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Data security in the post-Covid era

July 23, 2020 | Digital article
Published on

By Kerry van der Mescht

Published on Ecofin Agency.

The Covid pandemic, from which Africa is far from emerging, has once again brought to light the importance and usefulness of mobility data analysis. The absence of accurate data location in certain geographies has been a decisive challenge in the context of the governments’ and decision-makers’ growing efforts to curb the spread of the virus. For this reason, mobile data, which must be fully aggregated and anonymized, has proven to be crucial for governments and for the medical community to understand the disease’s trajectories and to assess whether the confinement rules were being respected.

This use of mobility data, which offers promising prospects, requires adequate digital analysis tools which remain marginal throughout the continent. While many governments, decision-makers and regulatory bodies lack the necessary infrastructure, connectivity and measurement tools to enable digital transformation in emerging economies, a few elements need to be assessed to fast track digital transformation in Africa: proper infrastructure, connectivity, appropriate regulatory framework and close collaboration between public and private sectors.

Security, a crucial aspect for digital nations

Until these conditions are met, mobile network operators (MNOs) and users will be confronted to various types of fraud and increased risks in terms of cyber threats such as identity theft, illicit money flows – almost 90% of digital offenses relate to mobile money services users -, security problems and money laundering. It is to be noted that the problem of Internet safety and compliance increasingly concerns not only Internet users and companies, but also and foremost governments. The continent is particularly vulnerable: for African states, losses amount to millions of dollars, which is likely to put a brake on the development of digital economy, while GSMA estimates that mobile industry contribution to GDP could reach 185 billion dollars by 2025.

Ironically, states strive to promote the Internet as a driver of socio-economic development while minimizing its inherent risks. According to the latest ITU Global Cybersecurity Index, Africa is the region with the lower number of countries having implemented a cybersecurity strategy, only a third of them using metrics to measure cybersecurity.

In this dynamic, security is a key requirement for strong digital nations in Africa and trusted digital identities are essential to ensure a long-standing digitalization process in Africa. They also promote overall accountability by establishing a clear link between an individual or entity and a specific action.

All digital nations are eventually underpinned by digital identities, which are a means by which individuals and businesses prove their identity online. Nevertheless, the precondition for them to consolidate in any nation is trust. If users do not feel their data is protected, no online exchanges or transactions will occur.

More generally, digital identities are key for the future of Africa, in terms of socio-economic progress and opportunities for the people. They democratize access to key public services, helps build sustainable economies and will allow Africans to become more than consumers of digital goods produced by companies elsewhere. Moreover, they will actively contribute to creating business opportunities both locally and regionally and to providing better e-gov services.

Cybercriminality on the rise
One of the main factors adversely impacting on the creation of solid digital nations across Africa is cyber security. Internet insecurity is a growing concern for governments and regulators, due to its direct impact on the Internet users and the high reach and socio-economic repercussion of cybercrimes, which is projected to amount some $6 trillion yearly from now to 2021.

Building strong digital identities is a key measure to fight this digital insecurity, so is the implementation of regulatory structures that support financial inclusion, measure the growth of technology and encourage data analytics for decision-making. Each African nation can improve its own regulations to further promote sustainable economic development.

Indeed, a dynamic regulatory framework that can easily be adjusted to encourage innovation can be key for fast track growth of technology. While cyber security is everyone’s responsibility, governments and regulators have a key role to play in this matter, as policy-makers as well as enforcers of laws and regulation.

James Claude, Global Voice Group CEO