Technology in International Human Rights Law
Debate - 60 Min
The lack of compliance of private tech companies and states with human rights obligations online propels effects of online violence, discrimination, and disinformation on democratic institutions, human rights and the rule of law. There is increasing evidence of the configuration of a more hostile communicative environment towards traditionally discriminated groups and a more polarized and distorted debate towards voices of reference to democracy (academia, journalism, public health, among others). In this context, regulatory proposals emerge globally. While there are complex systems that try to address issues of competition, data protection, interoperability, transparency and due diligence in the public sphere among them, are concerns around fragmentation of the internet, side effects on freedom of expression and privacy and effectiveness of relying solely on regulatory practices arise. Furthermore, in many jurisdictions in Latin America and the Caribbean region and around the world, the regulatory debate is still incipient or even absent. In view of this, soft law principles and rules of international human rights law have been especially relevant to guide alternative frameworks to protect human rights in the online public debate. Responses to the deterioration of the public debate on the internet presented in Europe, in the Americas and in the UN system include digital and information literacy and counter-speech incentives, self-regulatory measures of social media councils and judicial decisions to hold political leaders liable for their speech. However, the discussion on international, regional and national standards in this theme needs to advance in order to fill in the gaps left by the regulatory debate. In this session, the experiences of the inter-American human rights system and the UN Digital compact on the protection of freedom of expression, privacy, dignity, equality and non-discrimination will be explored as part of the contents of IACHR Report on Digital Inclusion and Appropriation and Content Governance, which is in the final comments phase to be published. Moreover, a comparative law approach from different regions will be put in place, including decisions from the European Court of Human Rights and the Colombian Constitutional Court, as representative of an approach from the Americas. This topic promises to integrate the legal, technological and social considerations that are intimately embedded in human rights and freedoms in the Internet. The IACHR Report on Digital Inclusion and Appropriation and Content Governance will be sent later as the proposed paper since it is in the final review stage and it is not public yet.
Interaction between attendees and speakers will be facilitated by both an onsite moderator and an online moderator who will be coordinated to allow the dialogue between both spaces. During the public 15-minute Q&A section, the digital moderator will take the questions via chat from the online attendees and will formulate them for the panelists, while the onsite moderator will do the same with the questions from the onsite attendees. Initially, 5 minutes will be reserved for the online audience, as they will be participating via chat, and the last 10 minutes for the onsite audience. The timing will be calibrated according to the level of participation of each attendee modality.
🔒Inter-American Commision on Human Rights
Pedro Vaca, Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression of the IACHR (OAS), Intergovernmental Organization/ treaty-based international organizations, Americas/Latin America Anna Karin Eneström, permanent representative of Sweden in the United Nations and co-facilitator of the Global Digital Compact, Intergovernmental Organization/ treaty-based international organizations, Europe María Elósegui, judge at the European Court of Human Rights, Europe. Jonathan Bock Ruíz, Director of the Foundation for the Freedom of the Press (FLIP), Civil Society, Latin America Agustina del Campo, Director at the Center for Studies on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information (CELE) at Universidad de Palermo, Civil society, Latin America. Juliana Fonteles da Silveira, Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression of the IACHR (OAS), Intergovernmental Organization/ treaty-based international organizations, Americas/Latin America
Pedro Vaca, Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression of the IACHR (OAS), Intergovernmental Organization/ treaty-based international organizations, Americas/Latin America Anna Karin Eneström, permanent representative of Sweden in the United Nations and co-facilitator of the Global Digital Compact, Intergovernmental Organization/ treaty-based international organizations, Europe María Elósegui, judge at the European Court of Human Rights, Europe.
Jonathan Bock Ruíz
Agustina del Campo
Juliana Fonteles da Silveira
Targets: The deterioration of the digital public debate is a global reality. The volume and speed of disinformation, discrimination, and violence grow in digital spaces affecting our capacities as democratic societies to dialogue and generate rights-respectful agreements for all. The discussion is inserted in the major debate on the full potential of Information and Communication Technologies to foster inclusion, education, dignity and non-discrimination, access to information and other social rights and, therefore, to empower women and vulnerable people's participation in the public debate, as well as promote social justice through digital inclusion. Accountability, oversight, and liability of state and private actors in their engagement and dominance over communication and information are key to achieving those goals. Moreover, the panel plans to delve into the obligations of key actors in the digital platform ecosystem in order to advance the protection of discriminated and dissenting voices as well as the protection of the rule of law and the quality of the public debate as a means to contribute to a safe communication environment in the digital sphere, where major political and social decisions are made. As digital platforms became the central arena to discuss policies and pressing concerns of society, guaranteeing a free, open, safe and equal internet and flow of information online enables the protection of fairness, equality and development.
