New Report: Data Protection and Privacy Laws In MENA: A Case Study Of Covid-19 Contact Tracing Apps

This report analyzes data protection and privacy laws in Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait. Joey Shea, a researcher and analyst specialized in security and

political repression, documents the deployment of COVID-19 contact tracing applications in these states. The report, which was supported through our Applied Advocacy and Research Grants, compares each state’s data protection and privacy legal frameworks against international standards, as well as assesses whether their respective COVID-19 contact tracing applications have implemented adequate privacy preserving mechanisms. 

The four countries were selected based on the timing of the release of their respective COVID-19 contact tracing application. This report includes separate country studies for Qatar, Bahrain, the UAE, and Kuwait. that analyze their fundamental data protection principles, the rights of data subjects and the legal obligations of data controllers. Each country study also includes an assessment of the state’s COVID-19 contact tracing application and the extent to which the policy framework and design features of the app complies with international standards. 

Qatar, Bahrain, and the UAE have at least some form of data protection and privacy legislation, while Kuwait is the only jurisdiction surveyed without any data protection law at this time. The laws in the three jurisdictions with data protection legal frameworks broadly resemble international data protection standards, such as the General Data Protection Regulation

(GDPR), with some notable exceptions. These laws are comparable with international data protections laws in terms of their fundamental data protection principles, the rights of data subjects, and the legal obligations of data controllers. Importantly, some states diverge from international standards insofar as they grant large exemptions related to national security. These sweeping national security exceptions are most pronounced in Bahrain and Qatar. There is also a notable lack of evidence in most jurisdictions indicating broad enforcement of their data protection and privacy laws and their regulatory authorities are relatively inactive. Furthermore, there is a lack of evidence of people or entities taken to court under these laws. Widespread accusations of sweeping domestic surveillance programs in Qatar, Bahrain, the UAE and Kuwait also raise serious doubts about the extent to which these governments and state security agencies respect and adhere to data protection and privacy principles outlined in the law. 

COVID-19 contact tracing apps surveyed within these jurisdictions lack a limited purpose and clear timelines on their deployment and use. There is also a notable lack of transparency in both their technical design and regulatory mechanisms. Finally, the report finds that the more robust a state’s privacy legal framework is, the more privacy preserving their app has proven to be.


New Report: Analysing the Impact of Digital ID Frameworks on Marginalised Groups in Sub-Saharan Africa

We are excited to launch “Analysing the Impact of Digital ID Frameworks on Marginalised Groups in Sub-Saharan Africa,” a new report authored by Rose Mosero, currently a legal advisor to the Ministry of ICT, Innovation, and Youth Affairs in Kenya. The report aims to address the introduction and implementation of digital identity systems in sub-Saharan Africa, by analyzing regulatory instruments and assessing the effects of the adoption of the systems in remedying the lack of inclusion of marginalised communities.

The report, which was funded through CYRILLA’s Applied Research and Advocacy grants, compares and contrasts the rollout of digital ID systems in four sub-Saharan African countries: Cameroon, Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa. In each case study, Rose Mosero outlines the legal framework, details the rollout of the system, and examines its impact on marginalized communities, which is particularly relevant because the four countries host a combined 175 million unregistered people. 

To provide an equitable qualitative account of the issues facing Sub-Saharan African countries relating to roll out of digital ID Systems, these countries were selected because they are located in East (Kenya), West (Nigeria), South (South Africa) and Central (Cameroon) Africa. Broadly, they are the leading economies (bellwether countries) in their respective regions and, importantly, have implemented digital ID systems with corresponding regulatory and administrative regimes to implement the said systems.There have been publicized challenges, for example, from a legal perspective (e.g. litigation) in the space of marginalization and digital rights e.g. access and data privacy.

Ultimately the report finds sub-Saharan African countries face challenges that require a more nuanced and rights-based approach when introducing digital ID systems. The challenges fall broadly into the following categories: universality, governance, fit for purpose technology, and legislative inefficiencies including lack of comprehensive protections of rights, including privacy. You can download the report below.

