These are unprecedented times we live in, and as such, unprecedented measures need to be taken by our various governments to try and stop the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). However, as citizens, we need to be vigilant and keep those in power accountable especially when it comes to the laws they pass during this COVID-19 pandemic period.
Many countries have implemented laws to enforce the restriction of people’s movement to reduce the spread of the virus and new infections. This is necessary, however, it is the laws around the monitoring of people’s movement and communications that we should also pay very close attention to.
Some countries, in Africa too, have passed laws allowing the government to request location and movement data from technology companies regarding citizens in relation to COVID-19 testing.
Take South Africa’s example for instance.
At first, Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, announced that a new regulation was passed titled “Individual Track and Trace.” It shed very little light on how the tracking and tracing will happen, all it said was:
“To assist track and trace efforts, [Electronic Communication Network Service] and [Electronic Communication Service] licensees, internet and the digital sector, in general, are directed to provide location-based services in collaboration with the relevant authorities identified to support designated departments to assist and combat the spread of COVID-19,”
With such little detail, many South Africans were concerned about privacy and journalists started running stories about the government wanting to spy on citizen’s mobile phones. Barely a week later, the regulations were amended and more transparency provided. Highlighlighting the point that we need to inspect every new regulation carefully and make sure it is not implemented beyond the current scope of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
As important is that we also need to pay closer attention once the pandemic is over that some (if not all) these laws are reversed as they could be abused.
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