Photograph — ZDNET

On December 10, 2023, the world celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. While there is progress in establishing human rights globally, some issues beg for attention. For instance, in Rwanda, the extensive use of video surveillance cameras sparks debates about its implications for privacy protection. This discussion was particularly relevant because no specific legislation protects personal data for artificial intelligence (AI) tools. Although AI has the potential to revolutionize many sectors and shape governance, effective regulations are crucial to promote transparency and preserve human rights in AI systems. Discussions about ethical principles and strategies for governments and organizations to adapt to this technological advancement are also necessary.

Protecting personal data has become increasingly difficult due to the advent of AI tools that collect and share personal data. Social media companies, financial institutions, security outfits, and other platforms process billions of personal data daily. Many people do not know how their data is used and the potential risks involved.  Such unauthorized access to these sensitive personal information could result in fraudulent activities such as opening fake credit card accounts, acquiring loans, filing false tax returns, or even impersonation for healthcare services.

African countries must implement stringent data protection laws and regulations to prevent data breaches and misuse of personal data. As of 2023, only 36 countries have legislation ensuring data protection and privacy. Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Nigeria, South Africa, Morocco, and Uganda also have data privacy laws similar to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) of the European Union. The GDPR is known for its strict principles of transparency, accountability, and protection of individual rights. The legislative body of other African countries must follow suit by passing data protection laws.

African countries should establish data protection and regulatory bodies. Implementing and enforcing data protection laws requires adequate funding, qualified staff, and infrastructure. The legislative Act that would create these bodies must clearly state their functions, including an emphasis on safeguarding individual privacy rights.

These data protection bodies must also be independent, separate from the government, to ensure impartiality and autonomy in enforcing data protection laws. They should have the legal status, resources, and expertise to effectively oversee data protection practices, investigate complaints, conduct audits, and impose sanctions for non-compliance. Therefore, the federal governments of every African country should appoint qualified individuals to lead these data protection bodies.

African countries with data protection bodies should commit to and ratify the African Union Convention on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection, also known as the Malabo Convention. This convention safeguards data and privacy from cyber threats by promoting international cooperation among African nations. Being part of this convention could make member states accountable for protecting their citizens’ data rights.

Everyone has a role in data protection, including governments, companies, and establishments that handle personal data and citizens. Companies operating in African countries should prioritize compliance with data protection laws. They should invest in strong data protection measures, like encryption, access controls, and regular security audits, to safeguard sensitive information. Additionally, these companies must train employees on data protection practices, promote cybersecurity awareness, and comply with relevant data confidentiality regulations.

It is also essential for establishments to implement practices that allow collecting only necessary data, securely storing it, and deleting obsolete or unnecessary information. Moreover, those who obtain personal data must communicate the process adequately to data owners, obtain explicit consent to process their information and provide precise details to data owners. Most importantly, they should stay informed about regulatory developments and actively contribute to developing data protection policies.

Governments, businesses, and civil society organizations must educate citizens on their privacy rights, how to keep their data secure, and how to report data breaches or suspicious activities to relevant bodies. Civil societies should encourage citizens to support initiatives that strengthen data protection laws. Citizens should also engage with policymakers to promote a culture of privacy awareness and responsible data handling. Following these recommendations can enhance data protection practices across Africa to benefit Africans.

Article by Valimbavaka Raherimananjara, a writing fellow at African Liberty.

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