Government’s plan to own and control all electronic data in South Africa – a nightmare for privacy

The new Draft National Policy on Data and the Cloud raises alarming implications for data privacy and for increasing the costs of doing business, says Jacques Moolman, president of the Cape Chamber of Commerce & Industry.

Among other changes, Moolman said that the policy proposes sweeping new powers for state surveillance.

“Its declared intention is to give the government ownership and control of all electronic data generated in South Africa – by anyone and everyone – whether it is data held within the country or out of it,” he said.

“Published for comment on 1 April the prospect the draft opens up is more state oversight and more control over our lives and the economy by a public sector whose reputation is increasingly dubious.”

“The draft is so loosely worded that nightmare visions are conjured up of Big Brother looking over our shoulders as we work at our computers and other digital devices.”

Moolman said that the motive given for this extensive government oversight is national security.

Data ownership issues 

Moolman said that another potential issue with the policy revolves around data and ownership.

He said that the policy proposes that ‘all data generated from South African natural resources shall be co-owned by government and the private sector participant/s whose private funds (sic) were used to generate such’.

All this data will be stored in a new and inevitably very expensive high-performance computing and data processing centre, Moolman said.

“To make the heavy foot of government control even clearer the draft states, to ensure ownership and control: data generated in South Africa shall be the property of South Africa.

“Regardless of where the technology company is domiciled, government shall act as a trustee for all government data generated within the borders of South Africa.”

Apart from the clear damage this policy would do to the already fragile reputation of South Africa as a tourist or investment destination, Moolman said that this policy will be another nail in the coffin of individual freedom in South Africa.

He added that any business wishing to use the extensive data storage capacity of the cloud to avoid buying expensive hardware will now have to keep a copy of all the data it generates—in one fell swoop cancelling the efficiency the cloud provides.

“This draconian power, the draft makes quite clear, is so the data can be seen and used by the police, which sounds good if it snuffs out organised crime, but throwing everyone else into the net is a dangerous precedent.”

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Government’s plan to own and control all electronic data in South Africa – a nightmare for privacy