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B-Tech holds IGF panel on upholding rights in the state-business nexus in the COVID-19 pandemic & beyond

UN Human Rights B-Tech’s IGF panel “Upholding Rights in the State-Business Nexus: C19 and beyond”

On 6 November 2020, B-Tech hosted an open forum at the Internet Governance Forum to explore how human rights can be protected when States cooperate with technology companies, departing from the developments in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The B-Tech Project seeks to provide authoritative guidance and resources to enhance the quality of implementation of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human rights with respect to a selected number of strategic focus areas in the technology space.

The panel set out to explore what are the challenges of upholding human rights in the state-business nexus as set out in the UN Guiding Principles. The panel explored an aspect of the smart mix of measures as included in the UNGPs, the state-business nexus. Recognizing that when States cooperate with, when they procure from or partner with technology companies, States need to take their own role in incentivizing those companies to respect human rights but also make sure that they meet their human rights obligations as they do so. Companies developing new technology products and solutions to fight the spread of the virus, coupled with the rapid and extraordinary government requests for access to user data raises major human rights concerns and questions:

  • How do we protect privacy rights while using technology to address legitimate public health and safety issues?
  • How can we prevent that governments use data about their citizens for nefarious purposes? How do we manage the risk of discriminatory access to information and public health outcomes, or social stigmatization?
  • What is an appropriate timing for rolling back special measures with elevated human rights risks?
  • How does user data need to be governed to uphold purpose limitation (e.g. public health)?

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