Data protection in MENA

Data exposed and exploited in Middle East and North Africa, new report explores

From Ramallah to Beirut, the private data of millions is at risk. Access Now is launching Exposed and exploited: Data protection in the Middle East and North Africa, a new report that explores the privacy dangers burgeoning in Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Tunisia, leaving people vulnerable to abuse and exploitation of their most personal information. Read the full report, and report snapshot.

“Data protection laws across the region are not upheld, vaguely written, or, in many cases, simply don’t exist. And for governments and companies that prey on people’s personal information, disrupting the status quo is the least of their priorities,” said Marwa Fatafta, MENA Policy Manager at Access Now. “Governments’ blatant disregard of the right to privacy disproportionately harms those who are already most at-risk of attacks, discrimination, and oppression — such as refugees, people living on occupied land, LGBTQ+ communities, and women.”

The past year was explosive for health-related tech-solutions in the fight against COVID-19, and with a notable lack of robust privacy safeguards and data protection frameworks, governments are seizing this unprecedented opportunity to abuse private information.

“COVID-19 became a scapegoat for privacy invasion in many countries across the Middle East and North Africa,” said Dima Samaro, MENA Policy Analyst at Access Now. “In a region already struggling at the hands of authoritarian and repressive governments, the fight against this deadly pandemic made it easier for MENA regimes to deny people agency over their personal information, and deploy non-evidence-based technologies, leading to increased danger beyond the health crisis.”

Exposed and exploited: Data protection in the Middle East and North Africa, provides an overview of the laws in four MENA countries, exploring case studies from independent investigations and research with local partners and organizations, including Arab Advancement for Social Media (7amleh), Social Media Exchange (SMEX), and Jordan Open Source Association (JOSA). The case studies include:

  • Jordan: Collection of refugees’ biometric data by international organizations.
  • Lebanon: Mishandling voters’ personal data ahead of elections.
  • Palestine: Al Munasiq app and abusive collection of Palestinians’ information by Israeli defense forces.
  • Tunisia: Robots and drones patrolling  the streets of Tunisia during COVID-19 lockdown.

The new report also compares the privacy and data protections of COVID-19 contact-tracing apps in MENA countries, and outlines a set of policy recommendations for governments, private actors, and international organizations, while highlighting the role private companies play in profiting from private data.