Privacy is hard to protect in Tunisia, thanks to politics

    Privacy is hard to protect in Tunisia, thanks to politics

    Feb.26, NY: The regime of Zine el Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia was infamous for mass surveillance practices. Yet almost six years after the regime's ousting, and despite the 2014 adoption of a constitution that grants all citizens the right to privacy, Tunisia's data protection law and its application, still do not meet international standards.

    Tunisia first recognized the obligation of the state to protect the personal data of its citizens in the constitution of June 1959 (article 9) under the country's first ruler Habib Bourguiba. In July 2004, Tunisia adopted the data protection act (law n°63 of 7 July 2004). An independent authority to enforce the right to privacy was created later in 2008, and became active in 2009. These provisions, adopted under Ben Ali's rule, remain in tact today — despite large-scale changes in governance and improvements in mechanisms for public accountability, the country has made no further official progress towards protecting privacy rights.

    Key draft amendments to the 2004 data protection law, prepared by the president of the Data Protection Authority, are chiefly aimed at consolidating the authority's independence from government interference, and making it unlawful for state authorities to collect, process and transfer personal data without the approval of the authority.

    Everyday privacy violations in Tunisia

    If adopted and properly enforced, the amendments are expected to have an impact on the day-to-day lives of users, in a country where the right to privacy is often flouted.

    New obligations and sanctions would be imposed on telecommunications operators who pelt their subscribers with continuous advertising messages, and on supermarkets that harvest, transfer and store data on loyalty cards abroad. The reforms would also limit companies' abilities to sell that data to third parties without the consent of their customers.

    Another common violation is the illegal installation of video surveillance cameras by private individuals and businesses in common living spaces, which is forbidden by the 2004 law on the protection of personal data. Under the law, surveillance cameras can only be installed after the prior authorization of the Data Protection Authority, and in spaces that are open to the public such as commercial centers, parking garages, and public transportation sites.

    According to figures given by the authority's president Chawki Gaddes, there are 30,000 security cameras installed illegally across the country. In one case dating back to 2015, citizens in the suburb of Megrine illegally installed two surveillance cameras to film people who throw garbage on the streets, thus threatening their neighbors' privacy.

    The Oslo Times International News Network