The Freedom Online Coalition (FOC), a group of 31 Governments working together to promote Internet freedom, has issued a new joint statement on the human rights impact of cybersecurity laws, policies and practices.It was developed by a multistakeholder task force of governments, civil society and private sector representatives, led by the governments of Estonia and the Netherlands.The Joint Statement was launched at the 2020 Freedom Online Conference in Accra, on February 7, 2020
The joint statement, launched by Germany and Ghana at the 2020 Freedom Online `Conference in Accra, on Thursday 6 February 2020, acknowledges that “in an increasingly digitized world, Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), in particular the Internet, offer countless opportunities: facilitating the acquisition of knowledge and skills, creating financial opportunities, enhancing communication and more.”
It however points out that there is a persistent plural digital divide which leads to lack of digital inclusion and prevents people from realizing the full potential and benefits provided by the Internet.The plural digital divide manifest in discrepancies in access which exists across demographics and abilities, including geography, area/location, gender, class, ethnic background and differently abled individuals
The statement calls for long-lasting measures that address access and use of the Internet in order to address the multiple digital divides.
It notes that given the complex and broad nature of the digital divides, it is important that efforts to address inclusion involve all relevant stakeholders. This vital multi-stakeholder model of governance, according to the statement, requires effective partnership between the private and the public sector as well as the private sector and civil society through fora like the Internet Governance Forum (IGF).
One of the key challenges it identified in ensuring that all relevant stakeholders coherently and systematically engage in promoting digital inclusion and thereby contribute to an open and interoperable Internet is the need for reliable data and metrics.To address this challenge, the statement says “there is a crucial need for governments to gather better and more consistent data in cooperation with the private sector and institutions responsible for collecting data, disaggregated to provide information across demographic groups for those who face challenges to digital inclusion.” It adds that the private sector should be encouraged to share anonymized data within ethical, privacy-protecting frameworks and in accordance with data protection laws.
Additionally, it encourages governments to work with the private sector and civil society to create a regulatory environment, which provides for open, interoperable, reliable and secure Internet services that empower users, build trust and foster transparency.
The statement emphasized that efforts by governments to address the negative implications must themselves be consistent with international human rights obligations and so in addressing the issues, governments should adopt human rights-based approaches to access as an important enabler of digital inclusion that both encourages open dialogue online while providing safeguards for vulnerable populations.
To address the identified challenges and to advance the common goal of promoting digital inclusion, the FOC suggested a number of actions.
The FOC called for the conduct and support of good quality, independent research, on supply and demand-side challenges affecting digital inclusion and digital divides. The research activities, it said, should investigate existing and emerging issues related to digital access that may negatively affect digital inclusion by deterring Internet use, such as human rights violations and abuses relating to privacy, online abuse, censorship, surveillance and other cybersecurity methods that limit individuals’ ability to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms. In addition, it called on Governments to also encourage more efforts by the private sector to publish independent, research-based reviews on their data sets, conducted within an ethical, privacy-protective framework.
The FOC recommended that civil society organizations should be supported in their efforts to address barriers and bottlenecks to digital access, cybersecurity risks, and on how to develop policy that drives positive outcomes related to the improved access and use of digital technologies.
In addition, it recommended that all stakeholders should be encouraged to share best practices on issues pertaining to bridging digital divides, especially in support of community networks, and enabling digital inclusion, and that governments should play a supportive role in facilitating this.
To download and read the full statement, please click on FOC Joint Statement on Digital Inclusion.