On 23 June 2020, the Centre for Human Rights facilitated a discussion on data protection and privacy issues in Africa. Data protection authorities explored the status of privacy and data protection on the continent. They highlighted the milestones and challenges faced in the adoption and implementation of data protection legislation. The discussion also included privacy and protection of personal information in the context of COVID-19 and steps that have been adopted to ensure that individual privacy is protected while trying to achieve the broader goal of the protecting public health.
Theme: COVID-19, privacy and data protection in Africa
Moderator: Ms Hlengiwe Dube
Manager: Expression, Information and Digital Rights Unit, Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria
- Advocate Pansy Tlakula
Chairperson, Information Regulator of South Africa
- Commissioner Lucy Ndung’u
Commission on Administrative Justice (CAJ) of Kenya
- Prof Mamoudou Niane
Permanent Secretary, Personal Data Protection Commission (CDP) of Senegal
The world has been plunged into a global health crisis, COVID-19 and governments across the world have initiated partial or nationwide crisis management measures to curb the spread of the pandemic. Efforts are being made to identify, isolate and treat those who test COVID-19 positive. Contact tracing, surveillance and testing are being rolled-out at varying degrees across the continent. While the extent of surveillance has not been fully ascertained in Africa various methods of contact tracing have been employed and information is being collected, processed and shared across sectors involved in various capacities in the battle against the pandemic. Out of these initiatives, questions of data protection, privacy and information security arise. As governments adopt and modify COVID-19 responses, privacy and data protection measures should be adopted to ensure adequate protection of the individuals that have been confirmed COVID-19 positive. Inappropriate use or mishandling of this data could increase the vulnerability of those that are affected and infected. This calls for the adoption of human rights-based safeguards in the collection, processing and sharing of personal health data. In South Africa, the Information Regulator has issued guidelines on the protection of personal information in the COVID-19 context.
The right to privacy is a fundamental right that is guaranteed in human rights instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Although the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights does not contain the right to privacy, the momentum around privacy and data protection is steadily increasing. While constitutions across the continent provide for the right to privacy, most countries are yet to adopt enabling legislation on privacy and data protection. Continentally, the framework for the protection of personal data and cybersecurity is established in the Convention on Cybersecurity and Personal Data Protection that the African Union adopted in 2014. The Convention is not yet in force as it has been ratified by only five states out of 15 ratifications that are required for it to be operative. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights recently adopted a revised Declaration of Principles of Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa. The Declaration provides guidance on surveillance, privacy and protection of personal information (Principles 40 and 41). Sub-regional instruments include the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Model Law on Data Protection (2013); the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Supplementary Act A/SA.1/01/10 on Personal Data Protection Within ECOWAS (2010) and the East African Community Framework for Cyberlaws (2008).
The Centre for Human Rights will facilitate a discussion on data protection and privacy issues on the continent. Data protection authorities will explore the status of privacy and data protection on the continent, specifically highlighting the milestones and challenges faced in adoption and implementation of data protection legislation; and issues that arise in the context of COVID-19. This discussion will also tackle the government’s ability to access personal data after the crisis is over.
Objectives of the webinar:
- To highlight the key issues on privacy and data protection in Africa in the context of COVID-19;
- To discuss the role of data protection authorities;
- To discuss to implementation of data protection legislation in Africa.
The discussion included:
- Privacy and personal information considerations;
- Data protection and cybersecurity considerations;
- Steps taken to comply with data privacy requirements.
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