Rose is a legal advisor who engages with both the government and private sector on matters relating to Data Protection, Technology and Digital Economy. She is currently engaged as an advisor in the Ministry of ICT, Innovation and Youth Affairs (Kenya), assisting in operationalizing the newly established Office of the Data Protection Commissioner. Rose is a dually registered lawyer having been admitted as an Australian Legal Practitioner and an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya. Rose is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP) and Certified Information Privacy Manager (CIPM), having received her certification from the International Association of Privacy Professionals.  She has a keen interest in privacy and data protection.  Rose also has an interest in research related to the interplay of data protection, innovation and technology, and human rights.
You can find her on Twitter at @moserorose or you can reach out via email at mosero.rose[at]gmail.com.


New Report: What’s sex got to do with it? Mapping the impact of questions of gender and sexuality on the evolution of the digital rights landscape in India

Today, we are excited to publish “What’s sex got to do with it? Mapping the impact of questions of gender and sexuality on the evolution of the digital rights landscape in India,” a new report from the India Democracy Project. The report is the first of the CYRILLA funded Applied Research and Advocacy Grants, launched in the summer of 2020.

Taking as its starting point key High Court and Supreme Court cases in particular, Vrinda Bhandari and Anja Kovacs seek to map the many ways in which jurisprudence at the intersection of gender, sexuality, and digital rights has reduced, and at times expanded, digital rights in India. As their analysis shows, all too often, when it comes to digital rights too, anxieties surrounding women’s sexuality continue to justify court cases and jurisprudence that are geared towards protecting middle class morality and a very narrow vision of “Indian culture”, rather than gender and sexuality rights. Whether women are objects or subjects of state control, the negative effect on digital rights is considerable. This is particularly true where the right to freedom of expression is concerned, but even the lopsided ways in which the right to anonymity and to be forgotten are evolving in Indian jurisprudence is deeply reflective of this dynamic. However, another way is possible. When courts put gender and sexuality rights front and centre, this report will show, possibilities to meaningfully exercise women’s rights immediately expand.


The Africa ICT Policy Manual

The Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Technology at Strathmore Law School (CIPIT), the Sub Saharan Africa partner for the CYRILLA Collaborative, recently published “The Africa ICT Policy Manual.”

Central to CYRILLA is its digital rights database, which enables users to access digital rights legislation, cases, and analyses concerning human rights in digitally-networked spaces. This manual outlines CIPIT’s scope of work, benefits, and challenges faced in its development of the ICT Policy Africa database.


Unshackling Expression: A study on criminalisation of freedom of expression online in Nepal

Unshackling Expression: A study on criminalisation of freedom of expression online in Nepal, developed by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) with the support of the CYRILLA Initiative, is a study in continuation of the 2017 report Unshackling Expression: A study on laws criminalising expression online in Asia. This report was prepared by Body & Data, an APC member organisation based in Nepal that is focused on creating a free, open and just internet that respects the autonomy of individuals and upholds their dignity.

Freedom of expression is a basic human right, which extends to the digital space too. This report provides insights on how the laws and policies in Nepal surrounding freedom of expression are operationalised and implemented, either to protect and promote freedom of expression or to restrict it. The report also examines case laws relating to freedom of expression and the rationale behind the judgements. It provides a comprehensive scenario of freedom of expression online with Nepali laws and policies and the problems surrounding it.

The report is divided into sections to address the ways the legal framework impacts on freedom of expression online in terms of the country’s constitution, the Penal Code and various sectoral laws. The report also deals with the issues surrounding draft laws that are currently under consideration in the parliament that can be used to restrict freedom of expression online.


Unshackling Expression: A study on online freedom of expression in Indonesia

Is Indonesia slipping back in terms of promoting freedom of expression online? Does the country have laws in place to protect its citizens’ right to free speech and expression? Are these laws being implemented in a way that promotes human rights or are the same laws being used to curtail freedom and self-expression?

