Last week the ICT Cabinet Secretary, Joe Mucheru, directed the Communication Authority (CA) to explore how pornographic content could be controlled, in an effort to protect children from harmful content.
This sparked off heated debates on social media, with different groups supporting or opposing the directive.
Those opposing the directive felt that oppressive regimes often start off with high-sounding ideals and eventually creep into individual freedoms without one's knowledge.
Specifically, those in opposition felt that initially the CA would force telcos and other providers to block porn, and sooner rather than later, the government would ask that ''other'' content be blocked. Essentially, if what is not good for your children can be blocked, what is not good for you too can be blocked.
If we are to extend this argument to its logical conclusion, once the tools for filtering porn have been installed and are functional, they can easily be tweaked to filter content or political voices that are too critical of government positions.
If this were to happen, Kenya would potentially have joined the league of nations that suppress freedoms of press, thought, association and other human rights.
Those supporting the directive against porn also had very valid points. One obvious one is that our children deserve to be protected from content that is harmful or inappropriate for their age.
Indeed, access to porn or adult sites in developed economies is strictly controlled and requires the user to be an adult or have access to a credit card. Additionally, service providers are forced to provide tools for parents to use to monitor and control access. Content is rated so that parents can easily block access on the kid’s devices using the installed software.
In Kenya, this effort is only beginning to take root and seems to be optional rather than mandatory. The business of a telco or an Internet Service Provider (ISP) is basically to sell access or bandwidth. Whether that bandwidth is used for educational, social, political, economic or other purpose is often the least of their concerns.
Indeed, a good chunk of online traffic is heavily driven by pornographic content, but as long as the ISP or cybercafé is getting paid for it, they are likely to care less.
It therefore calls for some form of intervention to align both the business and social interest towards a particular national value aspiration.
Forcing the CA to filter porn traffic would however be an overkill, since it would place Kenya on a slippery slope towards oppressive tendencies.
On the other hand, not doing anything to protect our kids is not an option.
Perhaps a compromise can be reached where service providers are forced through regulation to provide free and simple end-user tools for parents to filter online access on behalf of their children.
As the long holiday gets into its second month, many kids are glued onto various streaming sites with little or no control because the service providers, by design, prefer it that way.
However, the correct approach would be to ensure that service providers avail content-control software to parents so that they can filter the traffic as well as control the time the children can stay online. That, I believe is not too much to ask from the service providers, some of whom already have the tools but rarely advertise them.
Let us all collaborate and protect our children. After all, it does take a village to raise one.
Mr Walubengo is a lecturer at Multimedia University of Kenya, Faculty of Computing and IT. Email: [email protected], Twitter: @Jwalu