The undersigned organizations and associations call on the Tunisian government to postpone launching a digital platform for subsidies compensation. The platform was developed in a non-participatory and non-transparent way and it does not align with personal data protection law, which will impact Tunisians’ privacy and data protection rights.
On January 3, 2023, Tunisia’s Minister of Trade and Exports announced that a digital platform for subsidies compensation would be available as of January or February, without specifying an exact date. The Minister of Finance had previously announced that the platform would open for registration in November 2022, but this did not prove to be the case.
The goal of this platform is to allow the government to transfer money directly to people affected by the lifting of commodity subsidies. This could be as many as eight million people, or 70% of all Tunisian households. The platform will be open to the public for registration, with low-income individuals being automatically registered.
We stress that digital solutions such as this platform, which handle large amounts of data (“big data”), require proactive assessments of their impact on personal data and digital security rights. Independent experts must be assigned to conduct such impact assessments, and the results should be shared publicly for review and discussion. This will enable civil society to provide expert input and feedback, as is the case for other major projects launching in Tunisia.
However, this particular project has been marked by a total lack of transparency. The relevant ministries have failed to disclose basic information, such as which bodies and institutions are designing, developing, and launching the project. They have also failed to provide any clarification as to whether or not the necessary impact assessments were conducted. They have not clarified what personal data citizens must provide to access the platform, nor have they specified whether using this platform is mandatory for citizens to receive the compensation they are entitled to.
Furthermore, the Tunisian government ministries leading the project have infringed Organic Law No. 2004-63 (July 27, 2004) related to personal data protection. Tunisia’s National Authority for the Protection of Personal Data (INPDP) noted that the government failed to submit a prior declaration to the INPDP, as required by Article 7 of the Organic Law: “Before processing personal data, a prior declaration must be deposited at the HQ of the National Authority for Protection of Personal Data.” Nor was the INPDP invited to share its opinion on the platform, as provided for in Article 76 of the same law.
The Tunisian government’s repeated disregard for data protection legislation, which we also saw with decree No. 2022-54, demonstrates its lack of commitment to national obligations and Tunisia’s international agreements, notably the Council of Europe’s Convention 108 and its additional protocol 181 on the right to personal data protection. This roll-out of this platform is part of Tunisia’s wider “digital transformation” efforts, which encompass several opaque projects, such as the Mobile ID digital legal identity program or the Ministry of the Interior’s creation of a biometric database in order to adopt biometric national ID cards and passports.
Multiple civil society organizations and associations have warned the Ministry of Interior against moving forward with the biometric ID cards and passports project in its present form. Five organizations also sent a joint inquiry about the Mobile ID project to the Ministry of Communication Technologies but received no response, only reinforcing the government’s lack of transparency and external engagement when it comes to the digitization of public services.
The fact that such issues keep recurring across different digitization projects, all processing personal data, does not bode well for people’s rights to privacy and digital security in Tunisia. The repeated lack of adherence to the data protection principles set out in both national law and international agreements may facilitate mass surveillance by the state, without any ability for citizens to seek redress before an independent authority guaranteeing data protection and privacy. Such platforms are also prime targets for hacking and online fraud, as seen with attacks on Tunisia’s Central Bank in March 2022 or in India and Argentina. These attacks can seriously harm and even endanger people’s lives.
We, the undersigned organizations and associations, call on the Tunisian government to:
- Postpone the launch of the digital platform for subsidies compensation until all legal requirements are met.
- Conduct all necessary assessments with regard to the impact on data protection and human rights, publish the findings of these impact assessments, and engage with stakeholders including institutions, civil society representatives and experts around the findings.
- Uphold the requirements of Organic Law No. 2004-63 to protect personal data throughout the project’s entire development.
- Give citizens access to information about government-led digitization projects that require personal data, such as the Mobile ID, Unique Citizen Identifier, and biometric ID card and passport projects, and provide information about how such projects are connected or interoperable.
- Allow citizens to opt-in to such projects, rather than making their enrollment mandatory in order to avail of the services, and make all information related to their personal data processing openly available to them.
- Adopt new citizen-centric and rights-respecting data protection law that aligns with Tunisia’s international commitments and the current state of technology and digital services.
- Access Now
- Al Bawsala
- Tunisian Association Defending Individual Liberties (ADLI)
- TaQallam for Freedom of Speech and Creativity
- Intersection Association for Rights and Freedoms
- Tunisian Association for the Support of Minorities
- Tunisian Association for Cultural Action
- EuroMed Rights
- Damj – the Tunisian Association for Justice and Equality
- Lab Politique 117 (Hope Makers Association)
- Mawjoudin – We Exist
- The Legal Agenda – Tunisia