Privacy International at the 62nd Session of the African Commission on Human and People's Rights (ACHPR)
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As part of Privacy International’s mission, we aim to take the issues emerging from our research and that of our partners to new spaces of debate and to the attention of stakeholders at the national, regional and international level.
In April 2018, Privacy International was able to engage for the first time with the African Commission on Human and People's Rights (ACHPR) at its 62nd Ordinary Session, which took place in Nouakchott, Mauritania.
The right to privacy does not feature in the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, and part of PI’s goal was to present salient privacy issues and advocate for stronger privacy protections at the Session. Our engagement in events on the margins and during the Session included: organising a side-event on biometrics and privacy, successfully proposing recommendations for a resolution on the right to privacy for adoption by the ACHPR during the NGO-Forum, and delivering a statement during the official session of the ACHPR.
Biometrics and privacy
In collaboration with our partner the Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Technology Law (CIPIT), the Legal Resource Centre (LRC) and the International Network of Civil Liberties Organisations (INCLO), Privacy International organised a side event, "Electoral Processes and Commercial Activities: In Pursuit of the Right to Privacy and Personal Information Protection.”
This provided our partner CIPIT with an opportunity to present their research project, “Investigating Privacy Implications Of Biometric Voter Registration In Kenya’s 2017 Election Process.”
The key takeaway from this project is that Kenya’s legal landscape lacks adequate protections for people's privacy and personal data, as is the case with many African countries. When such technologies are adopted in the absence of a strong legal framework and strict safeguards, they pose significant threats to privacy and personal security, as their application can be broadened to facilitate discrimination, social sorting and mass surveillance. As such, it is crucial that the use of biometric technologies is regulated and scrutinised.
CIPIT described the challenges of bringing privacy issues to the ACHPR,
“While interacting with other human rights advocates who had convened at the event, we faced a challenge of convincing them on our digital right agenda. Many felt that there are far more important and grave human rights atrocities in the continent such as the death penalty, torture and slavery. We decided to show the participants how digital rights such as the right to privacy affect their work on other human rights issues. We brought up issues of government surveillance on civil society and instances where telecom corporates work with law enforcement to crack down on human rights defenders. This argument helped us gain momentum in our interactions and many saw the relevance of our cause.”
Adoption of recommendations for a resolution on the right to privacy by NGO Forum
At the NGO Forum, which preceded the main ACHPR session, Privacy International, LRC, INCLO and CIPIT proposed recommendations for a resolution on the right to privacy in a statement which was successfully adopted by the NGO Forum, calling for the ACHPR to formally recognise privacy as a fundamental right which must be protected and promoted in Africa. The statement, presented by LRC, called on the African Commission to resolve:
- That human dignity, as contained in Art. 5 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights is the core right and value which underpins the need for the respect, recognition and promotion of the right to privacy of all people in Africa;
- To accept that effective respect and promotion of this right is necessary for the enjoyment of a range of human rights, including freedom of expression, access to information, association and peaceful assembly;
- That the above recognition of the importance and validity of the right to privacy ought to inform and be embedded within the process of the revision of the Declaration of the Principles of Freedom of Expression in Africa flowing from African Commission Resolution 362;
- That the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information should include privacy and digital rights concerns where these impinge on the ability to communicate and receive opinions freely, specifically including:
- Unlawful, disproportionate or unnecessary state surveillance and the private enterprises which enable this through the provision of technological solutions;
- The role of the private sector in conducting unlawful collection and processing of their customers’ personally identifiable information;
- Regulation of the costs of access to the internet, and content and platform neutrality online;
- The prevalence of ‘internet shutdowns’ in African States, particularly during periods of social protest and elections;
- Regulation of the processing of personal data, which can directly or indirectly identify individuals, by public and private bodies, and in particular the need for the processing of sensitive personal data such as biometrics to be subject to higher safeguards.
Oral statement at 62nd Session of the ACHPR
On behalf of the LRC, Privacy International and INCLO, LRC delivered a statement on the right to privacy to the African Commission during the main programme of the 62nd Session of the ACHPR, reflecting the NGO Forum statement above and again calling on the Commission to recognise the right to privacy as necessary for the enjoyment of the rights upheld in the African Charter. It also asked for the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information to consider including within his mandate privacy and digital rights concerns.
Although the increased discussion on privacy within the African Commission’s activities achieved at the 62nd Ordinary session of the ACPHR has yet to result in tangible developments to enhance and concretise formal commitments for the protection and promotion of the right to privacy by the African Commission, as requested by our recommendations outlined above, they have given us a renewed foundation to build our work at the regional level with partners moving forward.
We will see how to support the process initiated by other civil society organisations to review the Africa to see what opportunities there are to reinforce the existing text related to privacy.
In collaboration with its African partners, Privacy International will continue to monitor developments at the national level and in regional regulatory mechanisms which could interfere with the right to privacy and entail the processing of personal data by both governments and companies. The aim of our joint efforts is to ensure that decision-making processes consider the implications for the right to privacy and the protection of personal data from a legal and technical perspective as well as to guarantee that such developments are subject to public scrutiny.