Kenya's Civil Servants Forbidden to Access Gov Whistleblowing Site?

By: sally on 30 May 2008

Typically, when a government wants to keep people from seeing a web site, they ban or block it from everybody. An article posted on Wikileaks describes another scenario: blocking from one government department to another. The report states that several government officials in Kenya have forbidden those in their departments to access the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission’s (KACC’s) anonymous reporting service. In addition, “Some ‘senior officials’ have instructed IT personnel to monitor civil servants visits to “forbidden web pages” such as those of the KACC corruption reporting system.”

This is not technical blocking, but appears to be a targeted formal ban on accessing the site, plus a request for some level of surveillance. However, it is unclear how much monitoring could be or is actually taking place.

Like many places, Kenya protects whistleblowers against retaliation, but has no formal requirement that access to whistleblowing sites or hotlines be provided. However, Kenya, along with a number of other countries, committed to combating corruption when it ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption in 2003. The Convention entered into force at the end of 2005, and meetings of the signing countries occur yearly, to discuss implementation. The Convention includes obligations to aid and protect whistleblowing:

Article 8
Codes of conduct for public officials
4. Each State Party shall also consider, in accordance with the fundamental principles of its domestic law, establishing measures and systems to facilitate the reporting by public officials of acts of corruption to appropriate authorities, when such acts come to their notice in the performance of their functions.

Article 13
Participation of society
2. Each State Party shall take appropriate measures to ensure that the relevant anti-corruption bodies referred to in this Convention are known to the public and shall provide access to such bodies, where appropriate, for the reporting, including anonymously, of any incidents that may be considered to constitute an offence established in accordance with this Convention.

Article 33
Protection of reporting persons
Each State Party shall consider incorporating into its domestic legal system appropriate measures to provide protection against any unjustified treatment for any person who reports in good faith and on reasonable grounds to the competent authorities any facts concerning offences established in accordance with this Convention.

Prohibiting government employees from accessing the KACC's anonymous reporting service, and monitoring the activities of those who visit the KACC's site, runs counter to these obligations, no matter how soft they may be. However, it does not actually stop anyone from reporting. The ban extends only to those directly ordered, so any individual could access the site from anywhere—and could do so without being monitored if they access it from a non-government location.

Blocking a subset of a population from accessing certain Web sites is rare. It happens in the private sector, when corporations block productivity-draining sites, such as personal e-mail services, games, and social tools, from their office networks. However, forbidding another department’s Web site is a new twist.