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Data protection laws in Southern Africa big win for digital rights: Report

Data protection laws in Southern Africa big win for digital rights: Report

A report on the state of digital rights in Southern Africa has praised efforts by countries in the region to put in place data protection laws as one of the ways of enhancing digital rights among citizens.

The report titled “Securing digital rights in Southern Africa: A call to action for stakeholders,” and authored by Prof Admire Mare of the Denhe Reruzivo Consultancy Hub, is the fourth in a series which addresses digital rights related questions in the ten countries that make up the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC).

Published by the Association for Progressive Communications and Namibia Media Trust, the report explores the extent to which countries in this region of Africa are living up to the responsibility of protecting the right to freedom of expression, access to information, right to privacy and right to cybersecurity in the digital age.

The report contends that while there’ve been positive developments in enhancing digital rights such as the passage of data protection laws and the setting up of data protection authorities among other actions, there’ve also been negative developments as seen in surveillance practices in some countries, draconian laws that inhibit freedom of expression and even issues like mandatory SIM card registration.

“The enactment of data protection legislation and policy, the development of jurisprudence on digital rights and increased advocacy from civil society actors on digital rights are some of the major wins in the last five years,” reads a portion of the report’s findings.

The author mentions, for example, that countries such as Zambia and Zimbabwe not only have access to information laws in their statute books, they also have data protection legislation. So does eSwatini, as well as South Africa, which has had a law on personal data protection in place since 2013.

These strides notwithstanding, the report points out that acts of digital rights violations have also been flagged in some of the countries, raising concerns among activists about the impact and sustainability of the gains being recorded.

“One major concern has been increasing cases of insidious forms of unlawful surveillance in Angola, DRC [Democratic Republic of Congo] eSwatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe,” the report mentions, stating that “many of these practices have taken the form of mobile phone tapping, social media monitoring, facial recognition systems, safe city projects, cloud computing infrastructures and smart policing initiatives.”

The report concludes with what the author labels as “a call to action” for various stakeholders such as governments, data protection authorities, the media, civil society organizations, and academics, to make practical advocacy interventions aimed at better promoting the right to freedom of expression, access to information, right to privacy and cybersecurity in the digital age.

In April, African governments were called upon to ensure safeguards in the rollout of digital ID programs in a report that chronicled the state of digital rights and inclusion in 26 African countries.

Meanwhile, speaking recently at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), Chief Digital Officer of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Robert Opp, explained the work which the UN agency has been doing to support digital transformation projects that prioritize people’s privacy and rights.

This, he said, is part of an ongoing process of creating a framework for safeguards which are necessary in ensuring inclusivity, trust and transparency in the implementation of digital public infrastructure projects.

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