Privacy in the Digital Age and as Understood by Marginalized Groups in Nepal
The concept of privacy, when only explained through a rights perspective, is inherently western and does not capture the nuances of the concept – especially for marginalized communities in Nepal. Thus, the legality of and conversations around privacy need to incorporate perspectives from the marginalized groups to make it inclusive and relevant.
For this study, a series of closed group consultation was conducted with young women, queer, intersex and trans individuals, people with disabilities, and young people from Madhes, to find out their understanding of and experiences around privacy. Discussions took a multifaceted approach to understanding privacy – in how it is relevant in different aspects of their life in both physical and digital spaces, in family and relationships, workplace, social media, etc. and both positive and negative experiences they had while navigating these spaces. Review of Individual Privacy Act, 2018 was also conducted, in this context, to assess the existing policies and gaps within it from a feminist lens.
It was found that the political climate around privacy related regulations homogenizes the experiences of people and undermines the lived experiences of marginalized groups. The understanding of privacy and what they consider ‘private’ is complex and is based on their experience and gender, sexuality and social identity. For some, privacy is inherently linked to their dignity. This leads to them sharing information they want to keep private, with the hope of influencing policy and programmes to allocate more resources to address relevant issues. In terms of digital space, however, some people are found comfortable sharing information that are deemed personal, including on their mental health status, details on sexuality and romantic relationships, etc. The basis for considering what is private or not is guided by desire and mutual interest. However, there are concerns around data privacy breach and increased risks of identity theft and online violence on the hands of social media companies. There is also scepticism when it comes to privacy policies of social media platforms and the targeted ads led the feeling of being surveilled to be more apparent. Despite these risks, there was also mention of finding ways to navigate the system by reviewing privacy policies of the companies and using open source software alternatives.
The privacy related regulations in the country is limited to the binary idea of what information are deemed private or public and they ignore the intersectional lens. However, the consultations suggest that people decide what is private and public circumstantially, depending on the trust we have on the person and if there is a feeling of ‘safety and non-judgement’ but may vary. The trust here is rooted on the idea of consent – whether or not the information is kept private and is consented before sharing further. The study found that the role of multiple stakeholders like the state, media, digital platforms, and other institutions in how they navigate information and identities of individuals needs further examining.