Corporates Kenya

Paradigm Initiative is concerned over the increase in the use of surveillance technologies

February 6th, 2024: As countries worldwide commemorated Data Privacy Day, Paradigm Initiative (PIN) expressed concern over the increase in some governments’ arbitrary reliance on surveillance technologies to violate privacy. In November 2023, Uganda launched its Intelligent Transport Monitoring System, which uses Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras to track real-time location of all vehicles in the country, with concerns over the potential of this technology to undermine the human rights of citizens in Uganda. In Zimbabwe, cities such as the City of Bulawayo have announced plans to install CCTV cameras in the central business district in February 2024, to curb crime and enhance the easy flow of traffic. The installation of CCTV cameras, while it can enhance security, may also be abused to intrude into the lives of ordinary people as they go about their day-to-day activities, posing threats to human rights such as freedom of assembly and association and freedom of movement.

PIN is concerned about surveillance initiatives being undertaken by governments across the Global South (developing countries), many of which are being undertaken without conducting public consultations, as they threaten the right to privacy, which is guaranteed by Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

“Privacy is an important right that must be limited only where there are guardrails to ensure the right itself is intact. This calls for a balancing act that infuses human rights in the process. Data protection should be prioritised, and surveillance tools must not be weaponised against human rights defenders. India has for instance, been consistently targeting journalists using invasive Pegasus spyware, a concern that has also been echoed in countries like Zimbabwe and Nigeria while in Egypt spyware has been targeting government critics,” said Thobekile Matimbe, PIN’s Senior Manager Partnerships and Engagements.

Tanzania gave a directive on 14 October 2023 calling for private users and businesses to disclose Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) usage and their IP address or face a hefty penalty. With this tendency of governments to rein in private communications and activities, human rights are fundamentally threatened,” added Matimbe.

Individuals are less likely to participate robustly in democratic activities when they are being watched or when they feel they are being tracked in the context of repressive regimes where abductions and arbitrary arrests have followed human rights defenders and journalists. Public-facing CCTV installations should safeguard the interests of those that they are meant to protect. Legal safeguards should be established in order to protect data. While the technology may guard against criminal activities, its arbitrary deployment may have a chilling effect on fundamental rights and freedoms.

In view of these concerns, Paradigm Initiative calls for the following;

● Surveillance technology developers should prioritise security by design to reduce the risk of their products posing privacy risk or being susceptible to hacking. Governments should enact laws that promote data protection practices that create trust in the digital environment.

● Governments should embrace policy guidelines such as the African Union’s Data Policy Framework in Africa, aligning national policies with them.

● Governments should not use surveillance technologies to target human rights defenders.

● Government agencies and the private sector should conduct public consultations and human rights impact assessments prior to installing surveillance technologies, promoting transparency and accountability

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