Bulelani Jili in Nature: “…For more than a decade, African governments have installed thousands of closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras and surveillance devices across cities, along with artificial-intelligence (AI) systems for facial recognition and other uses. Such technologies are often part of state-led initiatives to reduce crime rates and strengthen national security against terrorism. For instance, in Uganda in 2019, Kampala’s police force procured digital cameras and facial-recognition technology worth US$126 million to help it address a rise in homicides and kidnappings (see go.nature.com/3nx2tfk).
However, digital surveillance tools also raise privacy concerns. Citizens, academics and activists in Kampala contend that these tools, if linked to malicious spyware and malware programs, could be used to track and target citizens. In August 2019, an investigation by The Wall Street Journal found that Ugandan intelligence officials had used spyware to penetrate encrypted communications from the political opposition leader Bobi Wine1.
Around half of African countries have laws on data protection. But these are often outdated and lack clear enforcement mechanisms and strategies for secure handling of biometric data, including face, fingerprint and voice records. Inspections, safeguards and other standards for monitoring goods and services that use information and communications technology (ICT) are necessary to address cybersecurity and privacy risks.
The African Union has begun efforts to create a continent-wide legislative framework on this topic. As of March this year, only 13 of the 55 member states have ratified its 2014 Convention on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection; 15 countries must do so before it can take effect. Whereas nations grappling with food insecurity, conflict and inequality might not view cybersecurity as a priority, some, such as Ghana, are keen to address this vulnerability so that they can expand their information societies.
The risks of using surveillance technologies in places with inadequate laws are great, however, particularly in a region with established problems at the intersections of inequality, crime, governance, race, corruption and policing. Without robust checks and balances, I contend, such tools could encourage political repression, particularly in countries with a history of human-rights violations….(More)”.