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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


This report is the result of research conducted by researchers at Privacy International, coordinated by the London School of Economics and Political Science. The report was commissioned by the International Development Research Centre.

New technologies such as mobile phones and electronic medical record (EMR) systems promise to transform the provision and management of medicine all over the world. In the U.S. alone, billions are being spent on information technologies for healthcare.


PI was recently invited by Mr Subash Chandra Nembang, Honourable Chairman of the Constituent Assembly of Nepal to recommend language for a modern constitutional privacy provision. This report is the result of our research. 


In early 2008 we began an 18-month project to study the privacy dynamics in a number of developing countries in Asia. This project was funded by the International Development Research Centre.

Over that period we researched the policy landscape in a number of countries in the region. Through extensive research, networking, and outreach campaigns, we identified six countries for more detailed analysis: Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Thailand. We visited those countries to meet with key stakeholders in government, industry, academia, the media and civil society. When possible and appropriate we also presented at workshops (e.g. India), hosted meetings for civil society (e.g. Malaysia and Thailand) and public forums (e.g. Bangladesh, Pakistan and the Philippines).

Emma Draper's picture

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!

Press release

Following 18 months of research by Privacy India, The Centre for Internet and Society and the Society in Action Group, with support from London-based Privacy International, the groups held an All India Privacy Symposium at the India International Centre in New Delhi on Saturday 4th February 2012. Speakers included Supreme Court Advocate Menaka Guruswamy, Microsoft Director of Corporate Affairs Deepak Maheshwari, social researcher and activist Usha Ramanathan, journalist Saikat Datta and former Chief of RAW Hormis Thorakan.

Press release

Privacy India, the Centre for Internet and Society and the Society in Action Group, with support from Privacy International, have spent 18 months studying the state of privacy across India, conducting consultations in Kolkata, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Guwahati, Chennai and Mumbai. On Friday (3rd February 2012), the results of their research were discussed by representatives from government, industry, media and civil society at a high-level conclave in Delhi. In attendance were Manish Tewari MP, Microsoft Director of Corporate Affairs Deepak Maheshwari and P.K.H. Tharakan former Chief of the Research and Analysis Wing. A privacy symposium open to the public will be held tomorrow afternoon at the Indian International Centre.

Nighat Dad's picture

The Internet is becoming essential to modern life in Pakistan. These days, the loss of network access, whether for telephones or internet connectivity, soon starts to affect people's ability to do business or interact socially - and in the longer term is directly affects citizens' self-expression and self-determination. This is why we all saw such serious attempts by the governments of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya to cut off their people's access to the Internet.

In recent years the Government of Pakistan has repeatedly placed restrictions on the use of the Internet. Technically mediated services have been often subjected to restrictions ranging from government regulation, intervention, censorship and outright blocking.


This country report is an evaluation of privacy and surveillance laws, policies and practices in Hong Kong. It was produced under the 'Privacy in the Developing World' project, funded by the International Development Research Centre in Canada. 

We aim to keep our knowledge of the state of privacy across the world as up-to-date as possible - it is a huge undertaking and we are always keen to gather more local knowledge. If you have some information to share or you spot an error, please drop us a line at If you would like to support this crucial research project, please consider making a donation.


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