Category: Human rights principles
Address: c/o Campus Biotech, Chemin des Mines 9, 1202 Geneva, Switzerland
The SDI is an independent, non-profit foundation based in Geneva, founded in 2020 by digital Switzerland under the patronage of Federal Councillor Ueli Maurer. The SDI pursues concrete projects to secure ethical standards and promote responsible conduct in the digital world. It brings together academia, government, civil society, and business to find solutions to strengthen trust in digital technologies and in the actors involved in ongoing digital transformation.
The ethical challenges of digitalisation should be tackled through a multistakeholder approach, with public and private sector initiatives so that the full potential of digital technologies can be unleashed to serve communities and society.
To realise this ambition, the SDI seeks to enable a high-quality global conversation on the ethics of digitalisation.
The SDI subscribes to the following principles in its work:
- Inclusiveness: Commit to a participatory and inclusive process open to all relevant and interested stakeholders.
- Awareness: Take into account other relevant initiatives and research projects within the sphere of digital ethics.
- Transparency: Guarantee transparent communication with stakeholders and the public.
- Agility: Ensure flexibility and agility to allow for experimentation and innovation, balancing benefits with risks.
- Responsiveness: Enable appropriate responses to emerging dangers unforeseen during the development of new digital processes.
- Sustainability: Strive for minimal impact on resources.
- Benevolence: Put people’s rights and needs (as enshrined in principles such as autonomy and fairness) at the heart of progress.
- Accountability: Commit to acting responsibly and in accordance with applicable data protection laws.
The SDI works on concrete projects to put into practice ethical standards in the digital age and focus on the following three areas: Digital Trust, AI Ethics, and Digital Responsibility in Practice.
With the growing awareness of the importance of digital trust, more than 50 national and international initiatives are dealing with certification and the development of criteria and labels for the responsible use of new technologies. To foster collaboration among like-minded initiatives, the SDI has compiled a comprehensive report on the digital trust ecosystem. The report Labels and Certifications for the Digital World – Mapping the International Landscape takes a closer look at 12 of the most relevant initiatives and analyses success factors as well as similarities and differences compared to the Digital Trust Label (DTL) by the SDI. In addition, it provides an interactive overview that is regularly updated to keep track of the dynamic Digital Trust Ecosystem.
The Digital Trust Whitepaper provides a comprehensive overview of the dynamic digital trust ecosystem. The compiled knowledge should form the basis for better cooperation and knowledge sharing. Instead of fragmentation, more cooperation is needed to define internationally valid labels and standards. It also provides the theoretical background for the SDI’s ongoing engagement in different working groups, for example, the Working Group on Digital Trust of the World Economic Forum.
To assess the Swiss population’s mindset regarding trust in the digital world, a qualitative study Digital Trust from the User’s Perspective was carried out in November 2019.
In a trend map Landscape of the Digital Economy and Society, the trends identified further increase the importance of trustworthy digital services.
Digital policy issues
Digital Trust Label
Digital Trust is a cornerstone of a successful digital transformation. The first worldwide DTL was launched in January 2022. The DTL shows that a digital application meets mandatory criteria and thus a certain standard. It also creates more information and transparency for users regarding four aspects of the application: security, data protection, reliability of the application, and fair user interaction (use of AI).
Benefits for all stakeholders:
- Compliance with a specific standard: The digital application meets 35 different criteria in 4 aspects.
- More transparency and information: Users understand what happens with their data and whether an algorithm makes a decision.
- Responsible companies: The DTL shows that a digital application provider takes its responsibilities towards users seriously.
Priority in addressing Digital Trust should be given to digital services that are used in fields where
- the handled data is very sensitive the consequences of using digital services matter greatly;
- there is not much choice in whether to use a digital service; and
- digital services are rolled out at a high pace and on a large scale.
This particularly concerns digital services in healthcare, the public sector, the media sector, banking and insurance, HR, and the education sector.
Artificial intelligence ethics
As part of ongoing efforts to raise awareness for the importance of digital responsibility and ethics in AI, the SDI has partnered up with the renowned Geneva School of Art and Design (HEAD) to create the interactive experience Adface. The web-based tool uses AI to analyse a person’s face and create a user profile to produce targeted advertisements that could fit the user profile. This simple tool shows that AI is already deeply embedded in and influencing everyday life (how AI algorithms influence decisions or automate a person’s decisions). Art and design can be valuable allies for raising awareness and stimulating critical thinking around the societal implications of new technologies.
The SDI is currently conducting a project with IMD Lausanne to gather best practices when it comes to implementing principles of corporate digital responsibility (CDR) and to create a starter kit with lessons, common challenges, inspiration, and additional resources to facilitate the adoption of CDR within organisations.
