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Tunisia warned of 'manipulation' of citizens' personal data

A group of people gather outside Municipal Theater to protest Tunisian President Kais Saied in Tunis, Tunisia on May 15, 2022. [Yassine Gaidi - Anadolu Agency]
A group of people gather outside Municipal Theater to protest Tunisian President Kais Saied in Tunis, Tunisia on May 15, 2022. [Yassine Gaidi - Anadolu Agency]

The independent watchdog organisation in Tunisia, I Watch, warned yesterday of the possibility of citizen's personal data being "manipulated" when they register as voters via a mobile app, Anadolu has reported.

"I Watch has followed up the deliberations of the Council of the Independent High Authority for Elections (ISIE), during which it discussed the possibility of allowing citizens who are not on the electoral register to be registered through a mobile phone app via the service of USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data)."

The ISIE announced on Wednesday that the registration of voters by phone "is one of the ways to ensure the registration of the largest possible number of voters in preparation for the referendum."

However, I Watch expressed its "fear that citizens' personal data can be manipulated and registered without their knowledge and explicit consent, or misrepresented, as happened with the Evax System [the Covid-19 Vaccination System]."

The organisation reminded the ISIE of Chapter 9 of the Constitution, which stipulates the "preservation of the confidentiality of personal data and processing it in accordance with the legislation in force relating to the protection of personal data." It also expressed its astonishment at the ISIE's failure to verify the voters' register at an early date, despite knowing about the date of the referendum since last December.

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"It is not acceptable to check the voters' register two months before the date of the referendum or elections," added I Watch. "It is contrary to international standards."

The Tunisian authorities did not issue an immediate comment about the organisation's statement. However, they usually deny such accusations and affirm their commitment to respecting personal data and freedoms.

A referendum is scheduled to be held in Tunisia on the political system and the country's major policies, based on the results of the national online consultation which was announced on 20 March.

The country has witnessed a severe political crisis since last July, when exceptional measures were imposed by President Kais Saied including the dissolution of parliament, the abolition of the body for monitoring the constitutionality of laws, issuing legislation by presidential decrees, and the dissolution of the Supreme Judicial Council.

Tunisian opposition groups regard these measures as a "coup against the constitution", while Saied's supporters see them as a "correction of the course of the 2011 revolution". Saied himself says that his measures are "under the provisions of the constitution to protect the state from an imminent threat." He insists that freedoms and rights in Tunisia have not been violated.

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