Govt begins process to draft Data Protection Bill

— as tenders sent out seeking consultant

Prime Minister Mark Phillips

From the liberalisation of the telecoms sector to the increase in distance learning during the COVID-19 era, much is happening in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector. With this in mind, the Government is moving towards a bill for the protection of data.
According to the Office of the Prime Minister’s Industry and Innovation Unit, technical and legal assistance is being sought to draft the Data Protection Bill. According to the unit, the consultant will review, revise and develop policies and regulations on data protection, privacy and access to information.
The unit reiterated the Government’s commitment to developing a sustainable ICT sector, while stressing the importance of having the necessary legislation in place to protect citizens. The consultancy is for an eight months’ period.
“Data protection is of paramount importance and with the increase in data sharing due to increased online activities and e-commerce, comprehensive data protection legislation is imperative,” the unit said in its notice.
“Data protection is becoming more and more valuable to Governments and the Private Sector since unauthorised and careless processing of personal data can be of great harm to individuals and companies.”
During the 2020 emergency budget debate, Prime Minister Mark Phillips had said during his budget presentation that monies would be set aside for the drafting of such a bill. He had cited the increasing storage of electronic information online by citizens and the need to protect them.
“The policy work would continue through the end of this year with the development of draft legislation and explanatory memoranda for ever-increasing electronic information being provided by our citizens and being utilized by the Government’s other sectors,” Phillips had said in September.
After the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) came to power, it took them less than three months to liberalise the telecommunications sector and bring an end to the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company’s (GTT) thirty-year monopoly in Guyana.
Following liberalisation, it did not take long for GTT to promise enhanced service and 5G internet for Guyana. Other Internet Service Providers (ISP), like E-Networks and Digicel Guyana, have received the requisite licences and are looking to expand, ushering in a new age of telecoms competition.
Digicel’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Gregory Dean, had said following liberalisation that his company plans to finally land a subsea fibre optic cable in Guyana, while also expanding its service.
“We would like to upgrade the services we are currently offering, that is in terms of upgrading our current mobile data network. But then we’d also like to get into additional services. Digicel has always been interested in going to remote areas as well,” Dean had said during an interview with the State media.
“We are in the middle of the upgrade of our network and I think it’s the biggest upgrade we’ve had for the network in quite some time. We’re hoping to have that completed in the next two to three months,” he had also said.
The former Government had passed the Telecommunication (Amendment) Bill since 2016, which was supposed to liberalise the telecoms sector. However, the former Government, for some inexplicable reason, hesitated to sign the commencement orders for over four years.
They had claimed that the liberalisation of the sector was heavily dependent upon the settlement of a US$44 million tax claim against GTT by the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA). However, the PPP Government had no problem issuing the commencement orders on October 5, without compromising on the taxes owed by GTT.