Building the Global Privacy Movement

Development and humanitarian actors have a mandate to provide assistance and protect people in some of the world's most challenging political, social, economic, and technological environments. Over the past decade, they have been experiencing changes to their relationships with their beneficiaries and affected populations as well as their contexts of engagement including the pressure to be efficient and demands to be accountable, the need to gain and sustain access and proximity to beneficiaries and affected populations, and the urgency and immediacy of the response required, amongst others.

This means mean that they have had to re-think how they continue to effectively deliver their mandates as well as how they design and implement their modes of operations. These new modes of operations, and the new relationships they entail are increasingly mediated, enabled, enhanced, and limited by technologies. This all results in a significantly different set of risks, which currently many humanitarian actors are not prepared for, and must be addressed urgently.

There is no question that advancements in technology, communications and data-intensive systems have significantly changed the way development programmes are delivered and humanitarian assistance can be provided to ensure more people can benefit, more rapidly and more effectively. We are seeing the deployment of mass biometric systems for the registry of beneficiaries and the management of their access to aid, new technologies are being deployed for the delivery of aid programmes including automated decision-making and blockchain, and all of this within a general dominant discourse favouring the need for more data to better assist and respond to needs of beneficiaries. 

In this complex interplay of assessing the benefits and the challenges, it is necessary and urgent to understand how technology is modifying the protection of those assisted, and ultimately how this impact the ability of development and humanitarian organisations to undertake their mandate in an ever-challenging environment whilst abiding by the principle of “do not harm”.

This global movement is particularly important in the Global South, where the laws safeguarding privacy are still being written, and we have the potential to provide a template for better protection of privacy for people everywhere. Privacy International is working with and equipping advocates worldwide to engage in this essential fight.

Since 1990 our strategy has been to build a global movement through working with others. We have worked with a wide variety of people - from leading civil society institutions to emerging activists, international organisations to advocates, policy-makers to refugees.

Over the past ten years Privacy International has supported organisations to build an innovative global network of leaders on privacy. We have developed resources for dozens of organisations across the Global South to expand their capabilities to advocate for effective privacy protections.

We do this because the fight for privacy is truly a global one. Innovations in technology, data protection policy and governance of surveillance are rapidly being deployed and tested in the Global South.

Surveillance innovations and data exploitation may have been born in wealthier countries, or tested by powerful authoritarian regimes, but governments in the Global South are now the ones driving these radical changes. While many of these innovations are becoming synonymous with progress, prosperity and development, there are numerous hazardous implications for privacy and other human rights.

Our work over the years has uncovered how many governments in the Global South are conducting surveillance without strong legal frameworks to protect privacy, freedom of expression and the right to protest, and many other human rights. We need to further understand how systems implemented for government administration or other innovations in the private sectors may lead to unfair targeting, disenfranchising of whole groups and social exclusion.

Whilst these developments are occurring across the world, the implications and consequences are much more acute in countries where good governance and rule of law is weak or non-existent. Too often these countries lack the legal, political and social infrastructure to enforce needed protections. This affects more so those living on the margins of societies.

People should have a role in deciding how their data is processed, exerting control over their information and their lives. Privacy is about autonomy and protecting human dignity, no matter where you live or your economic circumstances. As a result, at PI and with our partners, we take a multi-disciplinary people-centred approach in developing evidence-based principles and standards for privacy.

Privacy International provides the resources to build the global movement. We are leading research and investigations into trends and surveillance systems in countries across the world, to push and inform local, regional and international debates. We are working with our partners to develop advocacy strategies that push for much needed policy changes. We are advocating for the right to privacy to represent the interests of all people across the world.