These are the questions that the report Unshackling Expression: A study on online freedom of expression in Indonesia attempts to answer. Developed by the Association of Progressive Communications (APC) and Alghiffari Aqsa, founder of the AMAR Law Firm and Public Interest Law Office, the report provides an overview of how Indonesian laws and policies protect or curtail freedom of expression online. This report was produced through the CYRILLA initiative.

The World Project Rule of Law Index for 2020 reflected that Indonesia takes the 79th place regarding the implementation of human rights out of 128 countries surveyed. The right to civil and political freedom in the country scored 61 out of 100. Meanwhile, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), the country ranks 64th out of 167 countries in terms of how democratic the government rules. On a scale of one to seven, Indonesia has 3.2 points in relation to protecting human rights, with the worst measurements showing for the promotion of right to freedom of religion and belief and freedom of expression.

This new study follows the format and analysis of the 2017 APC report Unshackling Expression: A study on laws criminalising expression online in AsiaThe methodology employed a normative-empirical legal research carried through the analysis of written regulations and cases related to freedom of expression and right to free speech online. The study also looked into bills that, while not entirely related to freedom of expression and the right to free speech, may be used to curtail dissent and criticism of the government and certain groups.

The report found that compared to previous years, Indonesia is doing worse in terms of promoting human rights and democracy. While the country has a number of regulations that protect freedom of expression online, it also has laws that may be applied to prosecute individuals who are attempting to voice dissent, criticise or merely state an observation. Such laws include the Criminal Code, Information and Electronic Transactions (ITE) Law, the State Flag and Symbol Law and the Pornography Law. A threat also lies in the passing of the Criminal Code Bill as it maintained articles often used to criminalise freedom of expression and will also revive articles that were revoked by the Constitutional Court.

Apart from the observations above, the report also sheds light on how these laws are implemented and applied in cases. Such examples include the use of the ITE law against Papuan activists and the allegations of hate speech against human rights activists. The laws governing hate speech, which were originally passed to protect minority and vulnerable groups, are being used to silence dissenters and activists critical of the government. The report also notes that attacks on freedom of expression are becoming diverse in the country. In the past, freedom of expression online was generally attacked in terms of alleged slander, defamation and blasphemy. Now, the state and other actors have learned to use laws on treason, hate speech and fake news to prevent people from speaking out online. Attacks against free speech are made worse by other tactics that include buzzing (trolling), hacking, bullying and shutting down the internet.

To counter such attacks, it is recommended for the state to review how laws related to freedom of expression and the right to free speech are being implemented and used in cases. It is pertinent that law enforcement agencies are well-versed in such laws and policies and are knowledgeable enough to apply these laws to cases where these laws and policies are actually applicable. Further, the state and the law enforcers should understand the principles of freedom of expression and human rights including the Johannesburg Principles, the Camden Principle and the Siracusa Principle. Lastly and most importantly, there is a need to reiterate and uphold accountability of officials implementing the laws either through strengthening supervisory institutions or reforming criminal procedural law in a way that strictly adheres to human rights principles and protection.


Dialling in the Law: Legal Analysis of Internet Shutdowns Across the Global South

State-mandated internet shutdowns are becoming more frequent as governments use these to quell dissent and silence critics. Can citizens push back against these shutdowns by taking their own states to court? Do countries in the Global South have a legal framework to address and counter internet shutdowns?

“Dialling in the Law: A Comparative Assessment of Jurisprudence on Internet Shutdowns”, a report by the Association for Progressive Communications, through the CYRILLA initiative, pins down the literature to address these questions. Aayush Rathi and Arindrajit Basu have authored this report, with research assistance from Anoushka Soni.

The report outlines jurisprudence across the global South on the legality of internet shutdowns. It tackles the growing challenge of government-mandated disruptions of internet access around the world, often under the guise of safeguarding public order and upholding national security interests. Restriction of internet access has been used to quell dissent particularly during moments of intense political turmoil such as protests, anniversaries of key historical events, civil unrest and elections. Internet shutdowns have happened in countries supposedly governed by a democratic system and in countries with authoritarian regimes.

