By Manele Mpofu (ZELA Litigation Unit)
Youth are increasingly aware of the environmental challenges facing their country and are eager to take action and can play a key role in ensuring that the environment is protected for future generations. Social media has become an increasingly important tool for youth in advocacy efforts, particularly when it comes to issues related to the environment. Many young people are using social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook to raise awareness about environmental issues and to push for action from their governments. Community environmental monitoring is a powerful tool that can be used to protect the environment and empower communities. However, it is important to be aware of the Data Protection Act [Chapter 11:12] (DPA) and to take steps to protect personal data. The DPA of Zimbabwe is an Act of Parliament that was enacted on December 3, 2021. The act is designed to protect the privacy of individuals and their personal data by regulating the collection, use, and storage of personal data in Zimbabwe. The Act applies to all organisations that collect, store, or use personal information, regardless of the size of the organization. Importantly, the Act must be viewed in light of Section 57 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, which protects the right to privacy and provides that “Every person has the right to privacy, which includes the right not to have- (a) their home, premises or property entered without their permission; (b)their person, home, premises or property searched; (c) their possessions seized; (d) the privacy of their communications infringed; or (e) their health condition disclosed.” This article will discuss the implications of the DPA and the opportunities for youth environmental monitoring in Zimbabwe.
What is the Data Protection Act?
The DPA defines personal data as any information that can be used to identify an individual, such as their name, address, phone number, or email address. The DPA also defines data controllers as any person or organization that collects, uses or stores personal data. The DPA can pose challenges for environmental monitoring, but there are ways to protect privacy while still being involved in this important work. There are important terms that help understand the DPA and these include:
- Data controller: The organization that collects, stores, or uses personal information.
- Data subject: The individual whose personal information is being collected, stored, or used.
- Personal information: Any information that can be used to identify an individual, such as their name, address, or phone number.
- Breach: A violation of the DPA that results in the unauthorized access, use, or disclosure of personal information.
- Fine: A monetary penalty that can be imposed on an organization that violates the DPA.
Part II of the Act provides for the establishment of a Data Protection Authority(Authority). “Authority” refers to the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) established in terms of section 5 of the Postal and Telecommunications Act [Chapter 12:05] DPA. The Authority is responsible for enforcing the Act and protecting the personal information of individuals. The Authority has several powers, including:
- Issuing guidelines and regulations to organisations that collect, store, or use personal information.
- Investigating complaints about breaches of the Act.
- Imposing fines on organisations that violate the Act. (Section 33 of the DPA onOffences and penalties)
Implications of the Data Protection Act
The DPA has several implications for community environmental monitoring. For example, community environmental monitors may collect personal data from individuals who report environmental violations or impacts. This data may include names, addresses, and other identifying information, which is protected by the DPA. Monitors should ensure that they obtain consent from individuals before collecting their personal information and that they store and handle the data securely, preventing unauthorized access or disclosure.
It is also important to note that the DPA is not intended to restrict the collection or dissemination of information related to environmental issues. However, it does require that such activities be conducted in accordance with the principles outlined in the Act and that personal data is protected (Section 7 of the DPA). For environmental monitoring, data protection is critically important. Youth advocates and Environmental Human Rights Defenders (EHRDs) often work in high-risk environments and may be at risk of surveillance, harassment, or other forms of intimidation. Ensuring that personal data is protected can help to mitigate these risks and protect the safety and security of these individuals.
In addition, data protection can help to promote transparency and accountability in the work of youth advocates and EHRDs (Section 24 of the DPA on Accountability). By ensuring that personal data is handled responsibly and with the informed consent of individuals, trust can be built with the communities they serve and promote a greater understanding of environmental issues. Fundamentally, the DPA plays a critical role in promoting responsible and ethical collection and handling of personal data. It provides important protections for individuals and communities engaged in environmental monitoring and advocacy, as well as promoting greater transparency, accountability, and respect for human rights. Section 13 on Duties of Data Controller and Section 14 on Rights of Data Subject of the DPA can help to protect the personal information of environmental monitors by:
- Requiring organisations that collect personal information to obtain consent from the monitors.
