PI collaborates with The Carter Center's election observation mission in Myanmar
The collaboration with PI seeks to explore how privacy and data protection issues and concerns can be incorporated into election observation methodology and operationalised in the election observation process. The Carter Center is a US based NGO that has been invited to observe 111 elections in 39 countries since 1989.
- Myanmar's national election takes place on November 8th 2020.
- PI is collaborating with The Carter Center to explore how privacy and data protection issues and concerns can be incorporated and operationalised in the election observation methodology and process.
- The aim is to inform recommendations presented to governments and other stakeholders in order to improve privacy and data protection during the election cycle.
PI is collaborating with The Carter Center election observation mission in the run up to and after Myanmar's national election on November 8th. The Carter Center is a US based NGO that has been invited to observe 111 elections in 39 countries since 1989. It has maintained a presence in Myanmar since 2013 when it's office was established in Yangon, and carried out long term observation for the 2015 election as well as 2020. The international election observer mission (IEOM) assesses the electoral process based on Myanmar’s national legislation and its obligations for democratic elections under both regional and international standards and commitments. 2020 is a particularly challenging year for conducting and observing elections due to the spread of Covid 19 and the resulting lockdowns, restrictions and travel quarantines.
The collaboration with PI seeks to explore how privacy and data protection issues and concerns can be incorporated into election observation methodology and operationalised in the election observation process. As elections are increasingly "data driven", election observers (EO's) are increasingly called upon to consider the role of personal data and the digital technologies that are used by all main actors in electoral processes. This is not an easy task. It will require updating existing election observers’ methodologies and acquiring new technical skills.
The long term goal is to ultimately inform recommendations presented to governments and other stakeholders in the post electoral period review in order to improve privacy and data protection during the election cycle, in particular safe storage and management of data collected during voter registration, the security of the voter register itself, data collected and used in campaigning and the accompanying relevant legal framework and safeguards.
We will update this page as the work develops.
Election observation provides an opportunity to assess the level of awareness and concern among key stakeholders as to data privacy and protection in the election cycle, which has a knock on effect to all other areas of life after the election is over. The Carter Center are exploring the issue as it relates to national electoral law and the government's obligations for democratic elections under both regional and international standards and commitments.
The Carter Center is already highlighting issues around the use of personal data, data protection, the impact of citizenship on candidate registration and the disenfranchisement of minorities.
The IEOM's second interim statement published on October 30th reflects on data privacy and protection with regards to the publication of candidates details via an app, including their religious affiliation and ethnic identity. The app, which The Carter Center does not name in the statement, refers to the "mVoter2020" app, criticised by civil society for referring to Rohingya candidates as “Bengali”. The statement also reflects a core data protection principle of "data minimisation", that personal data collection should be limited to only that which is essential for the purpose, and applies it to Myanmar's electoral law. The statement read,
"On Sept 29 the UEC published information via an app providing candidates’ details, including their religious affiliation and ethnic identity. International human rights instruments and Myanmar’s constitution provide for a citizen’s right to privacy. Inherent to the protection of this right is the principle that only essential information required is collected about a person to fulfill legal requirements, and the use of that information must be consistent with the law unless informed consent is provided. The eligibility criteria for candidates as stated in the election law do not require candidates’ religious or ethnic affiliation to be collected."
The Carter Center also reported that "14 candidates have had their candidacies reviewed since certification, of which at least nine were revoked a few weeks into the campaign period. Of these, seven deregistrations were based on citizenship qualifications and were candidates from Muslim or ethnic parties."
PI is in agreement with the Carter Center's reflections, and has noted the following additional concerns.
PI believes that how personal data is used in Myanmar's election is an important pre-cursor to what happens next and into Myanmar's future. Myanmar has no data protection law and yet there are already proposals on the table for data intensive identity systems- a biometric SIM registration system and a new national digital ID scheme.
PI worries that a national digital ID scheme in Myanmar raises serious human rights concerns, due to the close relationship between the current citizenship framework in Myanmar, the provision of identity documents, and the commission of serious human rights violations against minority groups, particularly the Rohingya.
In addition, the UEC postponed the vote in many minority ethnic areas, triggering public concern and five ethnic political parties to issue a joint statement asking the UEC to reconsider. The result is that millions of ethnic minorities are potentially disenfranchised and under represented through the deregistration of candidates.
These actions by the UEC are red flags, demonstrating how minorities could be excluded and discriminated against in future data intensive systems in the current climate. Any post-election recommendations regarding data privacy and protection during the election cycle could provide the basis for developing data protection law and safeguards that provide much needed protection for the people whose lives will be intwined with these data intensive systems for years to come.
This project is part of PI's work on Data and Elections.
In 2019 PI published "Technology, data and elections: A 'checklist' on the election cycle" in order to assist election observers update their working practices to ensure that personal data and digital technology are used to support, rather than undermine, participation in the democratic process and the conduct of free and fair elections.
See The Carter Center's election observation factsheet for more information on how missions are conducted.