Network shutdowns come at significant human, technological and economic cost. For instance, the Global Network Initiative (GNI) has found that “the per day impact of a temporary shutdown of the Internet and all of its services would be on average $23.6 million per 10 million population.” In response to the growing tendencies of resorting to internet shutdowns, civil society actors have been at the forefront of resistance through persistent transnational and domestic advocacy efforts, and more recently, legal challenges to internet shutdowns. This document looks into how the law and the courts across several countries have taken cognisance of cases related to internet shutdowns.

Specifically, the report presents a documentation and overview of practices, experiences and resources on the legitimisation of, and resistance to, state-backed internet shutdowns. It also seeks to articulate and advance a collective understanding of emerging legal and jurisprudential frameworks that are being used to legitimise and contain internet shutdowns. Thirdly, through analysis of case law, the report surfaces gaps in transnational legal and jurisprudential aspects of internet shutdowns around the globe.

Through this report, it is the authors’ hope to make resources of global developments available so that they can inform ongoing and future advocacy and litigation efforts challenging internet shutdowns. The report has categorised arguments used by petitioners in contending the illegality of network shutdowns as well the defense put forward by states to justify them. The rulings have varied greatly, and even in cases where shutdowns were regarded as illegal, they have yet to yield substantial changes in realities on the ground. Some of the recommendations put forward by the report are as follows:

  1. Telecommunication companies should cooperate with each other when faced with government-mandated shutdowns. Based on the assessment done by GNI, there is a set of recommendations that the industry can uphold in times of internet shutdowns and these include clarifying legal obligations, documenting all demands to serve as basis and evidence for future litigation, narrowing the extent of the shutdown as legally feasible, increasing transparency, communicating regularly with users, and joining advocacy efforts against internet shutdowns.
  2. Explore avenues of resistance in tandem with courtrooms. When favourable outcomes from courts are uncertain, it may be helpful to additionally fight and address internet shutdowns through persistent advocacy efforts in the form of soliciting domestic and international attention through petitions, news coverage and communications work.
  3. Illustrate and argue the central and crucial role that the internet plays in people’s daily lives , in particular in promoting productivity and connectivity. Petitioners can also illustrate the economic loss caused by shutdowns.
  4. Stress the importance of legal arguments such as questioning the procedures being conducted and the appropriateness of the statutes being used. Similarly, petitioners may also question the real intentions behind government-mandated internet shutdowns.
  5. Recognise the limitations of international law and their persuasive value in domestic courts, and emphasise domestic laws and policies that could be applied to the case. The cases collected for the study are available in an accessible workbook.


Unshackling Expression: The Philippines Report

The Foundation for Media Alternatives, in collaboration with the Association for Progressive Communications and the CYRILLA Collaborative, is proud to share, “Unshackling Expression: The Philippines Report.”

Developed by the Foundation for Media Alternatives, an organisation that assists civil society in the use of ICTs for empowerment, the report looks at government restrictions through laws and policies that affect or directly violate the population’s freedom of expression online and offline. The Philippines spends more time on social media than any other country but it is also challenged with attacks and restrictions on its freedom of expression. It has been, in fact, part of the top five “most dangerous countries for journalists.”

This document examines the issues relating to laws regulating ICTs in the Philippines, particularly those that relate to freedom of expression, and explores the problems with how these are implemented. The report also provides insights to help understand how these laws are operationalised, how judgments are made, and how the courts provide reason and justification on decisions made. 

The report furthermore provides a comprehensive audit of the Philippine’s laws and policies and how they affect and curtail freedom of expression and free speech online. There are sections devoted to the discussion of legal foundations and fundamental laws and freedoms; governance of online and networked spaces; sectoral laws; curtailment of freedom of expression; and future violations and draft laws. The report also captures key issues in relation to draft laws currently under consideration by the government. By citing appropriate case laws, the jurisprudence around key digital rights issues is further articulated. 

