South Africans still 'in the dark' about personal info safeguards - researchers

2017-03-08 21:26
Fingerprint readers capture biometric data. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Fingerprint readers capture biometric data. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Cape Town - While South Africa has introduced stricter measures to protect its citizens and their privacy, a lack of enforcement and research opens them up to risk, researchers said on Wednesday.

People had no clue about how their personal information was being used and who had access to it, political activist and researcher Dr Dale McKinley said at a Right2Know (R2K) panel discussion in Cape Town.

"The bottom line is that we are in the dark. When we ask about this, we are told 'confidentiality'. It is the standard response."

It was "quite remarkable" that people in other countries had mass campaigns against systems such as a centralised biometric database, while it had been relatively quiet locally, added Professor Jane Duncan, of the Media Policy and Democracy Project.

Several areas of concern about privacy were detailed in McKinley’s report, entitled New Terrains of Privacy in South Africa.

These included biometric databases and smart ID systems/cards, the increase in CCTV and surveillance systems, the rapid rise in the use of drones, SIM card registration, and the Financial Intelligence Centre Act (FICA).

Information abused

He said personal information was being abused.

"We readily give it up to banks.

"That info then gets shared. Often times, these databases get sold," he said.

When it came to registering a SIM card, the agent capturing information did not require a police clearance certificate. The employee had no security vetting and there were no security protocols in place, he said.

Some of these agents were likely passing on and selling the information before it was sent to the cellphone provider.

Privacy protections for biometric databases were extremely weak.

"If someone steals your fingerprint, too bad. There is no replacement for a fingerprint or a finger scan.

"The Nazis had nothing on these new biometric states. The US is the biggest big brother ever. Our smaller states, like South Africa, are not too far behind."

Duncan said media reporting tended to focus on anecdotal examples of CCTV being used to solve crime.

"When we look at academic research, we start to realise there is a different picture. Academic research points to CCTV having a limited impact on crime."

She said it was evident that technology was being used as a silver bullet to solve crimes, instead of more basic policing interventions and investigative skills.

"We all feel crime-weary as South Africans," she said.

"If we are losing privacy to increasingly invasive technologies, with little evidence of them making us safer, we need to ask the question, what is the point?"

Read more on:    r2k  |  cybercrime  |  mobile

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