Privacy Laws Can Boost Sustainable Development

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By Stephen Gardner

Oct. 19 — Developing nations may benefit economically from clear and concise data protection laws, privacy regulators from around the world said Oct. 19.

Developing countries adopting clearly-framed data protection laws may be a factor in achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, data protection commissioners said during the 38th International Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners' Conference, in Marrakesh, Morocco.

Chris Connolly, a consultant to the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said that less developed countries should adopt “baseline” data protection laws to help local businesses monetize consumer data. These laws may boost confidence in institutions in countries where “consumers don't have confidence that their rights will be protected,” he said.

Developing nations that haven't adopted strong data privacy laws may be missing out on economic growth. According to an April 19 UNCTAD report, 30 percent of countries don't have a data protection law, leading to reduced “trust and confidence in a wide range of commercial activities.”

Connectivity and Data

The proliferation of global telecommunication connectivity has meant that new services could be provided in various industries.

Boris Wojtan, director of privacy for the GSM Association, which represents mobile telecommunications companies, said that the worldwide “explosion of connectivity and data,” means that new services could be provided in areas such as health care.

He cited a project in Malawi that used a health-care application to monitor the condition of expecting mothers who might live far from medical facilities and have limited transport options. Data generated from such projects could be used for analytical purposes to improve health care, but national privacy guidance for the use of mobile app data should be in place, Wojtan said.

Data could be used in many other contexts in developing countries, such as for monitoring and managing electricity demand or in microfinance transfers, Wojtan added.

Combating Corruption

Speakers said that data protection frameworks in poorer countries can also be instrumental in boosting transparency and reducing corruption. Data protection laws can foster transparent relationships between companies and governments, they said.

Ghana Data Protection Commission Executive Director Teki Akuetteh Falconer said better data protection laws can help residents of poorer countries hold public agencies accountable. Corruption happens if “information is not clearly documented, rules are not clearly stated,” she said.

Ghana's 2012 Data Protection Act “demands accountability” from private companies, leading them to insist on accountability in contracts with government bodies, Falconer added.

“Companies don't want to be infected with the noncompliance of others,” she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephen Gardner in Marrakesh at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Donald G. Aplin at daplin@bna.com ; Jimmy H. Koo at jkoo@bna.com

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