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Digital Freedom

Latest news and developments on declining digital freedom and key reports, guidance and tools

Over the past two decades, human rights defenders and activists have increasingly engaged in online organising and advocacy. In 2016, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution which reaffirmed that “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online”. Nonetheless, states around the world continue to filter, monitor, and otherwise obstruct or manipulate the openness of the internet. Companies in the ICT sector can be involved in this limiting of digital freedoms, either directly, or by facilitating violations by governments and/or abuses by other firms.

Digital freedom continues to decline across the globe. Freedom on the Net index 2020 covers trends such as manipulation of social media in democratic processes, shutdowns of mobile and internet service, and attacks on online activists. These obstructions and attacks impact on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, but also create economic costs, affecting entire economies and individual businesses.

Ranking Digital Rights’ 2019 Corporate Accountability Index ranked 24 internet , mobile, and telecommunications companies on their commitments and policies affecting freedom of expression and privacy of users and found that although most companies improved their scores from previous years, most lacked transparency about how they police content or respond to government demands and failed to anticipate and manage privacy and expression risks caused by their business models, and by the deployment of new technologies.

Government use of surveillance technology created by private firms to surveil and monitor human rights defenders is also a serious concern. Given the scale of human rights risks and harms associated with this sector, in June 2019 the then United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, called for an immediate moratorium on the sale, transfer and use of surveillance technology until human rights-compliant regulatory frameworks are in place.

Internet, mobile, and telecommunications companies’ policies and practices can positively affect users’ freedom of expression and privacy, including those of defenders, especially when they work together, such as through the Global Network Initiative (GNI) or the Telecommunications Industry Dialogue (TID), whose company members commit to uphold principles of freedom of expression and privacy.

This page includes the latest news and developments regarding digital freedom and key reports, guidance and tools.

#KeepItOn: Taking internet shutdown cases to court

Access Now press conference at RightsCon Online 2020

Featured contents

#KeepItOn campaign

The #KeepItOn coalition and Shutdown Tracker Optimization Project (STOP) by Access Now track internet shutdowns across the globe and their human rights impacts. Access Now recorded at least 213 shutdowns in 2019, higher than 2018, and found that shutdowns are increasing in number, lasting longer, affecting more people, and targeting vulnerable groups.

2019 Ranking Digital Rights Corporate Accountability Index

The 2019 Ranking Digital Rights Corporate Accountability Index evaluated 24 of the world’s most powerful internet, mobile, and telecommunications companies on their disclosed commitments and policies affecting freedom of expression and privacy of internet users across the world.

OHCHR B-Tech Project

The B-Tech Project seeks to provide authoritative guidance and resources to enhance the quality of implementation of the United National Guiding Principles on Business and Human rights with respect to a selected number of strategic focus areas in the technology space.