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Namibian Government Data Exposed

Namibian President Nangolo Mbumba registering as a voter.  In a world where data can be weaponized by malicious actors who use it to harm in...

Namibian President Nangolo Mbumba registering as a voter. 
In a world where data can be weaponized by malicious actors who use it to harm individuals or the state, safeguarding a nation's information is paramount. However, the Namibian government's data including the N$185m biometric database is being managed by foreign entities, raising serious concerns about national security.

Since 2019, when it was first revealed that a private company in Australia was controlling Namibia's government data from the State House, the Prime Minister's office, and Parliament being handled by foreigners, worries about the safety and sovereignty of national data have sparked intense debates within the security community and political parties.

ECN’s N$185m biometric data in foreign hands. 

The leakage came to light when a computer specialist from Finland, hired by an Australian firm, and this particular individual in Oslo exposed a huge troll of state confidential information to his close friends in Namibia. This breach has highlighted the vulnerabilities in outsourcing critical government functions to foreign companies.

Electoral Commission of Namibia’s EVMs

In 2014, Namibia made history by becoming the first country in Southern Africa to conduct a national election using electronic voting machines (EVMs). The conversation around introducing electronic voting in Namibia began in 2004. The Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN) and other state institutions recognized the need for a more efficient and reliable voting system. This led to the drafting of legislation, paving the way for the implementation of EVMs. In 2009, the Electoral Act of 24 of 1992 was amended to incorporate provisions for the use of EVMs.

Adding to the security concerns in the political landscape, Namibia's Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) management by Indian entities has once sparked clamorous calls about the integrity of the electoral process by conducting elections using paperless voting machines with software handled by foreigners. Security analysts have warned that using EVMs without voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT), as in previous elections, poses risks of data manipulation. 

With the upcoming Presidential and National Elections in November 2024, ensuring the robustness and transparency of the voting system is crucial. The call for integrating paper trails with EVMs is a step toward mitigating potential risks and ensuring public trust in the electoral process. We have strong confidence the EVMs will not be used by ECN unless otherwise.

ECN Biometric Data Management

For over a decade, the Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN) has outsourced the hosting of its biometric voter registration data to a company headquartered in Hong Kong, operating out of South Africa. The contract, originally awarded to the United Arab Emirates company, Face Technology, now trading as Toppan Gravity), has seen the Namibian voter database handled abroad since the 2011/2012 financial year. This longstanding arrangement has been justified by the ECN as a means to maintain the customized biometric voter registration system, avoiding the complications of transitioning to a new provider.

ECN electoral and referenda officer Peter Shaama said ECN opted not to reinvent the wheel by acquiring a new service provider. ''He said the system was specifically designed and developed for the management of the ECN voters' register and its "architectural application" Shaama explained to the media.

In Theo Mujoro’s time, the ECN IT department suggested that in-house, or at least local, capacity be created to return the database to Namibia. In a letter sent to the media, they suggested investing in training and capacity-building for the ECN team to enable it to develop and maintain the system internally. The department also suggested using open-source software to reduce licensing costs and allow for greater customization to meet the specific needs of the ECN. 

They advised collaboration with local tech companies and universities to leverage their expertise and resources. A secure system, however, Shaama assured that despite the database being hosted abroad, it remains highly secure. “The voter registration database is not accessible to any unauthorized ECN personnel, more specifically, neither to outside personnel. 

The voter registration database contains confidential information related to voters, hence, the commission ensures that data security and privacy controls are implemented to ensure the integrity of the voter registration database,” Shaama underlined. He added that through integration, additional applications were incorporated, including voter verification, nomination of candidates, registration of political parties and organizations, and results management, most of which were previously operated manually. 


Despite these justifications, the security implications of having sensitive voter data managed overseas cannot be ignored. Former ECN electoral and referenda officer Peter Shaama has assured the public that stringent security measures are in place to protect this data from unauthorized access. According to Shaama, the system's architecture is unique to Namibia, developed to manage voter registration processes effectively. However, the reliance on foreign expertise and infrastructure continues to pose risks. 

Securing data

While the ECN insists that the current system is secure, the broader implications for national security are clear. Hosting and managing Namibia's databases, including the biometric system, within the country is crucial. Training Namibians to handle these tasks not only mitigates security risks but also fosters technological self-reliance. In an era where data is a strategic asset, allowing third-party actors to manage this information poses significant risks in the long run.

The management of critical national databases by foreign entities is a pressing issue that Namibia must address swiftly to safeguard its sovereignty and national security. By investing in local capacity, training, and infrastructure, Namibia can ensure that its data remains secure and under its control. The nation must recognize that in today's digital age, data is a powerful tool that should be protected with the utmost diligence. Collaboration with local tech companies and universities, and leveraging local expertise is highly recommended to reduce dependency on foreign entities and enhance the security of the voter registration system.