Surveillance law in Africa: a review of six countries

Think tank: Institute of Development Studies

Author(s): Various Authors

October 21, 2021

This report from UK think tank the Institute of Development Studies provides the first systemic comparison of surveillance laws in Africa.

Mass surveillance is being carried out by governments in six countries across Africa with existing laws failing to protect the legal rights of citizens, new research finds. The study Surveillance Law in Africa: a Review of Six Countries by the African Digital Rights Network is the first systematic comparison of surveillance laws in Africa. It is published amid concerns of digital ‘surveillance creep’ as technologies become more sophisticated and more of our day-to-day lives, from banking to healthcare, move online. Many governments have expanded their powers for surveillance and access to personal data during Covid-19. Despite explicit guarantees of privacy rights in the domestic laws and constitutions of each country alongside international human rights conventions, the study conducted this year, identified that governments are making large investments in new surveillance technologies. At the same time as strengthening technological capability, they were also passing new laws to expand legal surveillance powers. This led to increased surveillance of journalists, judges, business rivals and opposition leaders. The report identifies Egypt and Sudan as the countries where citizens’ rights to privacy were least protected. This is due to a combination of weak legal protections, weak civil society to hold the state to account and increased state or government investment in surveillance technologies. In contrast, despite the government in South Africa also violating privacy law, the country’s strong civil society, independent court and media successfully force the government to improve its surveillance law and practices.