Former Communications Regulatory Authority of Namibia (Cran) CEO Stanley Shanapinda, a lawyer in ICT policy and regulation and a research fellow at La Trobe University in Australia, tells New Era Managing Editor Toivo Ndjebela about his journey and how Namibia can embrace cyber-security issues and protect citizens from emerging tech issues such as online bullying.
New Era (NE): Tell us about yourself. Who, in your own words, is Stanley Shanapinda?
Stanley Shanapinda (SS): I am not sure how to answer this question. Stanley is first and foremost an inquisitive being, that is my on true defining trait, that’s common throughout everything I have ever done. I am curious about things beyond my immediate surroundings. I want to know what lies over there, and how I can experience it. I am curious about different cultures and languages – I love life.
NE: Where are you originally from and what kind of family did you have?
SS: I was born in Gemengde lokasie, in a typical Katutura square box grey house. I grew up with my grandma, and as a grandma’s kid, as you know, you could get away with murder… she spoilt me but I can remember lots of time I spent alone, when she was at work. I think that taught me to be independent as well and to be OK with being alone, but not lonely. I then moved back with my mom when my grandad passed away. Growing up we did not have much, but the one thing we had lots of was love and unity in the family. I was surrounded by a loving single mother, Meriam Shanapinda, along with my grandma, who made sure I had everything I needed for school.
NE: You initially studied law at Unam, acquiring an LL. B, but have since gone on to study ICT policy at a masters’ level and then computer science at an PhD level. What motivated your transition from law to ICT-related sciences?
SS: I always wanted to be in media law, hence my early broadcasting days at the NBC. I soon realised I couldn’t really practice that without having to do criminal law as well and so I set my eyes on telecommunications instead. I started at Telecom Namibia as freelance researcher, really. I was fascinated by the technology. I had the great opportunity to simultaneously complete my legal practitioners’ qualifications at Lorentz & Bone, as it was then known. My curiosity got the better of me and I completed a Masters in ICT Policy and Regulation at Wits University in Johannesburg between Telecom Namibia and CRAN. This was a dream of mine – I’ve always wanted to study at Wits since I first visited it during my debating days at Unam. Given the rise in cyber crimes that are committed using telecommunications network, the next logical step was to study computer science and specifically cybersecurity. I thought it would be a great opportunity to combine law and cybersecurity, as this was becoming a major global issue for which Namibia did not have many expertise. I don’t think we can continue to think in silos’ any longer – law impacts technology and so interdisciplinary studies allows you the best of both worlds. This move was inspired by my days at CRAN.
NE: Apart from your stint at CRAN, you’ve very much lived abroad since leaving Telecom Namibia. Is that mainly due to academic commitment or is Namibia too small a market for you?
SS: This is an interesting question. Back to being a curios kid again – I’ve always wanted to study abroad. I think learning from others that have a different background is quite valuable. When I got the chance to study in the US while I was at Unam, my mom nudged me to rather complete my LL.B. This allowed me to plough back into the family and friends that helped me as a student. As I was getting older, I then had to make quick decisions about my goals of experiencing what the world has to offer. I love Namibia and I think Namibia will benefit greatly from my overseas stints upon my return, soon.
NE: The Namibian government is in the final stages of refining a draft cybercrime and electronic transactions bill. What’s the importance of having such a law in a country like ours?
SS: I am happy to hear that it is finally happening – its been a long time coming. These laws serve two purposes; personal information protection and enabling e-commerce. The Electronic Transactions Bill will finally recognise Internet banking legally and protect both banks and customers. It will also incentivise entrepreneurs to do business online. For example, if you send an SMS to sell a cow and the person accepts the offer via SMS, the SMS can be used as proof for the contract, and in court, when a dispute arises. The deal is quick and easy. The personal data of Namibians are being collected by international big tech companies like Facebook and Namibians are subject to American laws, because Namibia does not have a privacy law that explicitly protects the personal data of Namibians from being hacked, like the pictures and the personal chats. Namibia was the first African country to introduce electronic voting in 2014. This is major progress, but as we learnt about the Russians hacking the 2016 US presidential election in two counties in Miami, these laws are needed to criminalise such activity and to prosecute the actors to protect Namibia’s good record as a peaceful African democracy and ensure that the public can trust the voting system and not think the elections were rigged.