The current dynamics of freedom of expression on the Internet are characterized by: i) the deterioration of public debate; ii) the need to make the processes, criteria and mechanisms for internet content governance compatible with democratic and human rights standards; and iii) the lack of access, including connectivity and digital literacy. Diverse and reliable information and free, independent and diverse media are effective antidotes to harms
reinforcing state obligations to promote a diverse and safe public debate, including proposing codes of conduct to political parties and public officials; and Fostering media sustainability.
The current dynamics of freedom of expression on the Internet are characterized by at least three aspects: i) the deterioration of public debate; ii) the need to make the processes, criteria and mechanisms for internet content governance compatible with democratic and human rights standards; and iii) the lack of access, including connectivity and digital literacy to enhance civic skills. And this is closely related to dynamics of violence, disinformation, inequalities in the opportunities of participation in the public debate and viralization of extremist content.
Diverse and reliable information and free, independent and diverse media are effective antidotes to these dynamics. Tackling disinformation, violence and human rights violations requires multidimensional multi-stakeholder responses that are well-grounded in the full range of human rights and that brings together regulatory measures, self-regulatory approaches, soft law norms, and policy initiatives.
As people worldwide increasingly rely on the Internet to connect, learn, and consume news, it is imperative to develop connectivity. Access to the Internet is an indispensable enabler of a broad range of human rights, including access to information. An open, free, global, interoperable, reliable and secure Internet for all facilitated individuals’ enjoyment of their rights, including freedoms of expression, opinion, and peaceful assembly is only possible if we have more people accessing and sharing information online.
Additionally, in the informational scenario of media and digital communication, citizens and consumers should “be given new tools to help them assess the origin and likely veracity of news stories they read online”, since the potential to access and spread information in this environment is relatively easily and malicious actors benefit from it to manipulate the public debate. In this sense, critical digital literacy aims to empower users to consume content critically, as a prerequisite for online engagement, by identifying issues of bias, prejudice, misrepresentation and, indeed, trustworthiness. Critical digital literacy, however, should also be about understanding the position of digital media technologies in society. This goes beyond understanding digital media content to include knowledge of the wider socio-economic structures within which digital technologies are embedded: how are social media platforms funded, for instance? What is the role of advertising? To what extent is content free or regulated?
Given their importance for the exercise of rights in the digital age, digital, media and information literacy programmes should be considered an integral part of education efforts. The promotion of digital, media and information literacy must form part of broader commitments by States to respect, protect and fulfil human rights, and by business entities.
Likewise, initiatives to promote journalism are key in facing informational manipulation and distortion, which requires States and private actors to promote the diversity of digital and non-digital media. 38
On the other hand, the role of public officials in the digital public debate is highlighted. It is recalled that state actors must preserve the balance and conditions of the exercise of the right of access to information and freedom of expression; Therefore, such actors should not use public resources to finance content on sites, applications or platforms that spread illicit and violent content and should not promote or encourage stigmatizing discourses. States must observe obligations to promote human rights, which includes promoting the protection of users against online violence. The State has a positive role in creating an enabling environment for freedom of expression and equality, while recognising that this brings potential for abuse.
In this sense, it is worth noting a recent example in Colombia of a decision by the constitutional court that urged political parties and movements to adopt guidelines in their codes of ethics to sanction acts or incitement to online violence.
In this paradigmatic decision, the court recalled the obligation of the State to educate about the seriousness of online violence and gender online violence and to implement measures to prevent, investigate, punish and repair it; and iv) insisted that political actors, parties and movements, due to their importance in a democratic regime, are obliged to promote respect for and defend human rights, a duty that must be reflected in their actions and in their statutes. Additionally, the court determined that the State should adopt the necessary measures to establish a training plan for members and affiliates of political parties and movements on gender perspective and online violence against women in response.
Considering that unlawful and violent narratives are propelled by state actors on the internet through paid advertisement, it is worth noting that these actors should follow specific criteria in the ad market. Any paid contracting for content by state actors or candidates must report through active transparency on the government or political party portals the data regarding the value of the contract, the contracted company and the form of contracting, the content, resource distribution mechanisms, audience segmentation criteria and number of exhibitions.
On the other hand, to make business activity compatible with human rights possible, the Office of the Special Rapporteur reiterates that Internet intermediaries have the responsibility of respecting the human rights of users. In this sense, they should:
- Refrain from infringing human rights and address negative consequences on such rights in which they have some participation, which implies taking appropriate measures to prevent, mitigate and, where appropriate, remedy them. (Principle 11).
- Try to prevent or mitigate negative consequences on human rights directly related to operations, products or services provided by their business relationships, even when they have not contributed to generating them. (Principle 13).
- Adopt a public commitment at the highest level regarding respect for the human rights of users and that is duly reflected in operational policies and procedures (Principle 16).
- Carry out due diligence activities that identify and explain the actual and potential impacts of their activities on human rights (impact assessments), in particular by periodically carrying out analyzes on the risks and effects of their operations.
In conclusion, the challenges facing the digital public debate necessitate a multidimensional approach. Soft law principles, education, self-regulation, and legal mechanisms can together create a robust framework to mitigate the harms we face online.