For Immediate Release: 15 November 2017
Last week, at the 61st ordinary session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), Advocate Pansy Tlakula, outgoing Chairperson of the African Commission and Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, made mention of the importance of the protection of personal information and cybersecurity in both her opening and closing statements.
The Legal Resources Centre supports her commitment to the right to privacy in the above form as it protects the information of the poor and vulnerable from unscrupulous companies and creditors, who use the information for direct marketing and predatory lending; and protects the general public from unfettered and wide-reaching digital surveillance by the state.
Advocate Tlakula is also South Africa’s Information Regulator and will now be returning full time to this role as she leaves the African Commission. We are pleased by her unwavering commitment to the right to privacy and congratulate her on her fine work at the Commission in encouraging the enjoyment of the rights to freedom of expression and access to information, particularly regarding her work on media freedom and on the model law on access to information.
At the African Commission, the LRC successfully put forward a recommendation to the NGO forum encouraging the adoption of the special discussion group on personal information protection and cybersecurity, with the view to advocating for the African Commission to adopt a resolution in this regard.
To this end, the LRC is facilitating the coordination of a group to bring together interested members of civil society in the information rights space to discuss the positions and principles which the special discussion group will adopt, and to plan for the next NGO Forum and ACHPR session.
We further stressed the importance of personal information protection and cybersecurity in our statement to the African Commission’s session on the Human Rights Situation in Africa: “The predominance of electronic communications today and growing capacity for states and private actors to unlawfully intercept these communications and private information creates a most pressing need for privacy in this area. The impact of surveillance and unlawful data retention on human rights has entered the fore of democratic discussions throughout the world. While technological communication innovations have enabled a greater breadth of communication across Africa, they have also opened uninvited windows into citizens’, particularly vulnerable individual’s, lives. These windows must be regulated in ways that ensure democratic principles are maintained.”
The Legal Resources Centre, its partners in the International Network of Civil Liberties Organisations and other partner NGOs have offered their technical expertise, skills and capacity on personal information and cybersecurity to the African Commission in order for the right to privacy, as manifested in personal information protection and cybersecurity, to form part of the mandate of the incoming Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information and hopefully for this work to crystallise into a resolution of the Commission.
South Africa is one of the few countries in Africa with data protection legislation through the Protection of Personal Information Act and we stress the need for the full recognition and implementation of the Act. We are, however, concerned about the Cyber Security Bill, currently in Parliament, which unduly regulates free expression on the internet and creates openings for undue interference by the state with critical information infrastructure.
We are hopeful that advocacy at the regional level will bring about a principled position which will influence not only the South African state, but all African states towards greater enjoyment of privacy, open access to information and free expression.