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Many parts of the world are facing unique issues surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. One thing that is for certain is that this pandemic will certainly revolutionize how open data, privacy and cybersecurity will interact with one another. As issues like contact tracing and suitable employer-employee conditions are presented, there will be an increased dependency on technology and information sharing. That is why it is important that there are appropriate conversations surrounding the protection of open data, especially for Latin America.

Open data’s readily accessible and unique characteristics necessitate proper cybersecurity protocols. In Latin America, a report by the Inter-American Development Bank and the Organization of American States found that 4 out of 5 Latin American countries do not have cybersecurity strategies in place. Without efficient cybersecurity and data protection strategies, it can negatively affect the promotion of open data. Below are some specific instances of how open data can be affected.

Privacy and open data

Privacy intersects with cybersecurity. As privacy cannot be easily defined, we continually see a struggle between data protection and the right of individuals to dictate how their data is used. Several countries in Latin America have enacted laws to enforce the protection of data privacy. By utilizing the similar model of the EU General Data Protection Regulation, countries such as Argentina, Brazil and Peru have initiated or updated their laws to broaden the protection afforded to various forms of data. These are positive developments, but if the rest of Latin America does not start focusing more on data protection, the concept of privacy will affect how people observe or treat open data. Take, for example, this article by The Washington Post describing how consumers are removing Google products from their homes and erasing themselves from all websites or applications that utilize or are connected to Google. There is also the “right to be forgotten” principle that allows for individuals to petition internet search engines and social media sites to remove any personal content.

The use of an individual's data and the protection one expects from this use can affect one's behavior with technology. If individuals do not feel protected or confident with the use of their data, what can this mean for open data — which does not have any entity overseeing its management or use. Additionally, if we start to see changes in the attitude that one has in their data, we could see a decrease in technological advancement. We need to promote the protection and provide solutions that can instill trust in data.

Most importantly, in Latin America, countries need to focus on common-sense privacy laws that allow an individual to have some sense of how their data is used, especially the personal data that governments may have about their citizens. It is also important that these countries focus on creating a government-based center that will manage, direct and prevent cyberattacks.

Elections and cybersecurity

As the use of social media increases, the use of open data and its contribution to elections information will continue to increase. Social media has become an important tool for candidate support, campaign influence or promotion of social movements. The election interference that occurred in the U.S. during the 2016 elections was a lesson on the importance of cybersecurity protections within technological government structures. The significance of this event is an example of what will occur on a larger scale if Latin American countries do not start advocating for cybersecurity procedures and regulations that protect activities like elections.

The OAS conducted a study that focused on cybersecurity and democracy. It received 28 responses from government officials from several Latin American countries and the Caribbean. Of these responses, 55% of countries have not updated their laws to incorporate digital best practices and more than 55% of countries are not informed about cyberattacks on their own systems. This is why it’s very important to consider how these attacks might affect open data, especially when used for political information. One way countries could promote more serious discussions about cybersecurity is with the help of agencies like the National Institute for Standards and Technology under the U.S. Department of Commerce. Organizations like NIST attempt to solve problems and propose solutions, especially in the area of cybersecurity. The creation of organizations like NIST could help direct the conversation by proposing solutions that are useful within their own country.

Manipulation of open data

The recent trend of deep fakes and the rising issue of terrorist radicalization deserves focused attention on its relationship with open data. Terrorist organizations utilize open data for their decision-making and organization. Not to mention, deep fakes are becoming prevalent, and as we continue to learn more about it, open data can be a contributive factor. In fact, deep fake videos use the same resources that hackers use to implement cyberattacks. A subtle solution to these issues is instituting “technological knowledge," since the manipulation of open data is caused by specific actors for a specific purpose; meanwhile, open data relies on the actions of the general population of users. This solution could be realized based on how one uses and behaves with the data to prevent the development of abuse or manipulation. With this solution, there could be an investment in educational programs and courses that promote programming and software/hardware innovation. An interest in computing and technology could increase thereby creating more opportunities in this area and fueling economic prosperity.

With the way we are interacting in a COVID-19 world, open data is contributing to very positive outcomes as can be seen by this interactive map of groups in Latin America attempting to propose solutions to mitigate the virus. However, the positive cannot be overshadowed by the problems that can arise from the expansive availability of this data.

Photo by Elena Mozhvilo on Unsplash

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