Data overreach

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Data overreach

UN secretary general warns of abuse; JCC urges Jamaica to push on with digitisation

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

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As Jamaica continues to grapple with fallout from the reported security vulnerability on the JAMCOVID -19 app, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres has charged that the pandemic has raised alarm about the growing reach of digital platforms and the use and abuse of data.

“A vast library of information is being assembled about each of us. Yet we don't really have the keys to that library,” warned Guterres in an address to the 46th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council.

“We don't know how this information has been collected, by whom or for what purposes. That data is being used commercially — for advertising, for marketing and for beefing up corporate bottom lines. Behaviour patterns are being commodified and sold like futures contracts,” charged Guterres.

He argued that the collection of data has created new business models and entirely new industries that have contributed to an ever-greater concentration of wealth and inequality.

“Our data is also being used to shape and manipulate our perceptions, without our ever realising it. Governments can exploit that data to control the behaviour of their own citizens, violating human rights of individuals or groups.

All of this is not science fiction or a forecast of a 22nd-century dystopia. It is here and now. And it requires a serious discussion. We have developed a Roadmap for Digital Cooperation to find a way forward,” said Guterres.

The secretary general urged UN member states to place human rights at the centre of regulatory frameworks and legislation on the development and use of digital technologies.

“We need a safe, equitable and open digital future that does not infringe on privacy or dignity,” added Guterres in a wide-ranging address which touched on issues such as “the blight of racism, discrimination and xenophobia” in the world and “the most pervasive human rights violation of all: Gender inequality”.

But even as the UN boss warned of the possible data overreach, the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC) came out in full support of the Government's push towards the digitisation of the Jamaican economy.

In a statement yesterday, the JCC said while it noted with concern the recent reports that a data security breach had potentially exposed information about individuals using the JAMCOVID-19 application, it also noted the the swift action by the Jamaican authorities upon being advised of the breach and looks forward to the prompt dissemination of the results of the investigation now under way.

“It is our view that not only are these efforts indispensable, if we are to achieve and retain competitive parity with the range of economies with which we interact, but we are also of the view that information security in a digitised economy is achievable notwithstanding the egregious incidents that occasionally become top news items,” said the JCC.

“What this means, we believe, is that data gatherers in both the public and private sectors must prioritise the necessary investments – including in human resources and governance infrastructure – that can guarantee such security.

“We say this in a context where Jamaican authorities are in the process of debating, for imminent legislative consideration, various bills that will undergird our digitisation efforts, among them the national identification system (NIDS) proposal,” added the JCC.

It argued that it is important that Jamaicans do not conflate the issue regarding the JAMCOVID-19 data breach with these digitisation-enabling initiatives.

“We are persuaded that information security can be achieved with the appropriate measures taken all along the information collection and analysis chain,” declared the JCC.


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