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PI's trip to Asia

PI spent the first half of February in Asia, visiting our regional partners and speaking at events. Our trip began in Delhi, where the Centre for Internet and Society (in collaboration with the Society in Action Group) had organized two consecutive privacy conferences – an invite-only conclave on Friday 3rd February and a free symposium open to the public on Saturday 4th February. The conclave consisted of two panels, the first focusing on the relationship between national security and privacy, the second on privacy and the Internet. We were seriously impressed with the calibre of the speakers CIS and SAG had gathered – the panels included a Supreme Court Advocate, a Member of Parliament and the Former Chief of the Research and Analysis Wing (the Indian equivalent of MI-6 and the CIA) – but Gus and Eric held their own!

The All India Privacy Symposium the next day was partly intended as a public showcase of the amazing research Privacy India, CIS and SAG have conducted over the past two years, including consultations in Kolkata, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Guwahati, Chennai and Mumbai. The event was organized into five panels: Privacy and Transparency, Privacy and E-Governance Initiatives, Privacy and National Security, Privacy and Banking, and Privacy and Health. A few themes recurred throughout the day – perhaps the most prominent being the repeated allegation that the Indian government's technological illiteracy is putting its citizens at risk. One panellist described how an RTI (right to information) request had recently revealed that the government had no idea how many of its own computers had been hacked or how much data had been stolen – even though this information has been in the public domain since the Wikileaks diplomatic cable releases.

On Sunday, our IDRC funder in Delhi very kindly lent us his beautiful house for a PrivAsia strategy meeting. We chatted about how the Indian project had gone thus far, and the sort of activities our partners would like to undertake over the next couple of years. Their main priority at the moment is India's proposed UID (Unique Identification) project, which is riddled with flaws, inconsistencies and logical gaps. The project is also extremely expensive, with estimates ranging from just under $4 billion to $33 billion. Our partners strongly oppose the programme in its current form, and are exploring a number of strategies for fighting it - we'll keep you appraised of their progress...

PI then parted ways – Gus headed to Hong Kong and Eric and I flew to Dhaka to meet up with Simon and Ahmed Swapan of Voices for Interactive Choice and Empowerment (VOICE), our partner in Bangladesh. We spent a day at the VOICE offices, getting extremely jealous of their huge kitchen and the fact that they all sit down to a freshly cooked lunch every day. That evening, Ahmed took us to a book fair, which was much livelier than we were expecting! It was held outside and was packed with people socialising, eating deep-fried crayfish and (occasionally) perusing the books and pamphlets on display. The fair is apparently an annual event and VOICE have had their own stand there for the past few years.

The following day was the National Convention on the Right to Privacy and Data Protection, organized by VOICE and a group of other Bangladeshi NGOs. We were delighted by the turnout - over 80 people showed up to listen and to voice their own opinions - but Ahmed was unsurprised, explaining that privacy was a hot topic in Bangladesh at the moment. Several issues were clearly extremely controversial, and the debate became very heated when it turned to the relationship between privacy and the right to information (recently enshrined in law in the RTI Act 2009). It was amazing to see how passionate people were, and how eager to improve things. The debate was presided over by retired Justice Golam Rabbani, who urged the government to create a national tribunal for the protection of the citizen's right to privacy.

Gus spent a brief 36 hours in Hong Kong but was able to participate in a symposium run by our partners at Hong Kong University's Faculty of Law. The participants at the symposium included the Privacy Commissioner of Hong Kong, academics and industry experts from China, Macau and Taiwan, and guest speakers from Switzerland and Canada. The slides of many of the presentations are available online. Apparently the level of sophistication in the academic research that is now starting to influence the legislative environment in Hong Kong and China is astonishing.

Trips like these are exhausting but invaluable - they allow us to see the PrivAsia work in action rather than hearing about it in emails and phone calls, and to discuss progress and problems face-to-face. Eric and Gus are already looking forward to Pakistan in April...

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