Coronavirus lockdown casts harsh light on our data and privacy online

29 April 2020

A third of all nations lack laws to protect their citizen’s online data and privacy, despite an 11 per cent uptick in the global adoption of data protection and privacy legislation since 2015, the United Nations’ trade, investment and development body (UNCTAD) said on Wednesday.

Reporting the results of a fresh survey on the adoption of cyberlaws around the world, UNCTAD said that the vulnerability is even more stark among least developing countries, amounting to 43 per cent.

The share is highest in Europe at 96 per cent, followed by 69 per cent in the Americas, 57 per cent in Asia and the Pacific, and 50 per cent in Africa.

“Given the rise in cybercrime, scams and online fraud during the COVID-19 pandemic, the survey results are very worrying”, said Shamika Sirimanne, head of UNCTAD’s technology and logistics division.

UNCTAD does not specifically collect data on cybercrime, but the agency told UN News that there has been a spike in complaints during the worldwide lockdowns. With millions now working from home, computer security is much more at risk than in secure work environments and with more transactions taking place online, fraud is on the rise.

Trust and protection

If e-commerce is to support development, consumers and businesses must feel that their online transactions are protected, especially at a time when digital tools are increasingly the only way to access goods and services, she said.

The survey, conducted in February, indicated that 10 per cent of countries have draft legislation on data protection and privacy in the pipeline that is expected to become law this year.

They include Brazil and Thailand, which – like Australia, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea and South Africa – are basing their legislation on the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, implemented two years ago this month.

Enforcement is key

UNCTAD noted, however, that once relevant legislation goes into place, it must be enforced – and developing countries often lack the resources they need to enforce the law.

The ever-changing cybercrime landscape and the resulting skills gap pose a significant challenge for law enforcement agencies and prosecutors, especially with regards to cross-border enforcement.

In adopting new cyberlaws, countries should opt for technology-neutral legislation whenever possible, thus avoiding the need for regular revisions and to ensure compatibility among different legal systems, UNCTAD said.

Summarizing other key findings, UNCTAD said that globally, 81 per cent of countries have e-transaction laws, with Europe and the Americas having the highest share (98 per cent and 91 per cent respectively) and Africa the lowest (61 per cent).

Seventy-nine per cent have cybercrime legislation, but with wide variations between regions, from 89 per cent in Europea to 72 per cent in Africa.

Least developed nations, trailing behind

For online consumer protection, the global share is 56 per cent, but the rate of adoption once again varies between 73 per cent in Europe and 72 per cent in the Americas to 46 per cent in Africa.

“In general, least developing countries are traiing behind,” UNCTAD said. The share with relevant laws is particularly weak for data and privacy protection (42 per cent) and consumer protection (40 per cent).

UNCTAD said that more than 60 countries took part in the survey. It also consulted with several international organizations and experts, including the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Council of Europe.

 

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