Project

The African Sousveillance Project

The Sousveillance Project will track the supply chains from the global North provided to African governments for use in illegal surveillance of citizens. It will produce evidence needed to hold accountable the companies and government agencies implicated in the violation of citizens’ rights. The word Sur-veillance literally means over-watching: monitoring by powerholders of others.

The research will shift power by involving those subjected to surveillance in the study of who is violating their rights and using that information to cut off the supply and demand for surveillance technologies. The project will mobilising activists, journalists, researchers, and policymakers in a two-part process of collaborative research and collective action. It will produce evidence of the sources of spying technologies from the global North and their customers in Africa. Then use that evidence to inform campaigns of action to cut-off the supply and demand of surveillance tech and end illegal activities.

African citizens are increasingly being digitally tracked, profiled, and targeted with malign intent. Mass covert surveillance is taking place in direct contravention of citizens’ constitutional rights, international human rights conventions, and domestic law. The use of digital tools for illegal surveillance violates fundamental human rights, silences marginalised voices and amplifies inequality and injustice. It has a chilling effect on journalism, peaceful activism, and on democratic debates and freedoms. This violation of rights currently takes place with impunity. Surveillance is now a multibillion-pound global market that benefits companies in the Global North, and repressive states in Africa, at the expense of fundamental human rights.

Governments increasingly use security threats of terrorism or pandemics to award themselves new surveillance powers and to radically expand their arsenal of surveillance tools and technologies. Although the threat of terrorism is used to legitimise new surveillance tools and powers, evidence shows that they are most often used illegitimately to surveil their political and business rivals, civil society activists and low-level criminals. All surveillance is a violation of fundamental human rights, which is why courts only permit it in narrowly targeted cases, duly authorised by a warrant, in order to prevent the most serious crimes. However, unwarranted mass surveillance is increasingly common.

Digitalisation and privatisation have dramatically expanded the prevalence of surveillance. Digitalisation transformed surveillance from an expensive, labour-intensive practice into a relatively fast, automated and cheap operation. The introduction of mandatory mobile SIM registration, GPS location, biometric digital-ID, facial recognition CCTV, automated keyword searches on email and social media, and the ability to track financial transactions in real time, combine to provide the potential for the panoptic surveillance state. Digitalisation has been accompanied by privatisation. Increasingly surveillance is carried out by social media companies, mobile phone and internet service providers, banks and credit card companies, retail loyalty cards and fitness trackers, and the processes is carried out using proprietary algorithms, on corporate platforms and communications infrastructure. Proprietary algorithms remove transparency and private companies based in foreign companies are less accountable than state employees and local agencies. The merger of surveillance capitalism and the surveillance state threatens democracy and human rights but operates largely in the absence of public awareness or scrutiny.

This project is linked to work by the African Digital Rights Network

 

Key contacts

Tony Roberts

Digital Cluster Research Fellow

t.roberts@ids.ac.uk

+44 (0)1273 915642

Project details

start date
1 August 2022
end date
30 September 2023
value
$100,000

Partners

Supported by
Global Dialogue

About this project

Region
Africa

People

Recent work