Future of meetings
House of Switzerland at the World Economic Forum 2022 – Event on Pioneering Digital Trust – A Commitment to Digital Responsibility together with the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.
As part of the Swiss digital days, the SDI conducted an event series to look at AI ethics from the perspective of the public and the private sector and to discuss scenarios for the future. Find the event summaries here:
- What to Consider When Using AI in the Public Sector?
- Expectations for the Private Sector in AI Ethics
- Exploring Future Trends Together
The SDI and Swissnex China partnered to conduct an expert talk on digital trust and the label criteria: TechTalk on Pioneering Digital Trust.
Additional resources about the Digital Trust Label in the SDI library
- SDI Annual Report 2021
- Labels and Certifications for the Digital World
- The Digital Trust Label in a Nutshell
- DTL Code of Practice
- DTL Criteria Catalogue
- Report Co-Development Process
- Recommendations of the Experts Committee
- User Study Digital Trust Switzerland
- Global Digital Trust Label User Study
- Second Public Consultation Report June 2021
Address: Palais Wilson 52, Rue des Pâquis, 1201 Geneva, Switzerland
Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and other related UN human rights entities, namely the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Special Procedures, and the Treaty Bodies are considered together under this section.
The UN Human Rights Office is headed by the OHCHR and is the principal UN entity on human rights. Also known as UN Human Rights, it is part of the UN Secretariat. UN Human Rights has been mandated by the UN General Assembly (UNGA) to promote and protect all human rights. As such, it plays a crucial role in supporting the three fundamental pillars of the UN: peace and security, human rights, and development. UN Human Rights provides technical expertise and capacity development in regard to the implementation of human rights, and in this capacity assists governments in fulfilling their obligations.
UN Human Rights is associated with a number of other UN human rights entities. To illustrate, it serves as the secretariat for the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and the Treaty Bodies. The UNHRC is a body of the UN that aims to promote the respect of human rights worldwide. It discusses thematic issues, and in addition to its ordinary session, it has the ability to hold special sessions on serious human rights violations and emergencies. The ten Treaty Bodies are committees of independent experts that monitor the implementation of the core international human rights treaties.
The UNHRC established the Special Procedures, which are made up of UN Special Rapporteurs (i.e. independent experts or working groups) working on a variety of human rights thematic issues and country situations to assist the efforts of the UNHRC through regular reporting and advice. The Universal Periodic Review (UPR), under the auspices of the UNHRC, is a unique process that involves a review of the human rights records of all UN member states, providing the opportunity for each state to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries. UN Human Rights also serves as the secretariat to the UPR process.
Certain non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and national human rights institutions participate as observers in UNHRC sessions after receiving the necessary accreditation.
Digital issues are increasingly gaining prominence in the work of UN Human Rights, the UNHRC, the Special Procedures, the UPR, and the Treaty Bodies.
A landmark document that provides a blueprint for digital human rights is the UNHRC resolution (A/HRC/20/8) on the promotion, protection, and enjoyment of human rights on the internet, which was first adopted in 2012, starting a string of regular resolutions with the same name addressing a growing number of issues. All resolutions affirm that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online. Numerous other resolutions and reports from UN human rights entities and experts considered in this overview tackle an ever-growing range of other digital issues including the right to privacy in the digital age; freedom of expression and opinion; freedom of association and peaceful assembly; the rights of older persons; racial discrimination; the rights of women and girls; human rights in the context of violent extremism online; economic, social, and cultural rights; human rights and technical standard-setting; business and human rights; and the safety of journalists.
Digital policy issues
In 2018, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression presented a report to the UNGA on Artificial Intelligence (AI) Technologies and Implications for the Information Environment. Among other things, the document addresses the role of AI in the enjoyment of freedom of opinion and expression including ‘access to the rules of the game when it comes to AI-driven platforms and websites’ and therefore urges for a human rights-based approach to AI.
For her 2020 thematic report to the Human Rights Council, the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance analysed different forms of racial discrimination in the design and use of emerging technologies, including the structural and institutional dimensions of this discrimination. She followed up with reports examining how digital technologies, including AI-driven predictive models, deployed in the context of border enforcement and administration reproduce, reinforce, and compound racial discrimination.
In 2020, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination published its General Recommendation No. 36 on preventing and combating racial profiling by law enforcement officials (CERD/C/GC/36), which focuses on algorithmic decision-making and AI in relation to racial profiling by law enforcement officials.
