Citizen data protection ought to be a universal reality

By Nadia Shiyyab

In the continuing WPFD discussions around media, democracy and election, the question of data protection still comes up as one of the challenges faced in the era on technological ubiquity.

In one of today’s panel discussions, Pansy Tlakula, the chairperson for information regulation of South Africa raised this issue once again acknowledging that the role online media performs to promote electoral processes. “Digital platforms have changed the elections a lot and the political parties used the digital platforms to reach their voters”. She however, cautioned that with such prospects comes challenges and one of them is the issue of abuse of citizens privacy saying; “But the question still how these parties reach to our phone numbers, there is no electronic laws that allow these parties to get our number..”

The backdrop is that, the internet and social media in particular can push citizens into polarized echo chambers that may pull at the social fabric of a country, fueling hostility between different communities, regardless of whether there is a malign intent or not. Such echo chambers can bred fertile grounds for not just hostile sentiments towards democracy and elections divides but can be arenas where politicians can easily tap into citizens private spaces.

According to Freedom House report on Freedom on the Net 2018 – the rise of digital authoritarianism,Some countries such as Egypt and Iranhave rewritten restrictive media laws to apply to social media users, jailed critics under measures designed to curb false news, and blocked foreign social media and communication services.

Other countries like China and Russia are demanding that telecommunication companies store their citizens’ data within their borders, where the information can be accessed by security agencies

In order for democracy to survive in this digital age, users must be granted the right to protect their data and the power to ward off undue intrusions into their personal lives by both the government and corporations – this according to Freedom House.