This report is a continuation of the Unshackling Expression – A study on laws criminalising expression online in Asia. Published in 2017, this document analysed the problematic trends in the use of laws against freedom of expression in online spaces in Asia, particularly Cambodia, India, Malaysia, Myanmar, Pakistan and Thailand. This 2017 report can be accessed here

From the thorough methodology that FMA has implemented in completing the report, the following key observations are noted:

  1. Government actions to restrict free speech are preceded by statements criticising and discrediting the media, and foreshadow penalties or sanctions. The president and his supporters have started a narrative that any media outfit that criticises the government is biased against the current administration and should not be taken seriously by the public. This narrative is then taken up by social media trolls, which reinforces the echo chamber and creates a confirmation bias.
  2. Law personnel in the Philippines are interpreting existing laws and policies quite liberally to twist these into their agenda to stifle free speech. 
  3. Laws and policies are being used not only to clamp down on freedom of expression but also to reexamine registrations, permits, licenses and franchises of media entities critical of the government. 

While the observations above are applied to media outfits, organisations and groups, the same strategies are also used on individuals. The current administration has conditioned the public that discipline and order justify stifling freedom of expression, and has labelled dissenters as leftist or communists. 

As social media presence and use in the Philippines continues to grow, it is our hope that this growth is seen as an opportunity to speak up against these restrictions and to widen the space for citizens to express dissent, dissatisfaction and a louder call for state accountability and better governance. This report seeks to advocate for ICT laws in the Philippines to be in compliance with national and international guarantees on human rights. 

Similar publications discussing the situation in Nepal and Indonesia will be published soon. 

Access the full report on Unshackling Expression: Philippines Report here.

This article has been crossposted from the Association for Progressive Communications (APC).

Jurisprudence Shaping Digital Rights in South Asia

Jurisprudence developed by courts are central to the understanding, application and implementation of laws. Information and communication technologies (ICTs) have irreversibly impacted every walk of personal and public life, including how courts function and deliberate on rights. Given the number of ICT specific laws and policies that have developed, in some cases hastily, over the past decade, the views of courts are ever more important. The rise of the internet and its impact on governments and governance processes has caused states to ring in various laws and extend offline regulations to online spaces. We have been faced with challenges that existed in our societies prior to the internet, but now, the forms they take and the speed of proliferation of content is unimaginable.

This is further complicated in regions which are inhabited by large populations of diverse linguistic, ethnic and religious groups. South Asia, which shares a broad history of colonisation and current socio political and economic challenges, has much to contribute to the evolution of the internet and its governance. Therefore, the study focuses on the South Asian sub-region and explores selected cases relating to digital rights from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

The objective of this report is to make available a resource that can be used by lawyers, policy experts and civil society to gauge the trajectory of judicial discourse on digital rights and use this as a tool to advocate for greater protections. This is not a compendium of all cases relating to the topics dealt with. For studying the cases, the researchers developed a workbook that collated decisions available in online databases including CYRILLA and the Columbia University’s Global Freedom of Expression database. Resources developed by national groups on the state of digital rights in their countries provided critical guidance. The cases selected naturally fell into three categories of access, privacy and freedom of expression.

A key challenge faced, while developing this research, relates to collection of data. In many of the countries (except India), case laws are not easily available on free, open and searchable case lawdatabases. Judgements and orders are often not available or are difficult to access on official court websites. In some countries, many of the decisions or orders relating to digital rights were not reported and thus were inaccessible. In a few instances, particularly for Nepal and Pakistan, some judgements were not available in English and reliance had to be placed on the analysis of the judgement provided by researchers with knowledge of the local language. The countries selected share similar legal systems and challenges in the exercise and enjoyment of digital rights. Some of the issues covered by the report include discussions around access to the internet and its impact on other rights as well as network shutdowns. Judicial pronouncements in relation to privacy, surveillance, national identity programmes, data protection have been analysed across jurisdictions. A significant number of cases studied related to challenges surrounding freedom of expression.