Child safety online (1)
The issue of child safety online has garnered the attention of UN human rights entities for some time. A 2016 resolution on Rights of the Child: Information and Communications Technologies and Child Sexual Exploitation adopted by the UNHRC calls on states to ensure ‘full, equal, inclusive, and safe access […] to information and communications technologies by all children and safeguard the protection of children online and offline’, as well as the legal protection of children from sexual abuse and exploitation online. The Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, including child prostitution, child pornography, and other child sexual abuse material, mandated by the UNHRC to analyse the root causes of sale and sexual exploitation and pro- mote measures to prevent it, also looks at issues related to child abuse, such as the sexual exploitation of children online, which has been addressed in a report (A/ HRC/43/40) published in 2020, but also in earlier reports.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child published its General Comment No. 25 on Children’s Rights in Relation to the Digital Environment (CRC/C/GC/25), which lays out how states parties should implement the convention in relation to the digital environment and provides guidance on relevant legislative, policy, and other measures to ensure full compliance with their obligations under the convention and optional protocols in the light of opportunities, risks, and challenges in promoting, respecting, protecting, and fulfilling all children’s rights in the digital environment.
UN Human Rights maintains an online platform consisting of a number of databases on anti-discrimination and jurisprudence, as well as the Universal Human Rights Index (UHRI), which provides access to recommendations issued to countries by Treaty Bodies, Special Procedures, and the UPR of the UNHCR.
UN Human Rights also published a report titled A Human Rights-Based Approach to Data – Leaving no one Behind in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that specifically focuses on issues of data collection and disaggregation in the context of sustainable development.
UN Human Rights has worked closely with partners across the UN system in contributing to the Secretary-General’s 2020 Data Strategy, and co-leads, with the Office of Legal Affairs and UN Global Pulse, work on the subsequent Data Protection and Privacy Program.
UN Human Rights launched the Guiding Principles in Technology Project (B-Tech Project) to provide guidance and resources to companies operating in the technology space with regard to the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs on BHR). Following the publication of a B-Tech scoping paper in 2019, several foundational papers have delved into a broad range of business-related issues, from business-model-related human rights risks to access to remedies. At the heart of the B-Tech project lies multistakeholder engagement, informing all of its outputs. The B-Tech project is enhancing its engagement in Africa, working with technology company operators, investors, and other key digital economy stakeholders, including civil society, across Africa in a set of African economies and their tech hubs to create awareness of implementing the UNGPs on BHR.
Following a multistakeholder consultation held on 7–8 March 2022, the High Commissioner presented her report on UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and Technology Companies (A/HRC/50/56), which demonstrated the value and practical application of the UNGPs in preventing and addressing adverse human rights impacts by technology companies.
Extreme poverty (2)
The Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights has in recent years increased his analysis of human rights issues arising in the context of increased digitisation and automation. His 2017 report to the General Assembly tackled the socio-economic challenges in an emerging world where automation and AI threaten traditional sources of income and analysed the promises and possible pitfalls of introducing a universal basic income. His General Assembly report in 2019 addressed worrying trends in connection with the digitisation of the welfare state. Moreover, in his 2022 report to the UNHRC on non-take-up of rights in the context of social protection, the Special Rapporteur highlighted, among other things, the benefits and considerable risks associated with automation of social protection processes.
Geneva-based human rights organisations and mechanisms have consistently addressed content policy questions, in particular in the documents referred under Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association. Other contexts where content policy plays an important role include Rights of the Child, Gender Rights Online, and Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Moreover, the use of digital technologies in the context of terrorism and violent extremism is closely associated with content policy considerations.
UN Human Rights, at the request of the UNHRC, prepared a compilation report in 2016, which explores, among other issues, aspects related to the prevention and countering of violent extremism online, and underscores that responses to violent extremism that are robustly built on human rights are more effective and sustainable.
Additional efforts were made in 2019 when the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism published a report where she examined the multifaceted impacts of counter-terrorism measures on civic space and the rights of civil society actors and human rights defenders, including measures taken to address vaguely defined terrorist and violent extremist content. In July 2020, she published a report discussing the human rights implications of the use of biometric data to identify terrorists and recommended safeguards that should be taken.
Collaboration within the UN system
UN Human Rights is a member of the Secretary-General’s Reference Group and contributed to the development of his Strategy on New Technologies in 2018. The OHCHR was co-champion of the follow-up on two human-rights-related recommendations of the Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation. The outcomes of this process were the basis of the Secretary-General’s Roadmap on Digital Cooperation, presented in June 2020.
