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Aiding Privacy

Promoting the right to privacy and data protection in the development and humanitarian fields.
Read the new report by Privacy International, Aiding Surveillance

New technologies have revolutionised the impact and effectiveness of development and humanitarian interventions, and have become a crucial tool for modern development actors. However, their adoption raises new challenges for the protection and promotion of human rights, in particular the rights to privacy and the protection of personal data.

The data collected or processed by humanitarian organisations can be extremely sensitive. Since aid is often distributed in situations where there are weak legal and institutional protections for individuals’ privacy, humanitarian organisations need to consider whether they might be facilitating state surveillance or contributing to the establishment of legacy system that will be difficult to dismantle. And when working with private sector partners, they must think carefully about the implications of corporate access to personal data and the potential for its abuse.

Additionally, the very existence of and possible access to the data collected by humanitarian organisations can encourage its use for other purposes than those for which it was collected. In some contexts, if basic information about beneficiaries’ location, ethnicity, religion, or gender were to fall into the wrong hands, it could place lives at risk.

The humanitarian principle of “do no harm” entails protecting beneficiaries from such risks by incorporating privacy considerations into the design and implementation of humanitarian and development aid programmes. Safeguards around privacy should be implemented and respected, particularly when working with vulnerable groups such as ethnic minorities, disaster survivors or those living in conflict-stricken areas. Such safeguards include only collecting data when necessary and putting in place effective information security measures. While both the public and private sectors are increasingly building privacy protections and safeguards into their policies, humanitarian and development organisations are lagging behind.

Our objectives are:

  1. To work with humanitarian and development organisations and practitioners to help them develop internal policies incorporating privacy considerations into the design and implementation of humanitarian and development aid programmes;
  2. To promote the development of international standards around data protection by contributing to the discussions about the UN's post-2015 development agenda and the preparation of the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit;
  3. To stimulate and feed into critical public and political discourses on humanitarianism and development, increasing awareness of the implications of technologies for rights and development; and
  4. To strengthen the capacity of civil society organisations in developing countries to engage with privacy and data protection in relation to development and humanitarian aid.

Privacy International is leading the discourse on promoting privacy and data protection in the development and humanitarian fields. Its report Aiding Surveillance explores how development and humanitarian aid initiatives are enabling surveillance in developing countries.

Aiding Privacy

Opinion piece
Carly Nyst's picture

The following is an excerpt from a Comment originally publihsed by The Guardian, written by Privacy International's Head of Advocacy, Carly Nyst:

From databases to mobile phone apps and SMS systems, GPS tracking and humanitarian drones to biometric registration, new technologies are rapidly becoming central to the delivery of humanitarian and development aid.

Refugees fleeing the Syrian conflict are having their irises scanned and their identity documents digitised. Nurses in Nigeria are using SMS systems to communicate HIV test results to health facilities. Cash is being delivered to those living in Kenya's slums through the M-Pesa mobile-phone banking system.

Blog
Anna Crowe's picture

Privacy International today is proud to announce our new project, Aiding Privacy, which aims to promote the right to privacy and data protection in the development and humanitarian fields. Below is an outline of the issues addressed in our new report released today, Aiding Surveillance.

New technologies hold great potential for the developing world. The problem, however, is that there has been a systematic failure to critically contemplate the potential ill effects of deploying technologies in development and humanitarian initiatives, and in turn, to consider the legal and technical safeguards required in order to ensure the rights of individuals living in the developing world.

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.

Blog
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.

Blog
Carly Nyst's picture

Privacy International will soon be launching a research and advocacy project entitled Aiding Surveillance that will focus on the role of international development, humanitarian and funding organisations in promoting privacy and data protection. Click here to join our mailing list to find out more about this project and all of PI's activities.

The development agenda is heralding a new cure-all for humanitarian and development challenges – data.

Blog
Carly Nyst's picture

One of the first things that strikes you about the chaotic East African metropolises of Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe is the blanket of adverts for mobile phone companies that covers them, from the walls of the immigration hall at Harare airport, to the rickety shacks that line the dusty streets of Kampala. Where official signage is unavailable, DIY versions are painted onto the roofs and walls of houses and small businesses. Stores selling mobile phones are rarely more than a few short steps away, as are the clumps of cell towers that stand tall above throngs of people talking, texting and transferring money on their mobile devices. The message is clear: mobile telephony has arrived in Africa, and everyone wants - and can have - a piece of it. But at what price?

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