Data Protection and Women
Data protection seems to be the central topic in most discussions pertaining to the Internet, especially after Julian Assange and Edward Snowden decided to publicize classified information that went on to embroil even the heads and ministers of several states. However, little attention is paid to how data protection laws (or lack of them) affect ordinary citizens, particularly women.
Almost every website has “terms and conditions” that users must agree to, before registering or enjoying basic services. These terms and conditions are, by the way, rarely read due to their length and linguistic complexity. Regardless of that, people “accept” the agreement with a simple click, and often provide personal information which the website promises to hold in confidentiality. The promise is either included as a clause within the terms and conditions, or displayed as a prompt before the user can begin to enter his/her information.
Popular job searching websites have spaces for users to enter their personal information, including contact details, such as email address and phone number. While users expect such information to be protected, company employees or website administrators often misuse the data for harassing women.
“I know everything about you,” the stranger on the other side of the phone proclaims flirtatiously. The harasser is persistent in calling even after the woman makes firm, repeated requests to the man, asking him to desist.
Information misuse is not restricted to online means. For instance, it is commonplace in Bangladesh for random men to collect, in exchange for a paltry sum of money, the contact numbers of women from “mobile credit top-up booths.” To escape this, few women used to send their male friends or relatives to the booths. At other times, they would pretend the number belonged to a male. Another similar incident involves men “buying” photos of women from photo-studios – without the explicit knowledge and permission of the women – in order to blackmail the women or to misuse the images.
In another occasion, a woman began receiving unwarranted calls from a stranger who turned out to be an employee at the Department of Immigration and Passports in Bangladesh. Service providers, financial aid cells of universities, and many other institutions have betrayed the women who have placed their trust on these institutions and provided them with their personal information.
Keeping such misuse in mind, mobile phone companies have initiated several solutions, such as the ability to use a pin number (instead of the phone number) in the credit top-up booths and the option to block calls from certain numbers, although the latter process is time-consuming; is not free; and involves limits to the number of people one can block. However, when it comes to online data protection, there is still a great deal to be done.
Public and private institutions need to have policies to protect sensitive data of stakeholders so that the information is not used to harass people. Public and private institutions must be prepared to deal strictly with employees who breach company policies of data protection. Women need to be ensured that their data will be kept confidential and that the collection of such data will not become a new means of harassing them.