Judgements on access to the internet indicate that there is some recognition of the central role the internet and connectivity play in the lives of all individuals. Cases discussed in this report include judgements relating to equitable telecast rights, instances where use of mobile phones were prohibited, providing limited internet access to prisoners, recognition of medium of information being protected and multiple cases on network shutdowns. However, judgements on internet shutdowns have varied in terms of decisions on procedural propriety, legality and ultimately in providing actual remedy to the people most affected by it. Despite the developing jurisprudence on network shutdowns, ground realities remain unchanged with repeated imposition of disruptions in the region.

Decisions relating to privacy dealt with fundamental questions of whether privacy is protected as a constitutional or fundamental right, validity and regulation of state surveillance mechanisms, data protection and privacy concerns relating to national identity programs. The cases examined included advisory opinions and pronouncements on the right to privacy as a fundamental right, disclosure of personal information, tapping of phone conversations, surveillance of voice and text messages in communications and the validity of the national identity programme in India.

While there is broad recognition for the principles evolved around freedom of expression, courts have largely ruled in favour of censorship and criminalisation. Even in cases where the courts have shunned state action, reparations have not been made available to petitioners in an adequate manner. Fear of uncertainty is pushing intermediaries to proactively takedown content that is under dispute. Cases discussed in the report relate to state powers and validity of blocking; restrictions and criminalisation of political, artistic and sexual expression; the use of blasphemy provisions to criminalise speech; actions to curb hate speech online; use of defamation and contempt of court provisions against speech online and directions on intermediary action or liability.

Overall, courts have been more deferential to state power and concerns of national security or public order over defending individual and fundamental freedoms. However, important jurisprudence has also emerged from the region limiting the power of governments to the imposition of network shutdowns, legality of vague provisions governing freedom of expression and the need for robust data protection mechanisms. South Asian courts have also developed strong jurisprudence delineating the scope of fundamental rights to privacy and freedom of expression and have made it clear that these constitutional protections apply to the online realm. It is hoped that these landmark cases are merely laying the groundwork for the development of robust jurisprudence upholding digital rights and holding states accountable for violating these rights.

CYRILLA Applied Research and Advocacy Grants: Meet our Recipients!

In April, we announced that we were accepting proposals for our CYRILLA Applied Research and Advocacy grants — we received over 50 submissions from both organizations and individuals across the world. After a  competitive selection process, we’re pleased to announce our five grant recipients! It was important that we support a wide, diverse range of projects, and awarded a grant to each region represented in our CYRILLA Collaborative; with the exception of Latin America, which, due to the number of proposals received from the region, was awarded two. Read more about all our grant-supported projects below:

Analysis of judicial cases on gender violence and privacy on the Internet in ParaguayTEDIC

Feminist digital rights organization, TEDIC, will be undertaking a research project to understand how the courts in Paraguay address online gender-based violence with a focus on the unauthorized dissemination of intimate images and videos. Recent cases in Paraguay have brought to the fore the impact of this practice on women, who face social and economic consequences, including job losses, street harassment, depression, and, in some instances, suicide. Within the last year alone, more than 1,200 complaints of unauthorized dissemination of intimate images and videos were made to the Prosecutor’s Office, and TEDIC will be analyzing legal processes and public discourse to reflect on the relationship between gender and digital media.

Between Data Protection and Electoral Propaganda: comparative analyses of legal frameworks governing online political propaganda in Latin AmericaInternetLab

Following the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the marred election of Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, allegations of voter manipulation and concerns about the lawfulness and the transparency of the digital marketing techniques employed by electoral campaigns, are at the forefront of global politics. The internet altered the nature of political communication, and the use of online manipulation, disinformation and radicalization as political tools has been widely covered. But these tools are only available due to the increasing technological capacity to collect, process, and store personal data, which has been a valuable asset to political campaigns. Understanding the interaction between the legal frameworks that govern electoral campaigns and data protection, in essential to both guarantee citizens’ right to privacy and to foster authentic political debate. Brazil-based policy think tank, InternetLab, will therefore map the emerging and existing rules that regulate the use of personal data in political campaigning in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Paraguay. The team will investigate the use of direct marketing techniques by political campaigns; practices of database sharing among parties, candidates, supporters and marketing companies; the use of profiling and microtargeting techniques to convey political propaganda; and the guarantee of voters’ personal data protection and privacy rights. InternetLab hopes the project will establish the groundwork on which the development of a bridge between electoral regulations and data protection regimes can advance.

