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Privacy in the Developing World

Building capacity and conducting research across the developing world.

We are living in a pivotal moment for the right to privacy in developing countries and emerging democracies. With new technologies empowering people around the world, and altering our relationships with governments and the corporate sector, strong legal frameworks are required to ensure that rights are adequately protected.

The complex process of negotiating privacy within this context is especially fraught in developing countries. It is here that technologies have the potential to be at their most transformative, by giving individuals the ability to access to information, express themselves, and participate in local and global discussions in unprecedented ways.

However, even as new technologies and capabilities flood into developing countries, the technical knowledge necessary to design legislative frameworks remains in short supply. At the same time, international regulatory consensus has yet to emerge around issues of data protection, and regional agreements remain in flux, depriving policymakers in developing countries of strong guidance and best practice upon which to base their own regulatory frameworks.

Consequently, developing countries are emerging as some of the world’s worst privacy violators: spying on their citizens, conducting extensive surveillance without a legal basis, actively censoring the internet, and failing to protect the privacy of personal data and digital communications. Such practices persistently violate the right to privacy while also threatening the enjoyment of other human rights. As the right to privacy becomes more and more embattled across the developing world, there is an urgent need to educate citizens and policy-makers about fortifying legal protections.

Privacy International is working to strengthen the advocacy capabilities and communication skills of civil society, and provide them with resources to ensure that governments are held to account, corporate influence is exposed, and citizens are empowered to claim their rights. In addition to conducting and supporting research and policy engagement,  we also conduct advocacy and intervene in cases in national, regional and international human rights fora to advance the right to privacy.

Our research and engagement agenda

Privacy International currently works with partner organisations in 17 countries across Africa, Asia, and Latin America to conduct research in developing countries directed at the following objectives:

  1. To identify the state of privacy protections in partner countries, and comparable standards and best practices, in order to facilitate policy engagement efforts designed to encourage the adoption, strengthening and  implementation of data protection frameworks.
  2. To understand the design and operation of different communications regimes, and to uncover surveillance practices, to socialise norms of  privacy in communications and advocate for legislative and regulatory  protections in communications systems.
  3. To establish the appropriate legal frameworks to implement advanced surveillance techniques within the confines of the rule of law.
  4. To uncover the nature and operation of local intelligence services, and advocate for the strengthening of oversight mechanisms.
  5. To reveal that measures taken in the name of development and security may lead to the quashing of dissent, the violation of sexual and reproductive rights, and the entrenchment of social divides.
  6. To critically analyse the state of privacy protections in public service delivery, with a particular focus on e-health systems and social protection programmes.
  7. To extend existing research and advocacy efforts to new countries and regions where ID and biometrics is emerging as a key topic of public discourse.

Click here to read more about our global research agenda.

Our partners

Click here to find out more about Privacy International's partner organisations and academics in developing countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Our international advocacy efforts

Privacy International works in national, regional and international human rights fora to advocate for stronger protections for privacy in the developing world. Some of our initiatives include:

Privacy in the Developing World

Blog
Anna Crowe's picture

The government of Pakistan is proposing a new law that significantly threatens privacy rights, in a blatant attempt to establish a legal regime containing broad powers when it comes to obtaining, retaining, and sharing data obtained through criminal investigations, including communications data.

The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2014, contains worrying aspects that threaten the right to privacy, including a provision that would permit unregulated information sharing with foreign governments. Pakistani rights groups are echoing Privacy International’s concerns and demanding that the draft law be rewritten. Pakistan has a poor human rights record and passing the law in its current form would represent a further step backwards in the protection of fundamental rights, such as the right to privacy.

In the media
Publisher: 
The News on Sunday
Publication date: 
13-Apr-2014
Author(s): 
Shahzada Irfan Ahmed
Original story link: 

Privacy International, a registered UK charity founded in 1990 which was the first to campaign at an international level on privacy issues, identifies certain loopholes in Pakistan’s draft law on cyber crime.

In a statement shared with TNS, it states: “In particular, we reiterate that the lack of procedural safeguards against surveillance activities carried out by intelligence agencies poses a serious threat to human rights, especially the right to privacy. We also emphasise the importance of establishing a competent independent oversight mechanism that has the ability to access all potentially relevant information about state actions.”

Countries: 
Blog
Dr Gus Hosein's picture

In Geneva this week, an expert seminar will be held at the Human Rights Council on the right to privacy. To inform these discussions and debates, Privacy International is releasing our report, The State of Privacy 2014, which identifies recent accomplishments from around the world, and highlights significant challenges ahead for this right.

To read the full report, go here.

Promoting and defending the right to privacy in national and international policy discourses is always an interesting challenge. The right to privacy is fundamental to who we are as human beings, insulating our most intimate and personal thoughts and deeds, and acts as a critical safeguard against abuse and overreach by pow- erful institutions. It is perhaps for these reasons that the right has for so long been under attack by governments.

Blog
Alexandrine Pirlot's picture

Big data consists mainly of data that is openly available, created and stored. It includes public sector data such as national health statistics, procurement and budgetary information, and transport and infrastructure data. While big data may carry benefits for development initiatives, it also carries serious risks, which are often ignored. In pursuit of the promised social benefits that big data may bring, it is critical that fundamental human rights and ethical values are not cast aside.

Expanding beyond publicly accessible data

Along with other humanitarian organisations and UN agencies, one key advocate and user of big data is the UN Global Pulse, launched in 2009 in recognition of the need for more timely information to track and monitor the impacts of global and local socio-economic crises. This innovative initiative explores how digital data sources and real-time analytics technologies can help policymakers understand human well-being and emerging vulnerabilities in real-time, in order to better protect populations from shocks.

Blog
Dr Gus Hosein's picture

Want to work for a small charity that holds governments and companies to account on surveillance? We are excited to announce three new openings at Privacy International.

PI is embarking on a new project to work with partners across the world to conduct advocacy and investigations into government surveillance programmes. The project will involve research to identify case studies of surveillance abuses by government, and we will work with local investigators to document case studies of human rights abuse relating to surveillance, identify potential victims of wrongful surveillance, and identify witnesses and sources. Advocacy plays a strong role in this project, and we will collaborate with civil society partners to raise awareness about modern communications surveillance capabilities and advocate for policy change to enhance privacy rights.

Blog
Alexandrine Pirlot's picture

New technologies may hold great benefits for the developing world, but without strong legal frameworks ensuring that rights are adequately protected, they pose serious threats to populations they are supposed to empower.

This is never more evident than with the rapid and widespread implementation of biometric technology. Whilst concerns and challenges are seen in both developed and developing countries when it comes to biometrics, for the latter they are more acute due the absence of laws or flawed legal frameworks, which are failing to uphold and ensure the protection of basic human rights.

Blog
Alexandrine Pirlot's picture

Just a few weeks ago, thousands of Argentinians had their privacy rights violated when the country’s electoral registration roll, which had been made available online, experienced a major leak of personal data following the presidential election.

Despite some early warnings on the weaknesses of the system, the government did nothing to fix the situation, allowing serious technical flaws in an online system to persist and refusing to respond to the crisis, further jeopardising public trust in the 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.

Blog
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.

In the media
Publisher: 
Rappler
Publication date: 
24-Oct-2013
Author(s): 
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.

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