Zimbabwe is planning to link its proposed National Data Centre with databases and information from the country’s key economic players and state institutions as the country prepares for the creation of smart cities equipped with surveillance technologies, The Standard has learnt.
This is part of an ambitious Smart Zimbabwe blueprint expected to transform urban areas into smart cities that use information and communication technologies (ICT) to increase efficiency and drive economic growth, according to a government master plan seen by this newspaper.
But there are concerns over issues of privacy, particularly given that the National Data Centre will have a large cache of citizens’ private, personal data.
“All data and information from government and sectors of the economy should be stored in databases that are networked and linked to the National Data Centre facilities,” the government master plan, expected to run from January 2020 to the end of 2030, said.
Consultants from Huawei Technologies, one of the companies helping with the building of the critical infrastructure for the smart cities project, have advised government on digitalising the national registration system for birth and identity documents, according to a source.
This would ensure that citizens’ details, such as their names, gender, date of birth, identification number and photos, are linked with the National Data Centre.
Linking this to the surveillance system will ensure easy identification of criminals once they come within range of the surveillance cameras.
This suggests that Zimbabwe is likely to follow the Chinese model, which has completely transformed the Asian country through artificial intelligence (AI) systems that have also been used to create a massive surveillance state.
There are fears that due to weak data laws in the country, there may be breach of personal data privacy, and abuse of personal data by the State to monitor citizens.
Stored personal data, which can include sensitive personal information, can be analysed without the authority of the courts, or even without reasonable suspicion of affected individuals, critics argue.
The recent disclosure of telecommunication details of three MDC-A activists – MP Joana Mamombe, and party youths Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova – who claimed to have been abducted and tortured by alleged state security agents, has reinforced fears that surveillance systems could also be used to monitor activists and political opponents.
Home Affairs minister Kazembe Kazembe recently disclosed alleged telecommunication details and locations of the three activists during the period they allege to have been abducted as he sought to dismiss their claims that they were abducted by the state.
The disclosure triggered a furore from human rights activists, who argued that this infringed on privacy as well as illegal surveillance of citizens.
Among the economic players that will link their databases to the National Data Centre are financial institutions.
A source said banks are already benefiting from personal data from the national registry for risk control.
Any collaboration with government and its institutions would, therefore, be a quid pro quo (a favour or advantage granted in return for something) arrangement, the source said.
Moreover, banks appear to be in better stead to help in the drive to create smart cities because of their financial wherewithal and their interaction with other economic agencies, a banker said.
They have extensive data from transactions, risk control and customer photographs that are critical to the surveillance system.