June 11, 2024

Chuma Akana’s professional journey in advancing global technology policy

By Rita Okoye

When Chuma Akana started his professional journey, he knew that Nigeria’s tech space needed considerable attention. Intellectual property rights for creatives and artists were not well established.

With technology holding the potential to propel Africa into development, there was a significant gap in competence and expertise that needed to be addressed. Recognizing this, Chuma delved into the technology ecosystem and founded the Innovation-Tech Law Network (ITELAN) to bridge the gap between law and technology. There was a noticeable disconnect between regulators and industry players.

Over the span of three years, ITELAN made notable advancements by bringing together influential thinkers and professionals from both the legal and technology sectors through summits and training sessions. This initiative has had a profound effect, impacting the development of over 1,000 professionals across Africa. ITELAN’s conferences received support from notable entities like the Lagos State Government, Uber, Startup Lagos, and Opay.

Under Chuma’s leadership, the training sessions aimed to equip professionals with the necessary digital skills and knowledge to thrive in today’s tech-driven world. Discussions focused on helping regulators understand emerging technologies such as blockchain, artificial intelligence, data protection, and fintech. Communiques from these conferences and summits have been used as viable policy documents by policymakers, regulators, civil society, and other stakeholders involved in the regulation and oversight of the tech industry.

In 2021, Chuma was awarded the coveted 40 Under 40 award by the Nigerian Legal Awards for his outstanding work in technology law and policy. Driven by his passion for advancing tech policies globally, Chuma pursued a master’s program in Intellectual Property and Technology Law at American University, Washington College of Law. There, he was awarded a prestigious Fellowship with the Tech Law and Security Program, which comprises leading experts in areas such as Cyber & Information Conflict and Privacy, Transparency, & Security.  Research within the Tech Law and Security Program is designed to have a high-level impact on policy and practice. As a research fellow, Chuma focused on comparing cross-border data transfers in Africa, emphasizing the need for African countries to revisit the Malabo Convention and establish adequacy protections. With the upcoming implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), data protection and privacy will be crucial drivers of the African economy, as data sharing, data integration, and data localization become key issues within the new African market. As a Fellow of the TLS Program, Chuma actively mentored other peers, assessing and guiding their paths in aligning with careers in technology law and policy suited to their interests.

To gain further insight on the impact of privacy in technology policy, Chuma’s research project took him to the European Parliament and European Commission in Brussels, Belgium as part of his master’s program and research efforts to understand the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and its strides in regulating emerging tech areas like artificial intelligence. His research explored the intricate balance between leveraging AI’s potential and mitigating its risks. He contrasted the GDPR approach to regulating sensitive data and AI, culminating in his publication “Modeling a Privacy Framework for Trustworthy AI.” Chuma’s paper posits that for AI systems handling large datasets, the critical issue is determining what is adequate or proportionate. Typically, AI design involves gathering and using as much data as possible, so privacy laws in AI should emphasize data minimization and purpose limitation to ensure that only necessary data is collected and used for specific, legitimate purposes. His paper addressed regulatory and policy frameworks that impact how public and private actors respond to technology-driven threats and opportunities like AI and privacy.

In recognition of his excellent work in tech policy, Chuma was awarded a Fellowship with the prestigious ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) in October 2023, where he was the only Fellow representative from the United States in Hamburg, Germany. ICANN is the leading authority in digital and internet policy. Chuma’s involvement with ICANN is pivotal in shaping global tech policy, underscoring his substantial contributions and influence in this field. With such a global scale and the ability to impact over 5 billion people worldwide through the ICANN platform, Chuma has continued his excellent work contributing to the development of internet policy at ICANN. Chuma is a member of the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) and in February 2024, was was also selected as a Fellow for the North American School of Internet Governance meeting in Puerto Rico.

Chuma’s journey in advancing global tech policy and privacy rights has seen him author several publications addressing key areas in tech, including “Biometric Data in Fintech: Balancing Regulation and Privacy” and “Modeling a Privacy Framework for Trustworthy AI.” His work is widely read by experts and has been published in major news media and trade journals including on platforms like Mondaq, a major trade publication and online media platform that offers legal insights from over 70 countries with a monthly readership of over 14 million professionals globally. Mondaq’s content is also distributed to other global digital legal resource services such as Dow Jones, Bloomberg, WestLaw, LexisNexis, and Marketscreener.

Chuma’s journey has been inspiring and impactful. He continues his global impact as part of the Global Privacy Team at the Future of Privacy Forum, a foremost institution that serves as a catalyst for privacy leadership and scholarship in the United States and globally. There, his work explores the challenges posed by technological innovation and develops privacy protections, ethical norms, and workable business practices, advancing responsible data and AI practices for public and private stakeholders. Through his research, publications, and other related activities, Chuma’s work is integral to shaping best practices and policies in the field.