An ideal framework for the accountable use of personal data by law enforcement and state security agencies

Protect yourself from online attacks that threaten your identity, your files, your system, and your financial well-being.

Image: Andrea Estafanía for APC

By Koliwe Majama

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The world is increasingly becoming digitised, with a significant amount of personal data being collected, stored and mined by different public and private sector players, in the various countries and communities, for one purpose or the other. Digitisation has increased efficiency of services and enhanced customer experiences of the same, as service providers take advantage of data-driven customer insights to improve what they offer to the public. Digital technologies have also provided law enforcement and intelligence services with new methods to tackle crime as they make use of personal data, in the form of communication, transaction or location data, to investigate unlawful acts.

However, while digitisation is enhancing law and order, there are increasing concerns over the manner in which some of the data collected through automated digital technologies and data mining is being manipulated or misused. This has prompted calls for more accountable use of personal data by law enforcement and state security agencies to protect the rights of citizens.

Collection of personal data by law enforcement and state security

Law enforcement agents collect digitised personal data of targeted individuals or organisations to aid in criminal investigations at different stages and in various ways. Evidence gathered can be used in a court of law against the targeted individual. However, there are also instances where some state agents collect vast amounts of data, which is not targeted at specific individuals, but as an intelligence gathering process and for use by government in decision making.

In a recent meeting of the Global Encryption Coalition on government hacking, panellists shared forms of government hacking for either criminal investigation or intelligence gathering, with three methods most relevant to our African context. The first…