Screen shots, consumer protection and online (in)justice

This article was first published in the Nairobi Business Monthly magazine December 2016.

Web presence is a requirement in modern business. It is hard to trust a business entity which you cannot Google. How else will you know about the previous customers’ feedback?
Trending online can really boost sales and businesses strive to trend for all the right reasons. The biggest nightmare is trending online negatively. The people online are more courageous and unforgiving due to their presumed anonymity.

A lot of customer service is done on social media platforms. Service providers and their customers prefer this since it is convenient. This can be said to be in line with consumer protection right under Article 46 of the Constitution. This exercise can be said to be enabled by the exercise of the right of freedom of expression and the right to information.

Other than customer care, people have used online platforms to push for proper governance and to ask for accountability. People have even pressured public officers into doing their duty like in the Koffi Olomide incident where the musician kicked his dancer at the airport and the pressure on social media forced government officials to take action and the musician was deported.

Screenshot Era

Online forums are sharing platforms. Media files in the form of videos and photos circulate by the minute. Since the Internet has revolutionized communication, a lot of it is done online. Smartphones now can have over three messaging applications for users. These phones enable users to take screenshots and users have developed a habit of sharing screenshots of their communications with others.

In 2015, screenshots of ‘Brother Ocholla’ circulated all over the Internet. ‘Brother Ocholla’ had apparently sent a rather inappropriate text to his prayer group on WhatsApp forum and a member leaked a screenshot. The screenshot trended on social media for a while with people making fun of the situation that ‘Brother Ocholla’ was in.

All too recently, a customer care agent of a telecommunication company contacted a customer whom he had served. The customer wasn’t too amused by his deeds and not only told him off by sharing the screenshot of the brief chat with the world. As a result, the young customer care agent lost his job since his employer had to show that it is doing something concerning the alleged privacy breach.

According to Kenya’s Evidence law, screenshots are admissible in a court of law. Section 106B of the Evidence Act states that any information contained in an electronic record shall be deemed to be a document, hence admissible. This is subject to several statutory conditions though.

The general rule is that whatever is posted online is not subject to privacy laws. This was the position in the US case of Palmieri v. United States. In this case, the American court found that if an individual discloses information to their Facebook friends, they have potentially disclosed it to the entire world. The petitioner had shared information with a friend on Facebook and the friend shared the information with the US government.

The court, in its analysis stated that from the moment the petitioner, Palmieri, disclosed information to his Facebook friends, they were free to use it as they wished. Because of this, he could not claim that his rights to privacy have been breached. And the same principle applies to anyone who sends an email or even writes a letter; they lose any expectation of privacy once it is delivered.

While we have a right to free speech, sometimes sharing screenshots can amount to a breach of the right to privacy. People ought to be careful not to expose too much information about others arbitrarily. If the image contains sensitive information, blur it. It is not yet law, but it is good practice. A suspected pedophile recently boasted of his misdeeds on social media. The young man even posted the child’s picture on his timeline.

Due to rage, people online shared the screen shot while calling for his arrest. In the process, they breached the minor’s rights as a victim of alleged defilement.

Similarly, the lady who complained online about the customer care agent’s privacy breach ought to have at least blurred the young man’s contacts before sharing the information online. Though she was enraged, the maxim states that he who goes to equity must do equity. The young man still had a right to be heard before any decision was made under application of the maxim audi alteram partem.

According to the Kenya Data Protection Bill, personal information or data includes contact details including telephone numbers of the person. This provision puts contacts at the same ambient as health records which we all agree is sensitive information. Hence it is safe to say that the lady had a prima facie case, but her mode of handling it leaves a lot to be desired. Social media is not even a genuine court of public opinion since it usually depends on the opinions of the influencers. The loudest in terms of traffic win even if they are wrong.

It would have been better to publish that information after inaction from the service provider after reporting it. A best-case scenario is the online reporting by Karimi Mwari who shared her experience with rogue Dakika Sacco matatu crew online after reporting the matter to the authorities. Action was taken and the culprits were apprehended.

Experience has shown us not to place absolute trust on the people in these online platforms. This is a lesson Peter Kenneth and Hillary Clinton know all too well. It applies to other situations too, such as seeking justice. It is advisable to follow due processes before sharing it because once it is out it is out.

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