- Requiring organisations that collect personal information to use the information only for the purposes for which it was collected.
- Requiring organisations that collect personal information to keep the information secure. (Section 18)
- Requiring organisations that collect personal information to provide the monitors with access to their personal information.
- Requiring organisations that collect personal information to delete the information when it is no longer needed.
Community Environmental Monitoring
Community-based environmental monitoring is a powerful tool that can help to empower communities and protect the environment. Despite the challenges posed by the DPA, community environmental monitoring is still a viable route to take in Zimbabwe. This is because community-based monitoring not only helps to protect the environment but can also empower communities by enabling them to take ownership of environmental issues affecting their localities. It is a community-based approach to monitoring the environment that involves residents working together to collect data and monitor the environment in their area. This approach empowers communities to take action on environmental issues while also building networks of support among advocates and activists. Additionally, community environmental monitoring can significantly complement government & civil society efforts in mitigating environmental damage.
Youth Opportunities in Environmental Monitoring and Advocacy
There are several opportunities available for youth in environmental monitoring and advocacy. Youth can get involved in community environmental monitoring by:
- Training and empowering local community members about environmental issues in collaboration with seasoned professionals. Youth can play a vital role in training and empowering local community members to take action on environmental issues. By working with seasoned professionals, youth can learn the skills and knowledge necessary to conduct environmental monitoring and advocacy. Youths can raise awareness about environmental issues by sharing their research with the public. They can also organize events and activities to educate people about environmental problems. They can also use social media to raise awareness about environmental issues. By empowering community members with relevant skills and knowledge, they can become more proactive in identifying, addressing, and mitigating environmental problems affecting their immediate environment.
- Researching environmental issues. Youth, in collaboration with seasoned professionals, can conduct research on environmental issues to help identify the problems and to develop solutions. Data collected in a particular community can prompt policymakers to take necessary actions such as implementing stricter regulations or imposing fines on found offenders. In this way, community environmental monitoring can serve as a valuable tool for promoting evidence-based decision-making, which is critical in managing environmental challenges in Zimbabwe.
- Advocating for environmental protection. Youth can advocate for environmental protection by engaging their elected officials, and by supporting the work of environmental organisations. They can also volunteer their time to work on environmental projects.
The following are some recommendations for youth interested in advocacy and environmental monitoring:
- Work with experienced professionals to ensure that personal data is collected, stored, and handled responsibly and ethically. Become familiar with the Data Protection Act and its implications for community environmental monitoring. If unsure about how the Data Protection Act applies to advocacy efforts, seek legal advice to help ensure compliance.
- Build relationships with local communities and stakeholders to promote greater engagement and participation in environmental monitoring and advocacy efforts. Connect with others who share a passion for the environment and work together to achieve environmental justice goals. This could involve reaching out to other youth organizations, connecting with experts in the field, or collaborating with other advocacy groups.
- Make use of technology. Take advantage of the many tools and technologies available to help with environmental monitoring and advocacy. This could include mapping software (GPS), and social media platforms to promote environmental justice causes and engage others.
- Advocate for environmental protection policies and laws. Learn as much as possible about the environmental legislative and policy frameworks in Zimbabwe. This could involve reading books, attending workshops or webinars, following relevant news sources, etc. Participate in public hearing platforms on suggested legislation or amendments to legislation.
The Data Protection Act can be an important tool for protecting the privacy of individuals and their personal data. It is important to note that the DPA does not restrict the collection or dissemination of information related to environmental issues. Community environmental monitoring is still a viable route to take subject to complying with provisions in the Data Protection Act. By working together, we can all play a role (youth, and experienced professionals alike), in protecting the environment and promoting environmental justice for current and future generations.