Data Rights Are Also Human Rights

Today, there may be no resource as powerful, and as vulnerable, as data. The innate role of data in contemporary society is always fluctuating. Ranging from use of social media to accessing administrative services, whatever the use of data is, how can we ensure transparency and accountability in the handling of it? A panel discussion at the #KeIGF2020 tackled this issue, and more.


To put it in context, think of how property rights work. Take that same thought, and add a little bit of flavour by understanding that data rights offer something that property rights do not, and that is governance. Data rights offer a well-oiled infrastructure of control and protection that is much more encompassing than ownership, and these rights continue to exist even data is shared with others.

As an analogy, imagine the data that you generate as forming your informational body. As much as you control your own physical body, you want to have control and authority over your informational body. You want autonomy to decide what to do with it. You don’t want to be financially dependent on companies to pay you for your data body. You also do not want to sell your kidney for money.

“You cannot build a wall around data, how do you control something over which you have no possession?” asks Prof. Sylvia Kang’ara, Founding Dean of Riara Law Scool and Visiting Law Prof at Strathmore Law School in a panel session moderated by Mercy Ndegwa, Head of Public Policy East and Horn of Africa at Facebook. The panel consisted of Karimi Ruria, Senior Legal Counsel at Safaricom, Grace Bomu, Research Fellow Strathmore CPIT, and as mentioned, Prof. Sylvia Kang’ara.

It was brought out during the panel discussions, that society cannot exist without data, it works hand in hand in data-driven technologies. Without collecting data about the world around us, we would be clueless on how to get what we want. Data-driven technologies assist us in getting that data and putting it into a perspective that allows us to rationalise, point A to point B.

Through data-driven technologies, businesses become more accessible and agile. Plus, it guarantees a foolproof way of collecting data whilst also ensuring the integrity of that data. “The role of an individual citizen in data protection is that they need to understand the role of data. Users should be obligated to be careful with their data, still it is difficult because data is required for basic services,” noted Grace Bomu.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is one such data-driven technology. The revolution has finally arrived and is well underway. The question is no longer whether AI will fit into their business, but rather how they can realign their organisation to fully capitalise on its transformational value.

“Imagine a data economy that is also non-commercial. The law is framed in this way but there could be businesses that are here to solve a problem. Or even a govt that needs data to make decisions,” explained Karimi, exemplifying how processes need to evolve so as to enhances the ability to use personal information in ways that do not intrude on privacy interests.

“It may well be our citizens do not appreciate it is personal information that should be protected and so they put it out there. But, institutions also need to be custodians of data in their care,” remarked Mercy in closing.

The panel discussion unearthed a multitude of insights that were vital for the shaping of data analytics in the country, and how careful shaping of the data allows for the fine-tuning of the Kenyan cyber and internet space.

The forum was a multi-stakeholder event for policy dialogue on issues of Internet governance to the very detail. It was held in an informal setting, free from binding negotiations. It brought together all stakeholders from government, private sector, technical community, academia and civil society to discuss Internet governance issues on an equal footing through an open and inclusive process.




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