January 28 is celebrated annually as Data Privacy Day. It reflects the international effort to create awareness about the importance of respecting privacy, safeguarding data and enabling trust.
It is currently observed in the United States, Canada, Israel and many European countries.
Today, millions of people are unaware of and uninformed about how their personal information is being used, collected or shared in our digital society.
Data Privacy Day aims to inspire dialogue and empower individuals and companies to take action.
The genesis of Data Privacy Day
On April 26, 2006, the Council of Europe launched a Data Protection Day to be celebrated each year on 28 January, the date on which the Council of Europe’s data protection convention, known as “Convention 108”, was opened for signature.
That was the first legally binding international law in the field of data protection.
Data Protection Day is now celebrated globally and is called Privacy Day outside Europe.
In the United States and Canada, observing Data Protection Day started in January 2008 as an extension of the Data Protection Day celebration in Europe.
The “Convention for the protection of individuals with regard to automatic processing of personal data”, commonly known as Convention 108”, is a 1981 Council of Europe treaty that protects the right to privacy of individuals, taking account of the increasing flow across frontiers of personal data undergoing automatic processing.
Under this Convention, the parties are required to take the necessary steps in their domestic legislation to apply the principles it lays down in order to ensure respect in their territory for the fundamental human rights of all individuals with regard to processing of personal data.
And the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was a turning point that attracted attention far beyond borders of European Union.
Public and regulatory interest in data protection issues have increased significantly over the last few years.
And with each big data breach or data misuse it grows just bigger.
Data Privacy Day is a symbolic event in a greater privacy awareness and education effort.
Data Privacy Day is meant to educate consumers on how they can own their online presence and shows organizations how privacy is good for business.
So far 107 countries have put in place legislations to secure the protection of data and privacy.
Data protection is not just European thing, but a global thing.
Asia and Africa, for example, show a similar level of adoption of data privacy legislations, with less than 40 per cent of countries have pieces of legislation in place.
Also, in US data protection laws have been introduced in many states, and federal law is under serious discussion, as well.
Particularly in Africa, the African Union (AU) adopted the Agenda 2063 framework which, among other areas, addressed the development of information and communications technologies.
As a prominent recent example of AU’s work in this area, the Convention on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection was adopted in July 2014.
The Convention is considerably seen as an initial step to create a legislative framework for cybersecurity and data protection on the African continent.
To facilitate the implementation of the AU Convention on cybersecurity and personal data protection, the AU Commission adopted the ‘Guidelines’ to that effect.
Turning to observing Data Privacy Day, it should not be celebrated in Africa simply because it’s also observed in North America and Europe, but because of its importance.
There’s a clamour to raise awareness about how people can protect personal data and privacy online.
In this digital era, celebrating Data Privacy Day is as important as celebrating ‘World Environment Day’, which is a platform for encouraging worldwide awareness and action to protect our environment.
Similarly, celebrating Data Privacy Day globally would be a platform for expressing the need to adopt regulatory tools to ensure protection of data privacy.
Such a platform would be relevant to ask companies, especially data controller/processor, to adopt data protection policies.
It’s an equally opportune moment to mobilise organisations that process personal data to organize a data protection workshop/seminars.
In addition, if you educate the children and teenagers in their lives to be careful about giving out their personal information to strangers, it may protect them from any misuse of their personal data.
Like in the USA and Europe, Data Privacy Day brings together non-profit making organizations, academic institutions, corporations, government entities, municipalities and individuals to raise awareness in their communities both at home and work.
Celebrating Data Privacy Day indeed is a window of opportunity to promote awareness of the importance of privacy, highlight easy ways to protect personal information and remind organizations that privacy is good for business.
With more transactions taking place online and information being exchanged digitally, both citizens and organizations can take steps to keep their data properly stored, handled and safe from data breaches.
In as much as at United Nations’ level is yet to be recognised, more advocacy is needed at international level to raise awareness and promote privacy and data protection best practices.
All stakeholders need to synergize efforts to generate greater awareness about the importance of respecting privacy and safeguarding personal data.
The writer is a law expert.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.