Heightened privacy concerns arrive in Africa

This is the second of a four-part series summarizing the most important lessons from ID4Africa's 2018 survey. Part 1 | Part 3 | Part 4
Heightened privacy concerns arrive in Africa

Every year ID4Africa conducts an extensive survey of professionals at African identity authorities about topics such as their priorities and challenges, the technologies they use, and how successful they are. The results of the 2018 survey were presented on the third day of the conference in Abuja, Nigeria.

Only one in four ID4Africa participants believes that the laws in their country are adequate to the requirements of universal identity schemes, according to the results of the movement’s annual survey. The necessity of improving the legal landscape for identity systems is one of many key takeaways the survey provides for technology providers and identity authorities in Africa.

Almost all identity programs throughout Africa have yet to achieve complete coverage. Some countries are moving rapidly toward that goal, but when asked about barriers to full coverage, several trends emerge.

The order of the top recommendations for improving the coverage of identity schemes are slightly different between countries responding predominantly in English and in French, based on differences in their responses. For both sets of respondents, however, the main recommendations are to simplify enrollment systems, sensitize the public, and add more registration points.

The identity schemes nations are working on are nearly universally supported, with roughly two of three people surveyed saying they support their country’s system, while nearly one in three is unsure or has a neutral position, while opposition is below 3 percent. The legal basis for those systems, however, is viewed less favorably. More than two out of five say that pending legislation will fill gaps in their current legal framework for identity, but more than one in four believe that the laws in their country are partially or generally inadequate.

“Clearly there is work to be done on the legal landscape for identity in Africa,” ID4Africa Executive Chairman Dr. Joseph Atick told Biometric Update. “That will inform what we do next year, and that should inform the development agenda.”

A reason the laws are lacking is suggested elsewhere in the survey, as less than half of respondents consider political commitment “high” for civil registration, national population registries (NPR), linking voting registries to the NPR, and Sustainable Development Goal 16.9. Less than 51 percent consider political commitment to National ID to be high in their country.

“There is no awareness yet on the part of many politicians of the full role identity plays in socio-economic development,” Atick comments. “It is partly because the fruits are intangible for a while. You make the investment and you get the rewards in the long term. As a consequence, identity has not been institutionalized.”

One of the legal areas that may need particular attention is privacy. When asked what they need from the International Development community, help building capacity for privacy and security were the most common responses. Half of respondents said their level of concern about privacy is high, while roughly one-quarter consider it a “medium” concern. Data protection and privacy were also noted as a priority in the ID4Africa post-event survey, which was completed by more than 500 attendees.

“This is the year of privacy,” Atick says, but he notes that African identity authorities are not interested in borrowing or adapting an existing privacy and data protection legal framework. Rather, they have identified a need to gain technical assistance to make sure they formulate the best possible laws for their own national circumstances.

Atick also says the approach shows a sophisticated understanding of the issues related to identity which is encouraging.

ID4Africa will have an increased focus, and possibly a new thematic track on privacy and data protection for 2019, in response to the demand for greater knowledge on the topic. ID4Africa 2019 will be held in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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