Andrew Kathindi

The Namibian government is unable to stop Facebook from sharing the data it collects from Namibian WhatsApp users due to the lack of a data protection law.

According to the Communications Regulatory Authority of Namibia (CRAN), the Authority does not regulate over-the-top services that are delivered over the Internet, including WhatsApp and similar applications as Namibia also does not have a data protection law, in terms of which information on social media may be managed.

As a result, Facebook, will be able to share the information it collects from WhatsApp users, including contact numbers and location when a WhatsApp’s new privacy policy update goes out on May 15.

The update had initially been slated for February 8. However it has been delayed due to widespread concerns. This comes as South Africa’s Information Regulator (IR) has revealed that the social media giant will not be able to share its citizens’ personal information without obtaining permission.

CRAN Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Emilia Nghikembua, told Windhoek Observer that the regulatory body was aware of the concern from Namibians, which saw a number of them transition to Telegram, due to doubts about how the app will handle their personal information.

“CRAN is aware, however in the absence of a data protection law, we do not have the mandate to deal with the matter. We however urge users of Internet based applications to take personal responsibility for considering and accepting privacy terms of such applications.”

On whether Facebook Inc, the parent company that owns Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram, will be able to share the information of Namibian WhatsApp users without the approval of CRAN, Nghikembua stated, “Yes, because Namibia does not have a data protection law that enables CRAN to approve the sharing of such information.”

WhatsApp accounted for 98 percent of all instant messages on MTC’s network in 2018 according to statistics released by CRAN. WhatsApp had two billion monthly active users worldwide as of 2020.

The CRAN CEO further said its line ministry was looking into protecting Namibians online data through a data protection bill.

“The Ministry of Information and Communication Technology is in the process of crafting the Cyber Crime Bill and the Data Protection Bill, which are the appropriate pieces of legislation to deal with this matter. CRAN has participated in the consultative process as a stakeholder.”

Last week, the MICT Minister, Peya Mushelenga, revealed that Cabinet approved, in principle, the Data Protection Bill, and referred the Bill to the Cabinet Committee on Legislation (CCL) for further scrutiny and re-submission to Cabinet before it is tabled in the National Assembly.