of the content, he notes.

The process is similar to that used by many content aggregators or creators when they upload commercial content on distribution sites.

“This will eradicate manual classification of games which we hope will be rolled out to film content – once the system has proven to be successful. We are currently looking at technology that will assist us to monitor compliance with the FPA Act.”

He noted the aim is to install the technology at tier one internet service providers; namely, Telkom, MTN, Vodacom and Liquid Intelligent Technologies.

The legal fraternity has over the years expressed concerns regarding the Act, noting it poses a grave threat to the Constitutional right to freedom of expression in general and also to the right to privacy – by determining what forms of expression are allowed or not allowed online.

Section 16 of the Constitution guarantees everyone the right to freedom of expression and freedom of the press, provided that expression does not call for war, for imminent violence, or for harm to be done to people based on their race, ethnicity, gender, or religion.

Furthermore, legal pundits complained that the FPB is overstepping its boundaries into the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa’s regulatory jurisdiction, by appointing itself as an arbiter of what is, and what is not, protected speech online.

In response, Boloka points out the FPB is taking a phased approach to capacitate the organisation, and to ensure the right processes are followed in implementing the Act.

“We are looking at an option of partnering with big internet and social network providers, like Google, Facebook, etc. The value of partnering will be to share data produced by these hosts and the FPB will take action based on investigations resulting from the data shared.”

A process is also under way to appoint both the Enforcement Committee and Appeals Tribunal.

This follows the establishment of a statutory regulatory forum, comprising various regulators within the communications environment, to streamline regulatory activities, collaborate, share resources, and address duplication and mandate overlap.

“The sheer volume of content available on streaming platforms renders the capacity of any regulator of content obsolete. As provided for in the Act, a co-regulatory mechanism has been ushered cognisant of this challenge.

“The FPB conducts sampling of self-classified content monthly for the purpose of ensuring compliance through the FPB quality assurance process. In the future, core resources will also be channelled towards quality assurance and compliance.”

For transgressors, the Act provides for minimum penalties and fines of up to R500 000, or imprisonmentfor a period not exceeding five years, or both.



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