Newspapers and online publishers in Liberia are concerned about privacy for personal data of journalists and media institutions in the wake of global cyber attacks on personal information, targeting journalists, politicians, rights advocates, and lawyers, among others.
They want legislation in the country to protect data of media institutions and their staff from outside intrusion at a time when software has been developed in Israel that is being used to spy on the personal data of world leaders, journalists, lawyers, and others.
The Liberia Publishers Association, a conglomeration of 16 or more newspapers and online outlets in collaboration with Internews, Center for Media Studies and Peacebuilding, and Local Voices Liberia with funding from the European Union is conducting series of Editors' Forums on Personal Data Privacy across five counties, including Montserrado, Margibi, Grand Bassa, Nimba, and Grand Gedeh, respectively.
The PAL hosted the first forum on Friday, July 23, 2021, at a local hotel in Monrovia, bringing together over 20 newspapers' editors to brainstorm under the theme, 'Personal Data Privacy and the Liberian Law'.
PAL President, Othello B. Garblah, says the Editors' Forum is intended to stimulate debate among gatekeepers from media houses in order to derive an agenda that would lead to advocating for the protection of personal data.
"The goal is to enable editors to set personal guidelines for operation", he explains.
The Project Director for Liberia Media Initiative, Samukai Konneh notes that after series of consultations, Liberian journalists will develop a self-regulatory instrument to protect their personal data, saying, "What we are about to do should have the blessing of all journalists in Liberia."
Samukai says besides, it is expected that the Press Union of Liberia will push or advocate for a stand-along law on data protection, but quickly clarifies passage of such a law should not be the primary objective of the forum.
'Protecting people personal data is not just a function of civil society but also a function of good journalism", he says.
For his part, CEMESP executive director Malcolm Joseph says the protection of data and privacy online can be discussed in the range of cybersecurity, noting that it is adequate to say this is right based imperative in a pervasive digital age that has enveloped people lives.
He continues that beyond the confines of journalism, people might also become victims of the myriads of cyber or online insecurities in private lives that have grave implications for offline modes of operation.
Malcolm argues that whilst it is true the online space has contributed immensely to the improvement of professional journalists, the criminality that it is feeding off, raises concerns and apprehension in protecting human rights.
He says due to the fact that Liberia's ICT policy formulation is still in its formative stage, justifies the need to take the issue very seriously and initiate broader consensus around it to understand the type of laws and protection needed to respond to the threat and levels of risk in the cyber minefield.
But Liberian lawyer, Cllr. D. Adolphus Karnuah of the Ministry of Justice puts it bluntly that in Liberia, there is no clear codification of laws on violation of data privacy except the Telecommunication Act of 2007 which lays the basis for data usage.
A former journalist and publisher himself, Cllr. Karnuah describes data as facts and statistics collected together for analysis purposes, buttressing that, with the advent of the internet, it's becoming imperative that journalists should be trained in data information and privacy.
Speaking on the topic, Data Privacy and the Media, the managing director of the Observer Corporation, publisher of the Daily Observer newspaper - Bai G. Best, says Liberia is probably a signatory to the 2014 African Union Convention on Cable Security and Data Protection and underscores that the relevance of data is entering the economic space.
He notes that the media should provide justification for the data they collect because it is not just about the fact they are doing it and how it is being done but, the reasons for wanting the data should be clear.
Bai also wants security for media houses, cautioning that not everybody would be interested in going public or being identified for information provided to journalists.