Data privacy under scrutiny amid legal vacuum in Tanzania

Data privacy under scrutiny amid legal vacuum in Tanzania

Summary

  • This comes well after the ministry of Information and Communications said it was in the final stages of preparing the long-awaited legislative Bill

Dar es Salaam. The clamour for a data protection law in Tanzania is increasingly gaining momentum in this digital age, as advocates call for urgent action to protect people’s privacy on the internet and data-related market products.

This comes after the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology said yesterday that it was in the final stages of preparing the long-awaited legislative Bill.

The ministry’s deputy permanent secretary, Mr Jim Yonazi, said the new law would require anyone who collects personal data to protect them in accordance with the law. However, speaking to The Citizen yesterday, the campaigners for the law said people were increasingly using the internet where there is a risk of breach of privacy, yet the process to enact the law has kept dragging on.

Jamii Forums founder Maxence Mello, who has been advocating the formulation of the data protection law, and a victim of data-related lawsuits suggested that the law should come hand in hand with a proper regulatory mechanism on use of internet personal data.

“We need proper mechanisms for collecting personal data and ensuring our data is safe. We also advocate for the formation of an independent body that will supervise this,” said Mr Mello, adding that he was in Dodoma trying to educate lawmakers and political parties on what the data protection law should contain.

In 2016, Mr Mello filed a case to demand legal protection of privacy.

Dar es Salaam-based lawyer Caroline Kombe emphasised that data protection was all about confidentiality of people’s information, especially when the data was used for commercial purposes. “For now, companies like the telecommunication firms just sign agreements with some customers to protect their data,” said a lawyer, adding that there were circumstances that could force the firms to disclose the information, including court cases and criminal investigations by the regulators and law enforcers.

Article 16 of the Constitution of Tanzania states: ‘Every person is entitled to respect and protection of his person, the privacy of his own person, his family and of his matrimonial life, and respect and protection of his residence and private communications.’

It adds: ‘The state authority shall lay down legal procedures regarding the circumstances, manner and extent to which the right to privacy, security of his person, his property and residence may be encroached upon without prejudice to the provisions of this Article.’

“Our data have been used for a long time by institutions such as banks, mobile operators, private and government organisations etc. I think even the law which is being prepared should be retrospective to cover what has already happened,” said Mr Stephen Msechu, a lawyer. “Public education is also needed to make people aware,” he added.

Dr Yonazi said the coming of the law is part of the government efforts to ensure public privacy in cyberspace. “As we are ongoing with that process, the government stresses the need for all stakeholders to protect the privacy of their customers using the existing laws of the land,” he said during the opening of a forum organized by the Internet Society Tanzania chapter (ISOC).

He did not mention any company but this week, one mobile operator disclosed individual information as its lawyers were one of the witnesses in an ongoing court case.

Tanzania’s Cybercrimes law states that ‘Where the disclosure of data is required for the purposes of a criminal investigation or the prosecution of an offence, a police officer in charge of a police station or a law enforcement officer of a similar rank may issue an order to any person in possession of such data compelling him to disclose such data.’

Dr Yonazi insisted on the proper use of the internet and being creative and utilizing the opportunities available through the internet.