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Developing Countries

Some of the world’s most invasive surveillance systems are being deployed in countries where individuals are most at risk. Developing countries are considered growth markets for biometric systems, health informatics, visual surveillance and expansive communications surveillance technologies, and citizens of these countries tend to lack the legal and technical means to defend themselves.

It has been argued that privacy is a Western luxury, and even a potential impediment to progress. Yet privacy is a universal human right, and our experiences in developing countries have shown us that, despite cultural differences, there is a deep common interest in information privacy and personal data protection amongst citizens and consumers in every economy. Privacy helps create a sense of human autonomy and dignity, and is therefore in many ways synonymous with progress.

However, local NGOs advocating for privacy in developing countries often struggle with uninterested governments and uncomprehending courts. There is comparatively little understanding of the nuanced relationships between privacy, security and development, or of the complex technologies involved. The default position of the authorities is often to collect as much information on as many people as possible, and human rights are rarely taken into account.

Our work in developing countries focuses on increasing the capacity of local groups and institutions to understand new risks and respond to developments in their countries. We help them to raise awareness of privacy issues in the local population, and to ensure that the public debate on privacy is well-informed and accurate. We also review key policy developments in a number of countries and assess their compliance with national constitutional requirements, international human rights conventions, and consumer protection norms.

Developing Countries

Alexandrine Pirlot's picture

As anticipated, the Snowden revelations – first referred to in the opening session as the “elephant in the room” – soon became the central focus of many of the 150 workshops that took place during the 8th Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Bali, and dominated the bilateral meetings that took place between governments, the private sector, the tech community, and civil society.

The various stakeholders arrived at the IGF ready to pursue their own agendas. The U.S. came to try and restore its image as a concerned protector of human rights of Internet users; China, to seize the opportunity to portray itself as a support of citizen’s rights in face of mass foreign surveillance programmes of Western democracies; and Brazil used the IGF to reaffirm its leadership for a multi-stakeholder approach which would respect human rights and challenge unethical illegal mass surveillance.

Opinion piece
Anna Crowe's picture

The following is an excerpt from a guest article which appeared on openDemocracy, written by Privacy International's Research Officer, Anna Crowe:

Humanitarian actors often forsake the right to privacy in favour of promoting programmes utilising phones to deliver services, either through a lack of understanding or wilful ignorance as to the risks involved.

It is clear that the massive uptake of mobile phones in developing countries has played a crucial role in the success of many development interventions over the past decade. As well as aiding communication, mobiles have given people access to a range of services and information and revolutionised information collection and recording in humanitarian disasters.

Dr Gus Hosein's picture

Just search for the term "surveillance state" and you’ll pull up various uses of the term or news articles citing the phrase.

In some respects, this newfound concern can’t be a surprise; given vast new amounts of information in the public sphere since the Edward Snowden leaks began in June. However, it is critical to nail down the exact meaning of the term, so as the public and governments have the debate over State spying, we can actually know what we're talking about. Most importantly, this will help us push back against it.

In the media
Publication date: 
Ayee Macaraig
Original story link: 

Alexandrine Pirlot of Privacy International said big data can be discriminatory and exclusionary. “The data collected is from people who are active on the Internet but it excludes the ones that don’t take part in these activities, whose behavior, decisions and needs are completely excluded from decision-making processes in big data programs,” she said.

Anna Crowe's picture

Today’s much-anticipated launch of the 2013 Aid Transparency Index, an industry standard for assessing transparency among major aid donors, shows that, despite progress, many aid agencies continue to maintain secrecy around what they are funding.

Further, for those agencies that achieved high rankings in the index, transparency alone does not prevent one of our larger concerns: aid which facilitates impermissible surveillance of communities and individuals in the developing world. Biometric databases, electronic voting registration systems, criminal databases and border surveillance initiatives are being backed by Western donors keen to see the adoption abroad of technologies that raise considerable controversy at home.

Edin Omanovic's picture

A sizeable political controversy has engulfed President Goodluck Jonathan’s Government in Nigeria, where details surrounding its plans for the total surveillance of Africa’s most populous country continue to emerge.

Thanks to pervasive snooping technology readily found and developed in the US, UK, Israel and the Netherlands, the already spy-equipped security forces in Nigeria will have greater and more intimate access to the lives of some 56 million Internet users and 115 million active fixed and mobile phone subscribers. The plans have been roundly condemned by Nigeria’s civil society and press, who fear a drift back to Nigeria’s dictatorial past and to the threat it poses to their fundamental human rights.  The apparent lack of any meaningful judicial framework and oversight for the deployment of the technology has so far not stopped government authorities pushing ahead with increased surveillance.

Alexandrine Pirlot's picture

The argument that human rights are a Western concept and that privacy is not a concern for the developing world was rejected last week in a two-day civil society seminar held in Dakar, Senegal.

More than 30 members of West African civil society participated in the seminar on privacy and data protection, organised by Jonction with the support of the Senegalese Commission for Data Protection. Participants denounced the shortcomings of governments and the private sector in upholding, protecting and promoting the right to privacy and personal data. The seminar was held in collaboration with Privacy International and IDRC as part of Privacy International’s “Privacy in the developing world project”.

Carly Nyst's picture

As if those in Pakistan did not have enough to worry about when it came to the security of their communications, recent changes to Pakistan’s anti-terror law could see people convicted for terrorism solely on the basis of incriminating text messages, phone calls, or email.

As part of a drive to increase the number of convictions of terror suspects, the government of Pakistan has recently beefed up its anti-terror laws through a presidential ordinance that will permit prolonged detention of terror suspects and the expanded use of email and phone evidence in certain criminal trials. It is just another indication of Pakistan’s drift toward authoritarianism and the government’s total disregard for the human rights of their citizens.

Opinion piece
Carly Nyst's picture

The following is an English version of an article in the September issue of Cuestión de Derechos, written by Privacy International's Head of International Advocacy, Carly Nyst.

To read the whole article (in Spanish), please go here.

The Chinese government installs software that monitors and censors certain anti-government websites. Journalists and human rights defenders from Bahrain to Morocco have their phones tapped and their emails read by security services. Facebook takes down wall posts after States complains of “subversive material”. Google hands over user data to law enforcement authorities that includes IP addresses, location data and records of communications. The US government conducts mass surveillance of foreign phone and internet users.

Opinion piece
Carly Nyst's picture

The following is an excerpt from a guest article which appeared on openDemocracy, written by Privacy International's Head of Advocacy, Carly Nyst:

Forget blood diamonds. There's a new resource being mined and exploited in the developing world: data.

As development actors adopt new technologies at a rapid rate, data is fast becoming the development community's favourite cure-all. For its proponents, data has the potential to accelerate economic growth, catalyse innovation, and revolutionise the provision of development and humanitarian aid. 

Yet, much like other conflict resources, the data for development movement poses serious risks to the liberties of the same individuals who will purportedly benefit from its exploitation. By facilitating the generation, collection or analysis of information that is about individuals, 'data for development' may be enabling surveillance in the most insidious way.

For the full piece, please go here.


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