Proper privacy laws are a win for East African consumers

July 11, 2014

The plans being mooted by East African Community governments considering implementing stricter protections on privacy, including personal data and financial information is a welcome move that all consumers in the region must applaud. If one owns a SIM card in the region, one can expect to receive a call or text message from agents offering products ranging from ongoing World Cup predictions to Gym club memberships. Often these text messages are a nuisance and at times they are downright annoying. But for now there is little East African consumers can do about it. Personal SIM card data is easily bought, it seems, and customers have no say in how their personal information is distributed and to whom. This is not how it should be. But now the technocrats plans to propose legislation to further protect personal data. “The state should be able to provide protection of data, including personal or private data,” an expert closer to the plans told me recently.

In this regard, East African countries will be following in the footsteps of other developed nations, such as United Kingdom, Australia, the European Union and Canada, all of which have enacted similar laws on personal data protection. East African countries do not at present have specific regulations that protect the privacy of its citizens. Privacy in the five member states, to a certain extent, are protected by the law, but such protection is scattered across several pieces of legislation. Harmonising these laws makes sense to the five countries that aspire to create the most efficient model of regional cooperation in developing world. If drafted properly, the new law can aid the development of the telecom industry, because customers will have greater security and an assurance that their personal information will not be traded without their consent. But in writing the law, the governments must not go overboard and handcuff the development of the telecom services industry. It must educate East Africans on their rights to privacy while allowing the industry to continue growing. Striking this balance will not be easy but it is vitally important

Contador Harrison