SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation

The Role of Data Protection in Safeguarding Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Information

Wednesday , 29 June 2022

While digital technology has empowered LGBTQ+ individuals to find community and access services, the increasing availability and use of connected devices have also created new privacy risks for LGBTQ+ communities. 


On June 22, 2022, the Future of Privacy Forum (FPF), a global non-profit focused on data privacy and protection, and experts from LGBT Tech — a national, nonpartisan group of LGBTQ+ organizations, academics, and technology organizations — released a report analyzing the role of data protection in safeguarding sexual orientation and gender identity information (SOGI).

LGBTQ+ communities have historically been some of the earliest adopters of technology, but they are also apt to experience more severe harm. The report encourages policymakers and organizations to learn from past privacy and LGBTQ+ history to shape what data privacy could look like today while continuing the critical work in reducing bias and risk to mitigate or even avoid individual and collective harms.


“The processing of data about an individual’s sexual orientation and gender identity can carry unique risks for LGBTQ+ individuals and communities,” said Amie Stepanovich, Vice President of U.S. Policy at FPF, who is a co-author of the report. “Organizations need to understand the impacts of processing this data on traditionally marginalized communities and to provide heightened protections, with respect for past and present context, to protect against potential harms.”


FPF and LGBT Tech’s analysis shows that while individuals within the United States population are becoming more likely to accept and identify as LGBTQ+, civil rights protections — including the right to privacy — are under attack and still lag when it comes to protecting LGBTQ+ individuals.


Moreover, FPF and LGBT Tech found that LGBTQ+ individuals are disproportionately impacted by privacy violations online. Today, LGBTQ+ communities still face significant barriers and prejudices from violence and discrimination, harming their right to equality and dignity.


“Ninety-seven percent of LGBTQ+ youth have seen content online that could be described as ‘homophobic, biphobic or transphobic,’” said Christopher Wood, Executive Director of LGBT Tech. Wood was one of the co-authors of the report. “For much of the LGBTQ+ youth, the Internet is the only place they feel safe to express their sexuality and connect with other LGBTQ+ youth. Potential violations can lead to privacy harms in the form of online outings and harassment.”

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