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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
Philippe M. Frowd's picture

In the wake of recent revelations about the NSA’s extensive surveillance powers over foreigners and American citizens, an ever-fuller picture of mass surveillance is being drawn in the US, the UK, and across the Western world. But what about clandestine surveillance practices in African states? How do they approximate or differ from those we’ve heard so much about in the last few weeks? A recent case from West Africa can help us begin to answer these questions.

In March, Benin saw its own wiretapping scandal involving familiar elements: accusations of executive overreach and a telecoms company accused of collaborating with state surveillance. 

Blog
Matthew Rice's picture

The government of Pakistan has repeatedly shown it is relentless when it comes to deploying measures to censor and spy on its own citizens. Today, a report released by Citizen Lab reveals another repressive tool being used to control and prevent information being accessed on the internet -- this time with help from the Canadian web-filtering company, Netsweeper.

According to the report "O Pakistan, We Stand on Guard for Thee: An Analysis of Canada-based Netsweeper’s Role in Pakistan’s Censorship Regime", internet filtering software provided by Netsweeper has been installed on the Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL)'s network, the country's largest telecommunications company that also operates the Pakistan Internet Exchange Point. Citizen Lab's report shows that the technology has been used for the purposes of social and political filtering, including websites of secessionist movements, sensitive religious topics, and independent media. 

In the media
Publisher: 
BBC World Service
Publication date: 
14-Jun-2013
Original story link: 

Carly Nyst, Head of International Advocacy at Privacy International, joins "Have Your Say" to talk about the impact on privacy when governments use mass surveillance for intelligence gathering.

In the media
Publisher: 
The Economist
Publication date: 
14-Jun-2013
Original story link: 

Flourishing surveillance abroad may have a surprising impact back home. As more communications are stored on servers far from the citizens who created them, domestic intelligence services are increasingly trying to track activity overseas, says Carly Nyst of Privacy International.

In the media
Publisher: 
Globo News
Publication date: 
13-Jun-2013
Original story link: 

Privacy International's Head of International Advocacy Carly Nyst sits down with GloboNews in Brazil to talk about government surveillance and data protection laws around the world.

In the media
Publisher: 
Nehanda Radio
Publication date: 
11-Jun-2013
Original story link: 

This was the core message at the side event on the side-lines of the on-going United Nations Human Rights Council 23rd Session, hosted by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Privacy International and Association of Progressive Communications which sought to address some of the challenges in promoting privacy and freedom of expression in light of new means and modalities of surveillance and technological advances in communications.

Countries: 
In the media
Publisher: 
The Atlantic
Publication date: 
11-Jun-2013
Author(s): 
Olga Khazan
Original story link: 

"There is spy technology that we see on James Bond movies that we know have been bought by Germany, the Netherlands, and elsewhere, and we know that it's being used," said Carly Nyst, head of international advocacy at Privacy International.

In the media
Publisher: 
Huffington Post
Publication date: 
07-Jun-2013
Original story link: 

A landmark United Nations report outlines the link between state surveillance and freedom of expression. While the news that the National Security Agency is collecting phone records of Verizon customers is shocking, the U.S. is far from alone. Carly Nyst, Head of International Advocacy at Privacy International, joins.

In the media
Publisher: 
The Register
Publication date: 
07-Jun-2013
Author(s): 
Iain Thompson
Original story link: 

"If the government can get phone numbers of two parties, unique identifiers like IMSI and IMEI, trunk identifiers, and time and duration of call, all listed within the court order, then the Obama administration's justification of 'We don't access content' does not matter," said Mike Rispoli, spokesman for Privacy International.

Countries: 
In the media
Publisher: 
Slate
Publication date: 
06-Jun-2013
Author(s): 
Ryan Gallagher
Original story link: 

The rights group Privacy International heralded the report as a “landmark” piece of work. “The report marks the first time the U.N. has emphasised the centrality of the right to privacy to democratic principles and the free flow of speech and ideas,” it said. “[It] breaks a tradition long-held by U.N. human rights mechanisms to remain relatively silent on state surveillance.”

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