The latest edition of the State of Internet Freedom in Africa report is out. The report was launched at the Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica) #FIFAfrica22 event, in Lusaka, Zambia as Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA).

This is the ninth consecutive report issued by CIPESA since 2014 under the State of Internet Freedom in Africa series.

The report documents some of the emerging and current trends in biometric data collection and processing in Africa. It focuses on the deployment of national biometric technology-based programmes in 16 African countries, namely Angola, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, and Zambia.

The biometric data collection programmes reviewed by the report include those related to civil registrations, such as the issuance of National Identity cards, biometric voter registration and identification programmes, government-led CCTV programmes with facial recognition capabilities, national ePassport initiatives, refugees’ registration, and mandatory biometric SIM card registration.

The report highlights the key trends, risks, challenges and gaps relating to biometric data collection projects in the continent. These include limited public engagement and awareness campaigns; inadequate legal frameworks that heighten risks to privacy; exclusion from accessing essential services; enhanced surveillance, profiling and targeting; conflicting interests and the wide powers of third parties; and limited capacity and training.

Consequently, the study notes that these biometric programmes are being implemented in countries with poor digital rights records, declining democracy and rising digital authoritarianism, which casts doubt on the integrity of biometric data collection programmes and the resultant databases. Thus, viewed collectively, the developments, trends and risks outlined in the report heighten concern over the growing threats to the right to privacy of personal data and potential violations of digital rights on the continent.

The report also presents recommendations to various stakeholders including the government, civil society, the media, the private sector and academia, which, if implemented, will go a long way in addressing data protection and privacy gaps, risks and challenges in the study countries.

The report urges key stakeholders such as the media to progressively document and report on initiatives such as advocacy by civil society and other stakeholders to keep track of developments, conduct investigative journalism and expose primary violations arising as a result of the implementation of biometric data.

It also highlights some key recommendations to the  Governments to implement the laws and policy frameworks on identity systems and data protection and privacy while paying keen attention to compliance with regionally and internationally recognised principles and minimum standards on data protection and privacy for biometric data collection and require the adoption of human rights-based approaches.

The report further notes that Countries without data protection and privacy laws such as Liberia, Mozambique, Sierra Leone and Tanzania should enact appropriate data protection laws to guarantee their citizens’ data protection and privacy rights.