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Tunisian government efforts to contain Covid-19 raises privacy concerns

Ranine Awwad

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Tunisian government efforts to contain Covid-19 raises privacy concerns

Governments are relying on data-driven technology to help contain the Covid-19 spread. The Tunisian government has been using SIM cards for tracking purposes. Cell site location information is one of the various methods used to trace individuals. Smartphones send signals to cell towers operated by telecommunications operators. This process generates information about a citizen’s precise location. The measures implemented by the Tunisian government opens a new debate about privacy. In fact, international human rights frameworks apply to measures implemented to track and manage Covid-19 using mobile location data.

On May 18, 2020, following measures to slow down the spread, the Tunisian health minister announced a plan to utilize an application to track those infected with COVID-19. The new adopted application is called “Ihmi” or Protect was developed by a Tunisian startup company. The ministry said that this App does not invade personal data in ways that undermine the law. However, Akil Nagati, head of the Wizz Labs start-up behind the app, avowed that personal data would be archived for 14 days under the control of the National Personal Data Protection Authority and will only be used by “L’Observatoire des maladies émergentes” (ONME) for contacting people about the pandemic, according to the New Arab.

On June 14, 2020, during an interview with Altessia TV, Tunisian PM Elyes Fakhfakh indicated that monitoring citizens through their SIM card enabled the government to detect overcrowded places and the extent of commitment to the procedures. Fakhfakh confirmed the existence of an operating room working around the clock to follow the movements through mobile phone chipsets.

Fakhfakh confirmed that the authority has already approved a procedure to monitor the whereabouts of Tunisians via mobile phone SIM card during the period of comprehensive quarantine. “We do not monitor citizens and their personal data, and all monitoring activities were done in cooperation with the Personal Data Protection Authority”.

According to Mozaique Fm, Minister of Telecommunications Technologies and Digital transformation Mohamed Fadhel Kraiem said that the application used to track the extent of commitment to the quarantine “Manara” was used in conjunction with other applications. The process was done in full coordination with the Personal Data Protection Authority. Chawki Kaddas, Head of the Authority already denied knowledge of such application. “We are completely unaware of this project, despite our advice on the rest of the projects that concern personal data”, Kaddas told Mozaique Fm.

Minister of Telecommunications and Digital Transformation Mohamed Fadhel Kraiem avowed that there is an email on the subject dated April 4, 2020. This email includes a list of all the applications launched to counter Covid-19. “I suspect that there is a misunderstanding from the Personal Data Protection Authority Chairman,” said Kraiem.

The National Authority for the protection of Personal Data (INPDP) issued a notice regarding the issue on June 15, 2020. “The head of INPDP was consulted by the ministry in charge by email regarding the usage of a number of applications (Wikaya, StopCorona) including “Manara” that turns out to be the application explicitly mentioned by PM Fakhfakh” states the notice. The document issued by INPDP referred to an email sent by Kaddas on April 4, 2020, through which he evaluated the “Manara” application. Back then, Kaddas pointed out that if this procedure was used without identifying phone number owners, then it doesn’t violate the provisions related to the protection of personal data”. Kaddas emphasized that every observation of individuals while revealing their identities requires legal permission.

On June 15, 2020, the Ministry Of Communication And Digital Transformation Technologies published a notice on Facebook saying that this application relies on general data on the mobility of mobile phone use in a given area without relying on the personal data of citizens. “The Ministry confirms that is it is keen to respect the legal framework regarding the protection of personal data, in consultation with the National Authority for the Protection of Personal Data”.

The Ministry’s statement seems ironic as tracking the mobility of mobile phone usage means knowing the number’s movement. Thus, the ministry tracks a citizen’s movement, which violates their rights to privacy. In fact, Tunisia introduced mandatory SIM card registration in 2014.  Since then, mobile phone customers in Tunisia are required to present documentary evidence to prove their identity upon purchase of a SIM card.

“Governments must be transparent about the measures they are taking. Any claims that data is anonymous must be based on evidence and supported with sufficient information regarding how it has been anonymized” said Amnesty International in a joint civil society statement about State use of digital surveillance technology released on April 2, 2020.

The Tunisian constitution adopted in January 2014 contains explicit protection of the right to privacy. On March 9, 2018, the Minister of Justice Ghazi Jeribi announced that Tunisia would become the first country outside of the European Union to have a law on personal data protection. This law was approved in March 2018 and came into force on March 25, 2018.  However, there is a risk that many of these technology capabilities may become the norm of every Tunisian life in the future, as well as other countries in the world today.

Tracking applications are used as part of emergency measures but governments may retain the power of these tools for future use- tracking protestors for example. Samuel Woodhams, Top10VPN’s Digital Rights Lead, has commented on tracking tools used by the government saying that these measures will become the norm around the world. “Although some applications may appear entirely legitimate, many pose risk to citizens’ right to privacy and freedom of expression,” he told Business Insider.

Ranine joined Inside Telecom as an Investigative Journalist. Her extensive fieldwork and investigations shed light on many socio-economic issues. Over the past few years, she has transformed her key findings into in-depth analytical reports. She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Communication.

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Telecom operators play a big role in digital advertising

Ranine Awwad

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Telecom operators play a big role in digital advertising

During the Covid-19 pandemic, buying clothes, running your business and even buying food have been done through digital platforms.  Telecom operators have played a big role in digital marketing especially when it comes to health. Telecommunications services have been collaborating with doctors and charity foundations to facilitate people’s life during the lockdown.

