The Africa-China Reporting Project (ACRP or the Project) at Wits Journalism, with support from Omidyar Network, are inviting all journalists to submit proposals for reporting grants and workshop participation to investigate issues related to digital identification, data privacy, and technology in Africa. The Project will provide reporting grants of up to US$1,000 to successful applicants, who will also participate in a Digital Identity Training Workshop in Johannesburg on 28-31 October 2019, including participation in select sessions at the African Investigative Journalism Conference.
See below for How to apply and Potential issues to be investigated.
What is digital identity?
Travel, trade, and communication are now boundless because of technology, the Internet, and innovation. Yet they are also increasingly dependent on the use of personal data such as national IDs, mobile numbers, income and payment histories, social relationships and transactions, location, biometric information, and other identifying artifacts. They collect revealing bits of data and use them to verify and authenticate our identity and eligibility for services as well as to build trust and support transactions between people, businesses, and governments.
Being able to prove who you are in this way can help ensure more people are included and empowered through the continent’s many transformations. As African governments and businesses digitize their identification processes, having a digital identity can be increasingly valuable, if not required, for people to obtain healthcare, education, employment, bank services, purchases and trade; and to pay taxes, amass capital, own property, lend money, open businesses, and travel.
While digital identity has massive implications for economies and societies, very few people understand how they themselves are digitally identified; how their information is used by businesses, governments, and individuals; what rights they have; what risks they are exposed to; and what safeguards are or could be in place. Journalism and on-the-ground investigations are crucial for advancing public knowledge and understanding on digital identity and to shift thinking beyond government and business objectives by illustrating human experiences.
An estimated 500 million African citizens still have no formal online identification, although African states are now pursuing new and distinctive digital identification projects, many with an economic development agenda and others with national security goals. The private sector is also an active participant in digital identity, either as a partner of the state to deliver technology and services in support of national ID systems or in pursuit of their own commercial interests in the open marketplace. Digital profiles on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and especially WhatsApp can enable users to voluntarily self-assert their own identity outside of the state. While almost all Africans depend on these platforms for communication and increasingly commerce, very few know how those data trails will be used by other groups.
- ID4D Data: Global Identification Challenge by the Numbers (World Bank)
- ID4Africa Annual Meeting 2019 Presentations
- Personal Data Protection Guidelines for Africa (African Union)
How to apply
Applications must be sent to ACRPapplications@gmail.com by no later than 20 September 2019, and should contain the following (only documents in MS Word or PDF formats will be accepted):
- Applicant CV
- Brief proposal outlining (a) story to be investigated with clear headline; story relevance and significance, (b) investigation methodology, (c) proposed publication/platform, and (d) itemised budget totalling no more than US$1,000
- List of previously published reporting
Applications are open to all journalists who present Africa-focused proposals. Applicants need not necessarily have previous reporting experience in this area.
For any queries please contact the Project team at ACRPcontact@gmail.com
Potential issues to be investigated
The following themes can guide journalists to identify specific topics for investigating issues around digital identity in the African context:
- Regional, national and community government-issued IDs (e.g. plans/promises, purposes/rationales, best practices and challenges, public reactions and experiences, lessons for and application in African countries)
- Private sector data practices (e.g. industry approaches to data protection, consent, privacy policies, cyber security, data sharing, Know-Your-Customer requirements, technology innovations, compliance with regulation, breaches, penalties and positive incentives)
- Governance, regulations, transparency, and accountability (e.g. privacy and data protection laws, CCTV/surveillance laws, standards, codes of conduct, independent oversight at regional or continent-wide levels, grievance processes, procurement processes, litigation, budgets, public engagement, access and representation, data bill of rights, data trusts)
- Technology innovations and start-up companies (e.g. privacy-by-design approach; “reg tech”; the promise of blockchain; the implications of biometrics, “adtech”; privacy-protecting tools; encryption; identities traded on the dark web; de-identification; open-source code; the benefits and unintended consequences of how technology is used or consumed; ethical uses of technology and data; social credit scoring algorithms; artificial intelligence to sharpen identification; hacking; locally developed solutions; futuristic technologies not yet on the market that digitally identify people)
- Foreign partnerships and investors (e.g. private companies’ data collection, data localization, African perspectives on such collaborations, technology transfers, adoption of systems first piloted outside of Africa, Chinese firms’ AI-based identification systems drawing on CCTV and government ID databases)
- Development and security agendas and human rights (e.g. data for good, inclusion, discrimination-by-design, IDs for migrants and refugees, citizenship/immigration issues, humanitarian crises, links to poverty alleviation and youth empowerment, African perspectives on the freedoms enabled or put at risk by a digital identity)
- Risks and harms (e.g. use of identity information that results in surveillance, exclusion, manipulation, discrimination, oppression, violence, financial loss and reputation issues, distrust and power imbalances)
- Trends and research (e.g. emerging issues and use cases across communities, rise of self-asserted IDs, customer preferences, trust in institutions, breaches and identity theft, fraud, technology failure)
- Privacy and user control (e.g. an African perspective on privacy, privacy as a fundamental right/public good vs. fee-based service, consumer rights, the commercialisation of our identities, treating African data as an African resource, experiences with data ownership, Africa-based data agents/fiduciaries)