Data protection: the need for a legal framework 

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What is data protection? 

Data protection is also known as data privacy or information privacy. It is the process through which information about individuals is only allowed to be viewed by those who have been given permission to it, and deals with protecting the integrity of the data. This involves protecting the data from being corrupted or having errors. Many countries have laws in place to enforce data protection. 

Laws to ensure data is protected may include: 

  • Ensuring that consent to giving data can be removed at any point.
  • Companies are subject to data protection audits to ensure their data is stored safely.
  • Making companies appoint data protection officers whose role is to ensure compliance with data protection laws. 

Why do we need data protection laws? 

Every time we use a smartphone, the internet, or GPS technology we share personal data on the internet. We need data protection laws to make sure that our personal information on the internet is protected and so individuals are able to control who has access to their information and why. 

Data protection laws are important not only to protect the data itself, but to protect the rights and freedom of the person whose data it is. For example, if you have ever entered your bank details online, it would be possible to take money from your bank account without data regulation laws. Your personal data being leaked may also damage a person’s reputation. For example, if pictures or videos of them were leaked from online sharing platforms or social media accounts this may be embarrassing. 

Data protection laws in Africa: 

African countries have been increasing legislation on data protection in the last two decades. 25 out of 53 African countries have data protection laws in place. There has also been some regional cooperation. For example, in 2014 the African Union adopted the Malabo Convention. This is a comprehensive document covering electronic transactions, privacy and cybersecurity and has been signed by 14 states. 

Why is regional cooperation beneficial? 

Making the legal framework for data protection consistent across the continent can be beneficial for development. Not only will having a consistent framework for data protection across the continent be beneficial for individuals’ privacy, it will encourage data flows from outside of Africa into the continent. This is because multinational firms and governments will regard the African data services as safe. These data services can include: 

  • Outsourced IT services – this is where foreign companies pay African companies to manage their information and technology 
  • Data Centres – these are buildings that house many computers and data storage machines in one place
  • Fintech services – fintech stands for financial technologies. These services help both African and International banks to use technology to make trading and sending money more efficient. 

Encouraging data services in Africa will help improve the economy and provide jobs, and this can be achieved through regional cooperation in enforcing data protection laws. 



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