Mutayoba Arbogast

Tanzania's Data Protection and Border Reforms

Lessons from the Big Five's Security Protocols 

 In a bold move to tackle escalating crime rates, the Big Five nations—New Zealand, Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States—have agreed to share biographic data, immigration information, and security alerts.

This enhanced cooperation aims to fortify security systems and serves as a wake-up call to conflict-ridden African countries like Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Big Five's treaties stipulate that visa violations in one member state could render applications invalid across all five nations, reinforcing a unified stance on security. Though it is hard to dispute beyond doubt that these countries have now gone immune from conflicts, the pacts entered to grapple with all security concerns deserve accolades.

Critics are of the view that most Africans suffer from the visa and identity conundrum putting their struggle as economic refugees in jeopardy. 

Mr. Iverson John, a Tanzanian who had stayed in the United States for some years expressed his ordeal after he was hunted in the United States where he was accused of being involved in armed robbery. “I traveled to Canada via Detritus from Arkansas where I had stayed for over 12 years. On the border of Canada and the US, I was nabbed and repatriated, thank goodness my charges were quashed in the court of law. I was tight-lipped to learn that all security information was shared among the big 5 eyes,” he recalls. 

The 5 countries reveal the extent of cooperation between the allies on the exchange of biometric and biographic information and border management. According to the New York Times report, in June 2017 the Ministry of Business and Employment (MBIE) in New Zealand implemented what it called the state-secure Real-Time Platform (SRTP), a system in the UK, US, and Australia to push for sharing of identity data including biometrics. The SRTP speeds up responses to identify questions among border agencies in the five sovereign countries.

 In the early days minutes from the M5 data sharing work Group (DSWG) showed trials were carried out on sending biographic information to partners to supplement the biometric data. They were also already sharing border agencies in New Zealand which sent over 14,00 fingerprints to each of its four patterns in 2017, according to the documents realized under the Official Information Act.

In December 13, 2012, Canada signed a treaty with the United States of America to enable systematic immigration information sharing between the two countries on third-country nationals, prevent people from assuming different identities between one country and the other, and identify those who have committed serious crimes or violated immigration laws in another country to enable a more informed decision on visas, admissibility or other immigration benefits.

The treaties signed among member states are so binding that they can hardly be tempered with and there have been systematic reviews and updates which are agreed upon by the big 5 to avert crime rates and ensure economic prosperity. Information privy to the intelligence systems among the big 5 member states points out that despite efforts to deal with crimes among member states, the personal data system laws and regulations are safeguarded to ensure privacy as enshrined in international laws. 

“No one can easily tamper with seamless communication or pry into personal communication. The entrance into personal data may only be done in case the gadget owners are accused of threatening the national securities,” revealed a diaspora living in Maryland in the United States who requested anonymity.

A detailed personal information was carried out in 2013 to ensure the draft biographic arrangements complied with privacy requirements, including the Privacy Act and related policies, according to the statement released by the Immigration Department in Canada. 

Security and data privacy have been a serious concern in Tanzania—of course one may have something to learn from the big 5.In 2017 when President John Magufuli was at the helm, his erstwhile close allies in the ruling party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) turned against him and started to criticize his leadership styles by sharing information through one of the leading mobile communication companies. By using their powers and authority, the Head of State trapped their phone calls and had their voices spreading viral in special media, causing mayhem and mistrust against telecommunication companies’ policies on protecting personal data. 

If seeking advice was anything to go by,learning one or two from the big five modes of immigration data sharing systems, developing countries should refrain from infringing personal freedom and above all think of how they can join hands to fight crimes and illegal immigration. In recent days the cases of illegal immigrants crossing borders from Ethiopia Somalia  through Tanzania fleeing to South Africa have been alarming, with immigration officers blaming the presence of porous borders that facilitate the illegal deals. 

But suffice to note that, some of the cohorts in the deals are believed to be some crooked civil servants pushing to win quick rich.The last three months saw a vehicle with the government registration numbers orchestrating the deal to facilitate illegal immigrants’ entrance through the Babati District in the Manyara region, causing a lot of consternation which forced the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi whose vehicle was involved in trafficking the immigrants, ruling out its involvement.

Had we adopted the big five modes of grappling with security concerns and border one-stop border posts and seen the visa concerns as issues that deserve the varied strategies, security challenges would have been nipped up in the bud. 

In April 3 , 2024, the Tanzania government  launched the Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC). President Samia Suluhu Hassan emphasized the importance of stringent controls on personal data, aiming to prevent breaches and misuse. This initiative is expected to foster economic growth by protecting citizens' information.

Simultaneously, the region celebrated the establishment of the One-Stop Border Post at Namanga, which straddles Tanzania’s Longido District and Kenya’s Kajiado County. This project, funded by the African Development Bank and co-financed by the Japan International Cooperation Agency, has streamlined customs clearance, reducing crossing time to half an hour."Customs clearance used to be a real challenge here, with separate procedures at Tanzania's and Kenya's immigration offices taking up to two hours," said an official.

"Now, a single checkpoint handles all administration."Edward Wilson Lyimo, a hotel owner in Namanga, praised the project for boosting business profitability and facilitating cross-border trade. "Thanks to the new crossing point, road traffic has increased," Lyimo noted.

These initiatives not only enhance regional integration but also position Tanzania to adopt advanced data sharing and border management strategies seen in countries like Australia, New Zealand, the UK, the United States, and Canada, reflecting Tanzania's commitment to modernization and economic development.

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