n African Human Rights Law Journal - The right to privacy in the age of surveillance to counter terrorism in Ethiopia - focus : the rule of law in sub-Saharan Africa

Volume 18 Number 1
  • ISSN : 1609-073X
  • E-ISSN: 1996-2096



Despite being a useful tool to prevent and prosecute terrorism, surveillance is increasingly being utilised as an excuse for infringements on privacy in several jurisdictions. Laws governing counter-terrorism surveillance either are not in compliance with human rights standards governing privacy or inappropriately implemented. Research on the relevant law and practice in Ethiopia is limited. This article identifies legal and practical problems causing violations of the right to privacy while countering terrorism in Ethiopia. In doing so, it evaluates the human rights compatibility of the relevant law and practice mainly based on article 17 of the ICCPR. The analysis is substantiated by an empirical study involving key informant interviews and case file reviews from Ethiopian courts. Legitimate counterterrorism surveillance should respect the right to privacy. A state may implement counter-terrorism surveillance only when it is properly defined by law and reasonably applied. Prior judicial authorisation of covert interceptions is usually regarded as a safeguard to prevent the misuse of counter-terrorism surveillance. Ethiopia does not have a law regulating mass surveillance in the absence of a specific terrorism threat. However, reports suggest that the Ethiopian government has unrestricted access to private communications since it monopolises telecommunications and postal services. Counter-terrorism related surveillance, however, is legally regulated in Ethiopia. Ethiopian law requires that law enforcement agencies may conduct the interception of communications on terrorist suspects upon getting a court warrant. Nonetheless, evidence suggests that, in practice, there is widespread use of warrantless interceptions which are used as prosecution evidence in defiance of the law. This article may serve to assess and improve counter-terrorism surveillance in Ethiopia so that the law and its implementation reflect the values of a democratic society based on the rule of law and respect for the right to privacy.

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