Internet Watch Report: The 2007 Presidential Election in Nigeria

At the testing site... picture taken by Mary Joyce

As announced yesterday on the iPolicy website, the Internet Watch Report on the 2007 Presidential Election in Nigeria is ready. Please see the announcement below, and the full report is available on the ONI website.

Despite widespread charges of fraud and disenfranchisement, Nigeria’s recent elections were not marked by Internet tampering. While certain sensitive political sites were inaccessible around the time of the elections, these blockages were not caused by intentional tampering but rather by structural problems in Nigeria’s faulty telecommunications network. The results of the technical monitoring included no evidence of attempts to block or disable Web sites critical of the current regime, either during or directly preceding the elections. These conclusions were reached through the analysis of tests carried out by the OpenNet Initiative, a partnership between research institutes at the universities of Cambridge, Toronto, Harvard, and Oxford.

The ONI team conducted two types of tests during the election period, which were carried out by a field team in Lagos and researchers in Cambridge, UK. The fi rst testing program, developed by ONI researchers, was run from a standard personal computer. Researchers on the ground in Nigeria used the program to attempt to make contact with a list of politically sensitive sites using several Internet service providers (ISPs) and then sent the results of those tests back to the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto for analysis.

The second series of tests were run through a specialized computer designed to interact with networks, which was controlled remotely by technical researchers at the University of Cambridge. Testing began a week before the local elections and continued through the national elections. The ONI has been developing technical methods of monitoring for evidence of just-in-time Internet fi ltering or other tampering with Internet access during election periods.

The ONI has conducted Internet-related election monitoring in Kyrgyzstan and Belarus prior to these tests in Nigeria. The ONI ran the election monitoring project in Nigeria because of widespread concerns that the elections would not be free and fair. Observers have claimed that both the local elections of April 14, as well as the national elections on April 21, were marred by blatant and widespread violence, fraud, and disenfranchisement. In reference to the elections on April 14, Peter Takirambudde, Africa Director of Human Rights Watch, stated that “the Nigerian government failed completely in its conduct of a free and fair election” in several key states. Commenting on the presidential elections from the northern town of Kaduna, Max van den Berg, head of the European Union’s Observer Mission, noted, “for now the assessment is outspokenly negative … I’m very concerned.” In addition, the National Democratic Institute went so far as to say that the elections represent “a step backward in the conduct of elections in Nigeria.” Nevertheless, the elections appear to have been free from Internet-related attacks and Web site blocking.

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