Technology and Human Rights: Digital Freedom
The internet is an increasingly important tool through which human rights defenders and activists mobilise and advocate. 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 is facing decline globally for the 7th year in a row. Freedom on the Net index 2017 reveals trends such as manipulation of social media in democratic processes, restrictions of virtual private networks (VPNs), censoring of mobile connectivity, attacks on online activists, as well as growing internet shutdowns. These obstructions and attacks impact on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, but also create economic costs, affecting entire economies and individual businesses.
Moreover, governments are now regularly acquiring powerful surveillance technology from private firms, as Surveillance Industry Index shows. According to Privacy International, the surveillance industry routinely disregards human rights considerations, providing repressive regimes with capabilities often used for tracking of defenders. They believe that without proper legal mechanisms to restrain the flow of surveillance technology, this industry “will continue to undermine privacy and facilitate other human rights abuses, as well as undermine international security”. One example in 2017 was the Mexican government’s widespread spying on human rights defenders, through the use of NSO group’s spyware.
Internet, mobile, and telecommunications companies’ policies and practices can also positively affect users’ freedom of expression and privacy, including those of defenders, especially when they work together. Ranking Digital Rights’ data shows that many of the top-scoring companies in 2017 were members of either the Global Network Initiative (GNI) or the Telecommunications Industry Dialogue (TID), whose company members commit to uphold principles of freedom of expression and privacy. You can learn how ICT companies are upholding human rights online and offline here.
Our 2014 Briefing Paper on this sector highlights key human rights issues for ICT firms: censorship; surveillance; privacy; broadening access; supply chain impacts and children's rights.
Related stories and components
Int'l human rights law as the common ground for govts. & cos. to rethink internet content moderation
Author: David Kaye, OneZero
"A New Constitution for Content Moderation", 25 Jun 2019...
UN expert calls for moratorium on the sale, transfer & use of surveillance tools; cites lack of human rights-compliant regulatory frameworks
The 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. In a...
UK: Companies' data collection practices lead to discrimination, MPs told ahead of inquiry into right to privacy
Author: Alex Hern, The Guardian
"Data collection leads to discrimination and self-censorship, MPs told", 19 June 2019...
UN report addresses challenges to freedoms of assembly & association in the digital age, incl. recommendations to cos.
Author: Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association
“Rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association (A/HRC/41/41)”, 21 Jun 2019...
Novalpina Capital promises enhanced respect for human rights at NSO Group following allegations that its technology was used to spy on defenders
Author: Stephanie Kirchgaessner & Jon Swaine, The Guardian
"WhatsApp spyware: UK firm promises new 'respect for human rights' following allegations", 18 Jun 2019...
- Related stories: Novalpina Capital buys spyware co. NSO Group & commits to helping it become more transparent
- Related in-depth areas: Latest news on human rights defenders Technology and Human Rights: Digital Freedom
- Related companies: Facebook Novalpina Capital NSO Group Whatsapp (part of Facebook)
At RightsCon, UN experts urge govts. & cos. to adhere to human rights standards in design & management of digital infrastructure
Author: Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
"UN experts stress links between digital space and human rights at RightsCon, Tunis", 13 Jun 2019...
Author: Access Now
"The State of Internet Shutdowns Around the World: The 2018 #Keepiton Report" 01 Jun 2019...
Eight companies & 17 govts. support Christchurch Call to address terrorist & violent extremist content; civil society expresses concerns with the process
On 15 May 2019, 8 companies, 17 governments, and the European Commission adopted the Christchurch Call, a voluntary commitment to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online. This call was proposed two months after terrorist attacks at two...
Ranking Digital Rights 2019 Index evaluates 24 companies on commitments & policies affecting freedom of expression & privacy
Author: Ranking Digital Rights
2019 RDR Index evaluated 24 companies on 35 indicators examining disclosed commitments, policies, and practices affecting freedom of expression and privacy... RDR Index scores represent the extent to which companies are meeting minimum standards. Yet...
- Related in-depth areas: Technology and Human Rights Technology and Human Rights: Digital Freedom
- Related companies: América Movil Apple AT&T Axiata Baidu Bharti Airtel Deutsche Telekom Etisalat Facebook Kakao Corp Mail.ru Microsoft MTN Ooredoo Orange Samsung Telefónica Telenor Tencent Twitter Verizon Vodafone Yandex