Capability Approach

We live in a world where data collection, storage and processing are pervasive. There is a increased push towards adoption of digital technologies in every walk of life — be it access to welfare services, financial services, healthcare, migrants fleeing oppression/conflict. – there is a growing consensus that humans should enjoy the same rights in the digital space as they should in the physical world as evidenced in debates concerning digital technology regulation around the world. An important pillar for the realization of this right is the development of protection mechanisms that allow everyone irrespective of their personal and environmental circumstances to exercise this right. Academics working in the field of privacy and security face an unprecedented challenge to develop inclusive protection mechanisms.

Conventionally, systems are evaluated among a specific group of users within particular contexts for usability. Such evaluations have made significant contribution to technical improvements and bringing individuals at the centre of technology adoption, but they are not enough. Usability assessments are not in a position to identify vulnerable individuals and/or individuals from diverse realities of health, education, ability and socio-political circumstances. These realities are important and can negatively affect the ability of individuals to protect themselves while they engage with digital systems. Consequently, security & privacy becomes a privilege enjoyed by a few.  The thesis of our work is we should move away from utilitarian evaluation of surface features and evaluate what real opportunities individuals have in terms of their education, health and environment to protect themselves. We propose protection mechanisms should be founded upon capability approach-based evaluation of vulnerability, age, education, physical and mental ability, language barriers, gender, access to technology, freedom from oppression among many important contextual factors. This is a paradigm shift from utilitarian evaluation of surface features to a bottom-up assessment of individuals as they are situated within their contexts.

Read REPHRAIN’s Capability Approach Manifesto here.