Official: Kenya unlikely to shut down internet during vote

NAIROBI, Kenya — Kenya's government is "unlikely" to shut down the internet during next month's presidential elections but some social media might be shut down as needed, government officials said Monday.

Communication Authority of Kenya chief Francis Wangusi said they are not thinking of shutting down the internet but warned that it should not be used to release alternative election results.

However, the chairman of the National Cohesive and Integration Commission, Francis Ole Kaparo, said that "if it's necessary then some social media would be shut down." The commission was formed to monitor hate speech and incitement after post-election violence a decade ago killed more than 100 people.

Observers have warned of possible violence around the upcoming elections. Two people were shot and wounded Sunday during a rally for a gubernatorial candidate in the capital, Nairobi.

"There are terrible people on social media who are hell-bent on causing unnecessary anxiety across the country," Kaparo said.

The Communication Authority is tracking down words on social media that are likely to lead to incitement and violence, and whenever any is found officials "pull the systems down," Wangusi said.

"So tell Kenyans that there is nowhere where you can avatar yourself, even in social media, without us physically tracking where you are," he said.

Kenya's government has pushed to set up cybersecurity systems ahead of the Aug. 8 vote but has been vague on the systems' capabilities, including for surveillance. Last month, rights group Privacy International said the involvement of Kenya's national intelligence agency in the systems is concerning, "given how the NIS operates outside of legal frameworks to surveil individuals."

A spokesman for leading opposition candidate Raila Odinga said they fear the cybersecurity systems will be used for election fraud.

Odinga challenged President Uhuru Kenyatta's win in the 2013 elections, alleging that internet communication was set up among Kenyatta's party, the electoral commission and a call center that allowed electoral fraud. The Supreme Court upheld Kenyatta's win.

Kenyatta is running for re-election.

Governments in neighboring Burundi, Uganda and Ethiopia have shut down internet access during elections. Rights defenders say such blackouts can facilitate serious abuses.

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