What’s sex got to do with it? Mapping the Impact of Questions of Gender and Sexuality on the Evolution of the Digital Rights Landscape in IndiaInternet Democracy Project and Vrinda Bhandari

Questions relating to gender and sexuality have driven a number of key court cases in recent years, whose importance does not only affect the evolution of gender and sexuality rights in the country, but of digital rights as well. From intermediary liability for content that is discriminatory or violent against women to anonymity on social media for victims of sexual crimes, the cases exemplify a deep tension running through Indian jurisprudence: that between the constitutional guarantees of equality, including gender equality, and the profound gender discrimination that results from traditional concerns about women’s sexuality and ‘reputation’ in what remains in large part a socially conservative society. Such tensions also run through the various provisions of digital rights related legislations that already explicitly address challenges that sit at the intersection of gender and sexuality rights. The Internet Democracy Project, whose research and advocacy focuses on the experiences of marginalized groups online, will systematically analyze the profound ways in which matters concerning gender and sexuality are impacting the development of the digital rights framework in India’s socially conservative society. By looking at digital rights-related laws and cases, researcher Vrinda Bhandari and IDP hope to provide both feminists and sexuality activists, as well as digital rights activists, with expanded legal knowledge to intervene in these debates successfully.  

Privacy, Data Protection and Surveillance Legal Frameworks in the Middle East: A Case Study on COVID-19 Contact Tracing ApplicationsJoey Shea

The fast proliferation of COVID-19 contact-tracing applications, in response to the historic global health crisis, raises important concerns over privacy, data protection, and surveillance. There are legitimate concerns about whether these applications strike the correct balance between surveillance in the service of public health, while also protecting their users’ privacy. Moreover, given the immensity of the crisis, many NGOs and human rights organizations have expressed concern that states will use the crisis to exploit special exemptions and emergency powers in the law to expand state power and track citizens long after the end of the coronavirus. 

In order to thoroughly address and evaluate these concerns, Joey Shea, a researcher and analyst specialized in digital information controls and digital security in Egypt and the Middle East, will examine the legal frameworks of contact tracing applications, document their deployment and use, and explore broader questions about the health of data governance, data protection, privacy and state surveillance in the Middle East. To accomplish this, Joey will conduct a comprehensive overview of the applications as well as legislation and cases pertaining to data protection and surveillance from a number of states in the region, and assess the privacy implications of these legal frameworks.

An analysis of legislation concerning the introduction of digital identity programs in sub-Saharan Africa, and the risks and challenges posed by these Digital ID programsRose Mosero Maina

The adoption of digital ID systems has been hailed as transformative for many developing countries — sub-Saharan African states are no exception. In particular, proponents of digital ID espouse an improvement in the efficiency of public service delivery, as well as its role in digitizing economies. However, it is increasingly becoming apparent that these countries face a confluence of challenges in the implementation of digital ID programs that their legal frameworks are not equipped to remedy. 

Currently, there are approximately 1 billion people around the world who lack official proof of identity, and close to half of them reside in sub-Saharan Africa. Digital ID systems risk further excluding these vulnerable groups, like refugees, from the benefits of digital ID, or exposing them to surveillance threats and discrimination. The adoption of digital ID systems therefore requires strong legislative and policy frameworks to both remedy the lack of formal ID and to guard against misuse. Rose Mosero Maina, a lawyer and advisor to the Kenyan Ministry of ICT, Innovation and Youth Affairs, will research and analyze the implementation of digital ID systems in South Africa, Kenya, Cameroon and Nigeria through their regulatory instruments, in order to evaluate their impact on the rights of vulnerable groups in the region.

Look out for our completed projects this Fall!