By Shadrach Aziz Kamara
The Citizens Advocacy Network (CAN) in collaboration with ICT Users Association (ASUTIC), has on Monday 30th August 2021 held a Press Conference with the theme: “Sierra Leone: Facing the Challenge of Personal Data Protection; State of Affairs and Challenges in respect of the Malabo Convention”, at the Africell American Corner on Bathurst street, Freetown.
The Executive Director of the Citizens Advocacy Network (CAN), Thomas Moore Conteh, said that Data protection is a fundamental right set out in Article 8 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, adding that everyone has the right to the protection of their personal data. He went on to say that data must be processed fairly for specified purposes. He went on to say that his organization believes that everyone has the right to access data. He stated that the Citizens Advocacy Network also believes that every individual is entitled to his or her personal information protection used in a fair and legal way and made available to them when they ask for a copy. He said that given the fact that the use of computers and level of sophistication with computing technologies is generally growing among the local population in the country. He said that concerns are currently high about the issue of cyber security and the protection of personal data in the country. He went on to say that if the information of data in Sierra Leone are not protected they can be exploited with impunity for either commercial or even more serious nefarious ends, he disclosed that such a situation underlines the urgency for the protection of Personal Data in Sierra Leone, starting with the establishment of a legal framework in accordance with the Malabo Convention and other international treaties or conventions to which Sierra Leone is a signatory, adding that Sierra Leone currently lacks a comprehensive legislation upholding citizens right to data protection privacy, furthering how the absence of a law that specifically addresses data protection/privacy has left a regulatory gap which undermines citizens’ rights and potentially opens the door to data exploitation by private and public entities. He maintained that the progress of the Cyber security Act of 2020 is a welcome development by the current Government to regulate the cyberspace, adding that the passing of a Data Protection Law would further strengthen those efforts immeasurably. He said that there are rumors of steps being taken by the Ministry of Information and Communications and the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation to work on a Data Protection Bill and he went on to say that it is in tandem to the recently passed Cyber Security Act. He reiterated that Sierra Leone is a signatory to the 2010 Economic Community of West African States (‘ECOWAS’) Supplementary Act A/SA.1/01/10 on Personal Data Protection within ECOWAS.
“Interestingly, the ECOWAS Act requires each Member State to establish a Data Protection Authority that will be responsible for ensuring that Personal Data is processed in compliance with the provisions of the ECOWAS Act,” he lamented, adding that Sierra Leone is yet to ratify the ECOWAS Act domestically and establish a Data Protection Authority. He said that once the ECOWAS Act has been ratified and comes into force domestically any entity that intends to collect and process personal data of a private individual shall be required to make a formal request to the data protection authority. He further that in respect of the foregoing facts, it is critically worthy to note that Data protection and Cybersecurity Laws are very essential to safeguarding against data breaches, adding that the purpose of the stakeholder update is primarily to promote discussions among State actors, civil society and the fourth estate on the need for an enactment of a comprehensive legislation on Personal Data Protection in Sierra Leone.
The Director-General of the National Civil Registration Authority (NCRA), Mohamed Mubashir Massaquoi who was one of the participants stated that the institution is mandated to provide certain information in relation to births, adoptions, deaths, marriages, nullities or divorces to several Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies for specific purposes. He mentioned that the enactment of a data protection law will greatly determine how information are shared with MDAs, adding that data protection Law in Sierra Leone will greatly improve the management and security of personal data of individuals kept by NCRA. He said that it will set out the procedures to be followed in order for NCRA and other institutions to collect data from individuals while also informing individuals of their right to consent to the sharing of their personal data or information for processing and transmission to other data processors. He continued to inform participants present that prior to the enactment of the NCRA Act, Civil Registration functions and management of population data were governed by several statutes and laws including the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1983 and the National Registration Act 2008, as well as a number of other legislations indirectly related to the Civil Registration System. He went on to say that the National Civil Registration Act of 2016 was enacted for the harmonization, consolidation and integration of all existing laws and regulations into a single coherent legal framework to regulate and implement Civil Registration services and ensure that Vital Statistics are compiled and disseminated with Identity Cards linked to the Civil Registration system. He went on to say that the meeting will be held in July this year, Cabinet approved the establishment of a Data Protection Policy, Act and Regulation for Sierra Leone and that there is a Working Group comprising of several MDAs including Ministry of Information and Communications, NATCOM, Right to Access information, Ministry of Internal Affairs, the NCRA, Expert Legal Consultants and other Stakeholders who are currently looking at the drafts of these documents – Policy, Bill and Regulation. He concluded by encouraging all Civil Society Organizations (CSO’s), the Media and other interested groups to work with the Authority by supporting the process in various ways.