20 February 2013
Africa has long been in the dusty shadows of the Data Protection debate, with developing states in East Asia and South America being the first to attempt to close the privacy gap on the developed markets.
However, a recently released document by the African Union aims to level that playing field in one grand salvo, by hauling Africa into line with global data protection standards. Its ambitious mission statement seeks to safeguard the protection of personal data throughout the continent.
"Each Member State of the African Union shall put in place a legal framework with a view to establishing a mechanism to combat breaches of private life likely to arise from the gathering, processing, transmission, storage and use of personal data.”
The draft convention outlines basic principles of data protection for 54 African Union states (which includes every African country except for Morocco). These principles reflect global standards of data protection legislation already well- known to observers, such as accuracy, legitimate purpose, data security, limitations of access, confidentiality, right to consent, and the right to object, amongst others.
Interestingly, the market research industry could carve itself a unique privilege within the legislation.
Article II 36 (6), depending on the interpretation of historical, statistical or scientific research and public interest, implies that the Market Research sector may be exempt from key data protection requirements. “The prohibition set forth shall not apply to the following types of data processing where: The personal data processing is necessary in the public interest, especially for historical, statistical or scientific purposes”
Nonetheless, there are also potential pitfalls in the document. The proposals threaten to add additional layers of bureaucracy to market research in the African Union; "Processing of personal data of public interest, especially for historical, statistical or scientific purposes, requires the authorization of a central authority."
The Draft Convention is the first step of what may be a long road to a common data protection regime for Africa. However, the principles of this document are likely to lay the foundation of future legislation, and of market research’s capabilities in Africa.