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October 2018
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African Countries Shooting Themselves In The Digital Foot By Imposing Taxes And Levies On Internet Use

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Techdirt has written a number of stories recently about unfortunate developments taking place in the African digital world. The Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI ) site has usefully pulled together what's been happening across the continent -- and it doesn't look good:

A4AI's recent mobile broadband pricing update shows that Africans face the highest cost to connect to the internet -- just 1GB of mobile data costs the average user in Africa nearly 9% of their monthly income, while their counterparts in the Asia-Pacific region pay one-fifth of that price (around 1.5% of monthly income). Despite this already high cost to connect, we're seeing a worrying trend of governments across Africa imposing a variety of taxes on some of the most popular internet applications and services.
The article goes on to list the following examples.Ugandaimposes a daily fee of UGX 200 ($0.05) to access social media sites and many common Internet-based messaging and voice applications, as well as a tax on mobile money transactions.Zambiahas announced it will levy a 30 ngwee ($0.03) daily tax on social network use.Tanzaniarequires bloggers to pay a government license fee roughly equivalent to the average annual income for the country.Kenyaaims to impose additional taxation on the Internet, with proposed levies on telecommunications and on mobile money transfers.Beninimposed a 5 CFCA ($0.01) per megabyte fee to access social media sites, messaging, and Voice-over-IP applications, causing a 250% increase in the price for 1GB of mobile data.The article explains that the last of these was rescinded within days because of public pressure, while Kenya's tax is currently on hold thanks to a court order. Nonetheless, there is a clear tendency among some African governments to see the Internet as a handy new source of tax income. That's clearly a very short-sighted move. At a time when the digital world in Africa is advancing rapidly, with innovation hubs and startups appearing all over the continent, making it more expensive and thus harder for ordinary people to access the Internet threatens to throttle this growth. Whatever the short-term benefits from the moves listed above, countries imposing taxes and levies of whatever kind risk cutting their citizens off from the exciting digital future being forged elsewhere in Africa. As the A4AI post rightly says:
Africa, with the largest digital divide of any geographic region, has the greatest untapped potential with regards to improving affordable access and meaningful use of the internet. With affordable internet access, African economies can grow sustainably and inclusively.
Sadly, in certain African countries, that seems unlikely to happen.Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

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Lawsuit Settlement Looking To Kill Philadelphia's Severely Abused Forfeiture Program

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The Institute for Justice has secured a big win in Philadelphia. The city's asset forfeiture program is being torn down and rebuilt as the result of IJ litigation.

In documents filed with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania today, city officials agreed to a set of reforms that will end the perverse financial incentives under which law enforcement keeps and uses forfeiture revenue, fundamentally reform procedures for seizing and forfeiting property, and establish a $3 million fund to compensate innocent people whose property was wrongly confiscated.

The city's program was infamous for things like seizing a house because one resident (not the owner) sold cops $40 worth of drugs. Another case featuring the IJ's legal assistance sought the return of another home seized after a $140 drug purchase. In the first instance, prosecutors dropped the case and returned the property after the litigation received national attention. In the latter, the state's Supreme Court found the seizure of the house unwarranted and unjustifiable -- a harsh punishment that far outstripped the seriousness of the crime.

The proposed settlement [PDF] would drastically alter Philly's forfeiture laws and policies. Importantly, it would strip the financial incentive for seizures by redirecting forfeiture funds towards drug rehab programs and away from the law enforcement agencies that have directly profited from this program for years.

It also would make tiny forfeitures -- the ones least likely to be disputed -- a historical relic. Seizures of less than $1,000 would either need to be tied to an arrest or used as evidence in criminal cases. Cash seizures of less than $250 would be completely forbidden. This is important because data shows the median cash seizure by Philly law enforcement is $178.

More due process is being introduced into the forfeiture process as well. If citizens can show a need for the seized property, they may be able to retain possession of it throughout the forfeiture proceedings. Property owners would -- for the first time -- be allowed to file requests for continuances if unable to make scheduled court dates. It also fully shifts the burden of proof to prosecutors, making them prove owners knew about illegal use of their property.

If the entire settlement is approved, the perverse incentives that have turned a potentially-useful crime fighting tool into a crime of opportunity will be removed and replaced with a set of deterrents that will steer law enforcement towards seizures supported by prosecutions and convictions, rather than by conclusory statements about theoretical illegal activity.

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