NE: There are concerns, especially in the civil society space, that such a law may be abused to spy on citizens. Is this a legitimate concern and how are other countries ensuring that there is no abuse?
SS: The CRAN law, along with the Namibia Security Intelligence Agency law, provides for surveillance for purposes of law enforcement and national security. Under these laws, judicial warrants must be obtained. However, who polices the police to make sure there is no improper use of the surveillance powers? Martin Luther King was spied on by Edgar J. Hoover, the FBI Chief, not because he was a criminal but because he was a civil rights fighter. To prevent such potential misuse, and to allow free speech and political activism and to give the population the confidence that there will be no misuse, Namibia needs to have an independent oversight body, similar to the Ombudsman, to inspect the powers of the police and the security agency, and issue annual reports about how it exercises its inspection powers. Spying on a citizen is a major issue globally because countries are buying hacking tools to hack social media apps like WhatsApp to spy on their own journalists and political activists. The laws must be improved to provide protection to journalist, as is done in Australia, and political activists. There must be public guidelines that show how surveillance will be conducted, that will be used as criteria for the inspections to be conducted. Authorisations for journalist and political activists must be approved at higher internal levels and be subject to rigorous scrutiny.
NE: There is also flirtation with the idea to implement a mandatory SIM card registration for all Namibian mobile phone users, supposedly to combat crime and terrorism. What’s your take on this proposition?
SS: This process also falls under the regulatory ambit of CRAN. This was one of the issues that inspired me to study cyber security, so I can understand it better and shape policy better and prevent misuse. SIM registration is common all over the world, so it will happen in Namibia. However, in South Africa there is a court case in Pretoria about violations of the constitution where the government is accused of spying on journalists. Magistrates that are appointed by the government simply issue warrants without properly examining whether there is reasonable suspicion. We must prevent this from happening in Namibia. Also, the authorisation process required for [MTC] and Telecom Namibia to allow communications to be intercepted and to hand over the metadata of communications must be clearly spelt out in regulations and be gazetted to prevent misuse and so they are sure about how to assist the police and the security agency. The companies must be required to issue reports about the number of times they have assisted the police. The police must also issue reports about this to the public and an independent inspector. The data of journalists must be issued with a warrant, and at higher supervision levels.
NE: How are other countries dealing with cyber-bullying and how can Namibia combat harmful bullying behaviour such as posting rumours, threats, sexual remarks and so forth on social media?
SS: The first thing is to criminalise this activity – write a law that prohibits things like ‘revenge porn’ etc. Then, Internet service providers, Facebook and Google etc. must be asked to assist the police with their investigations, based on a complaint that was made. People may have fake profiles and so forensic analyses would be required to identify the person to prosecute them.
NE: Is there recourse for cyber-bullying victims globally, and can Namibia reciprocate such successes to protect its own citizens?
SS: The e-Safety Commissioner investigates such cyber-crimes in Australia. A police unit can be established that focuses on these types of cyber-crimes, with trained officials. A portal can be set up where people can lodge complaints and sent evidence using screenshots. Youth Law Australia provides free legal advice to victims. A similar program can be started with the Law Society of Namibia, pro bono. Mental health support must be given to victims of bullying. Lifeline Childline Namibia must be supported with such efforts financially. CRAN can run a CyberSMART initiative to teach people, especially learners and students, about identifying cyber bullying and how to prevent falling victim and how to report such activity for action to be taken against the culprit.
NE: Finally, Namibia continues to battle an emigration of highly trained or qualified people like yourself, to the country’s detriment. Do you have plans to return to Namibia anytime soon and plough back your skills here?
SS: I believe in ploughing back, absolutely. I got my first break with the NSFAF loan, which I paid back in full, and so I have an obligation to invest into my country that gave me a break – I would not be where I am without that financial assistance. When my mom visited me for my graduation in December last year, I told her she must see my time away as me learning from the world, so that when I return, I can help make a positive change, where I can.