Surveillance economy in Africa

Posted on August 16, 2017 12:01 am

Known as ‘surveillance economy’, it is basically about surveillance and the economy it generates, how much of our day to day life is under some kind of surveillance where data is collected, companies or organizations that gets it, how they used it and profit from it.I am one of those who don’t care an inch about espionage networks that makes some people alert and alarmed. This is because since I learned what coding was, i have known we clearly live in a well established surveillance society and since the turn of the century, surveillance has been at the epicenter of the digital economy.Everything we do today is subject to surveillance and there’s no place to hide. Both spies and those being spied are all under constant watch, both physically and electronically. Surveillance is the new normal of digital world we live in. It’s everywhere and this ubiquity makes us take it for granted.Gone are the days when the old adage, if you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear. That use to apply before digital era but now the state is extremely interested in what we do, whom we talk to, where we go, what we buy, or what we believe in.We live in that world where privacy doesn’t exist. In Africa, the number of government agencies taking an interest in information about Africans has grown like topsy. The national security machinery has extended the policing functions of government to all areas of life.As the internet becomes increasingly prolific, African states are determined to observe the conversations locals have, the information hey share and the sites they visit among others. Conversely, some countries have moved their operations behind one-way glass making it increasingly difficult to know exactly what the government is doing in their people’s names. Several government agencies have been caught spying on the members of the population who are not a threat to national security like teachers, doctors etc . In Kenya according to an online story, security agencies followed a teacher in an effort to catch her having sex with a student who was an adult. In South Africa, a local authority accessed foreign residents’ phone use to track down illegal immigrants. If you think African countries people are living in total surveillance societies, now is the time to get real and take a look outside just like people in western countries have done since the end of second world war. Indeed Africa is catching up fast with their developed counterparts.

In major African cities, people are under almost constant video surveillance just like it has been the case in western cities like London, New York and Paris. It is almost impossible to try walking through any reasonable-sized city in Africa without being caught on CCTV although that has been the case in developed countries for decades. It is impossible to get in and out of shops without being captured in camera. In countries like South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt, there are thousands of state-monitored cameras looking at traffic, public transport and pedestrian flows, thousands of private cameras are also monitoring every transaction people are making in shops, banks, pubs, hotel lobbies, restaurants and supermarkets.Such footages are also available and accessible to the authorities.They don’t even have to ask the shop owner. Whether you live in Africa or in Europe or Asia or Latin America, you don’t just have to contend with ubiquitous physical surveillance through thousands of CCTV installations, there are also thousands of electronic fingerprints being gathered around the clock and they are being stored, sorted, filtered, filed and manipulated making each one of us a potential targets for state surveillance irrespective of where we live.In digital societies, people who would normally have nothing to fear are also on intelligence community’s radar because digital capabilities involved mean that anyone can be digitally strip-searched.The extent to which the digital economy and the surveillance state are symbiotically connected is not in doubt and African countries aren’t being left behind. Recent reports from multiple African countries seems clear that many companies have been covertly cooperating with the security agencies and some who have responded to such online publications have been quoted as saying that it is the price of doing business in Africa.There really is no place to hide in this digital era, surveillance is big data and big data is big business. The surveillance economy puts information transactions at its core.With more than a billion of devices connected to the Internet in Africa as of July 2017, there is so much available data to be mined. Plenty of connections are available to be combed, tapped, correlated, combined and sold. Simply put, big data analytics is the same as surveillance, the main lubricant for surveillance economy. As more commercial data is collected, nervous and security conscious African governments will find more ways of mining it for political purposes too and to weaken the opposition or civil society organizations.

Contador Harrison