Digital marketing can be done through SMS, MMS, or P2P messaging. With the pandemic, everything went digital. Experts have reported that in 2020, half of global marketing was done through digital platforms. According to Deloitte, digital sales grew by 18% in Q1 2020 compared to Q1 2019.

EMarketer estimates the global ad spending on digital advertising to be $427 billion. Singtel, the largest telecoms group in South East Asia is the leader in the advertising sector.

Sany Kabbani, Telecom Industry Analyst at Google said, “Users in MENA are making decisions online and buying online. Faced with this new consumer reality, telecom operators in MENA are embarking on digital transformation programs.” In Saudi Arabia, STC has done good work in promoting digital marketing as part of the vision 2030. STC already encouraged its customers to digital self-service channels including MySTC app, MySTC Shop, and MySTC 900.

According to ‘Data insights in digital advertising and the role of operators’, 67 percent of brands consider telecom operators as a better original source of data insights than Google, Apple, and Samsung.

The global SMS firewall market size is projected to grow from USD 2.2 billion in 2020 to USD 3.0 billion by 2025, according to the Global SMS Firewall Market (2020 to 2025) report.

The fifth-generation network would be a game-changer for digital marketing. With fast internet connectivity and the closure of the digital divide, the marketing sector is expected to register a significant growth within the next few years.

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Italy decides to exclude Huawei from 5G-core network deployment

Ranine Awwad

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Italy decides to exclude Huawei from 5G-core network deployment

It seems that the 2020 nightmare continues for the Chinese telecom giant Huawei. As an inexpensive equipment provider, the company has been accused by the US for cybersecurity issues. The US has been calling its allies to ban Huawei’s involvement in the deployment of 5G networks. On July 9, 2020, Telecom Italia (TIM) has excluded Huawei from a tender for 5G equipment for the core network it is preparing to build in Italy and Brazil, according to The New York Times. The Italian telecom operator has invited suppliers such as Cisco, Ericsson, Nokia, Mavenir, and Affirmed Networks. However, ZTE and Korea’s Samsung were excluded from the list. “The security and development of digital Italy should be based on an approach grounded in facts and not baseless allegations,” commented Huawei on the decision.

For the time being, Huawei will not participate in the existing core network in Italy. However, it has supplied Brazil with 4G equipment, used for the core network – where sensitive data exists – for the Italian group’s local unit. Huawei executive has warned that Brazil could suffer years of delay in 5G deployment if they consider banning the company.

Italy’s decision regarding Huawei came after foreign pressures. On October 2, 2019, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo warned Italy of China’s “predatory approach” to trade and investment, according to AFP. However, on January 30, 2020 an Italian minister told Reuters that Italy has no plans to ban Chinese companies including Huawei from participation in the deployment of 5G networks. Industry Undersecretary Mirella Liuzzi said that the government should tackle the issue of national safety without being naïve. “They should take the necessary precautions but without keeping anyone out of the doorstep,” she said, according to Reuters.

In 2017, Italy launched a 5G trial to implement infrastructures and services in five cities. Back in September 2017, authorizations were granted for the use of 100 MHz in the 3.6-3.8 GHz band for the rollout. At the end of 2018, the country launched auctions for fifth-generation networks and raised about $7.3 billion.

Oxford Economics published a report entitled “The economic impact of restricting competition in 5G network equipment” in November 2019. The report states that restrictions on Huawei will increase investment costs, slow down rollout, and delay productivity improvements. A lower competition may lead to higher contract prices set by telecom operators for 5G equipment. Italy should take into consideration these impacts while preparing a strategic plan for the post-Huawei phase.

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Batelco and Ooredoo partnership for Global Zone expansion

Inside Telecom Staff

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Batelco and Ooredoo partnership for Global Zone expansion

Batelco, the Bahrain telecommunications company, has partnered with Ooredoo to implement plans to expand Global Zone platform, which was launched in Bahrain in 2019. The platform was chosen to support telecommunications, information and communications technology and to meet the growing requirements of regional data.

The carrier-neutral data center has a rich digital business solutions portfolio including Manama-IX, a carrier-neutral internet exchange, Cloud Connect solutions, and IPT solutions.

“Our partnership with (Batelco) contributes to enriching our product portfolio, being the leading provider of Internet services and FASTtelco as well as providing services for Amazon Web Services (AWS DX) and Global Zone.” Said Abdulaziz Al-Babtain, Head of the Companies and Governmental Bodies Sector at Ooredoo. “The launch of the platform in Kuwait provides our customers with access to additional global paths through the fiber network with little response time and better performance.”

The companies say that the expanded partnership with Batelco will give FASTtelco access to a new set of products to further develop its portfolio by offering AWS DX, Global Zone, MPLS and MN-IX. It will also provide Ooredoo Kuwait clients with access to additional global fiber routes.

The initiative to develop and integrate Global Zone into new markets will create a whole data center interconnection. This data center is powered by FASTtelco, the leading internet service provider (ISP) in Kuwait; acquired by Ooredoo.

Ooredoo Kuwait/FASTtelco and Batelco’s partnership can utilize these solutions for their business needs and, it is hoped, reach new markets, while eliminating the complexity of being connected to other players.

Adel Al-Daylami, Chief Global Business officer at Batelco said, “The company has always sought to broaden its reach, with the aim of meeting the needs of customers and partners across the region. We are very pleased to have Ooredoo Kuwait as a strategic partner to support our regional rollout plans for Global Zone to deliver enhanced services to our customers.”

Moreover, the Bahraini company’s digital ecosystem and strong global network will aid expansion plans for Global Zone in the market. The alliance marks the beginning of a progressive regional partnership effort.

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