As part of the implementation of the Secretary-General’s Call to Action for Human Rights, UN Human Rights launched the UN Hub for Human rights and Digital Technology, which provides a central repository of authoritative guidance from various UN human rights mechanisms on the application of human rights norms to the use and governance of digital technologies.
Moreover, as requested by the Secretary-General’s Roadmap to Digital Cooperation and the Secretary-General’s Call to Action for Human Rights, UN Human Rights is leading a UN system-wide process to develop a human rights due diligence guidance (HRDD) for digital technology. The HRDD guidance in development pertains to the application of human rights due diligence and human rights impact assessment related to the UN’s design, development, procurement, and use of digital technologies, and is expected to be completed by the end of 2022.
UN Human Rights participated in the UNESCO-led process to develop ethical standards for AI. With its aim to protect human rights and serve as an ethical guidance compass in the use of AI, UNESCO recommendation on the Ethics of AI was adopted by UNESCO member states at UNESCO’s General Conference in November 2021. As a strong contributor to the Inter-Agency Working Group on AI, UN Human Rights also provided feedback on the ethical principles of AI for the UN system.
In addition, UN Human Rights is a member of the Legal Identity Agenda Task Force, which promotes solutions for the implementation of SDG target 16.9 (i.e. by 2030, provide legal identity for all, including birth registration). It leads its work on exclusion and discrimination in the context of digitised identity systems.
Rapid advancements in neurotechnology and neuroscience, while holding promises of medical benefits and scientific breakthroughs, present a number of human rights and ethical challenges. Against this backdrop, UN Human Rights has been contributing significantly to an inter-agency process led by the Executive Office of the Secretary-General to develop a global roadmap for effective and inclusive governance of neurotechnology.
Secretary-General’s Report on Our Common Agenda
Since the adoption of A/RES/76/6 on Our Common Agenda in November 2021, the follow-up by the UN system has been underway. UN Human Rights is co-leading several proposals in collaboration with other entities, notably on the application of the human rights framework in the digital sphere, mitigation and prevention of internet shutdowns, and disinformation.
Privacy and data protection
Challenges to the right to privacy in the digital age, such as surveillance, communications interception, and the increased use of data-intensive technologies, are among some of the issues covered by the activities of UN Human Rights. At the request of the UNGA and the UNHRC, the High Commissioner prepared four reports on the right to privacy in the digital age. The first report, presented in 2014, addressed the threat to human rights caused by surveillance by governments, in particular mass surveillance. The ensuing report, published in September 2018, identified key principles, standards, and best practices regarding the promotion and protection of the right to privacy. It outlined minimum standards for data privacy legal frameworks. In September 2021, the High Commissioner presented a ground-breaking report on AI and the right to privacy (A/HRC/48/31), in which she called for a ban on AI applications that are incompatible with international human rights law, and stressed the urgent need for a moratorium on the sale and use of AI systems that pose serious human rights risks until adequate safeguards are put in place. In September 2022, the High Commissioner presented a report focusing on the abuse of spyware by public authorities, the key role of encryption in ensuring the enjoyment of human rights in the digital age, and the widespread monitoring of public spaces.
The UNHRC also tackles online privacy and data protection. Resolutions on the promotion and protection of human rights on the internet have underlined the need to address security concerns on the internet in accordance with international human rights obligations to ensure the protection of all human rights online, including the right to privacy. The UNHRC has also adopted specific resolutions on the right to privacy in the digital age, addressing issues such as mass surveillance, AI, the responsibility of business enterprises, and the key role of the right to privacy as an enabler of other human rights. Resolutions on the safety of journalists have emphasised the importance of encryption and anonymity tools for journalists to freely exercise their work. Two resolutions on new and emerging technologies (2019 and 2021) have further broadened the lens, for example by asking for a report on the human rights implications of technical standard-setting processes.
The UNHRC has also mandated the Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy to address the issue of online privacy in its Resolution on the Right to Privacy in the Digital Age from 2015 (A/HRC/RES/28/16). To illustrate, the Special Rapporteur has addressed the question of privacy from the stance of surveillance in the digital age (A/HRC/34/60), which becomes particularly challenging in the context of cross-border data flows. More recently, specific attention has been given to the privacy of health data that is being produced more and more in the day and age of digitalisation, and that requires the highest legal and ethical standards (A/HRC/40/63). In this vein, in 2020, the Special Rapporteur examined data protection and surveillance in relation to COVID-19 and contact tracing in his preliminary report (A/75/147), in which he provided a more definitive analysis of how pandemics can be managed with respect to the right to privacy (A/76/220) in 2021. In another 2020 report (A/HRC/43/52), the Special Rapporteur provides a set of recommendations on privacy in the online space calling for, among other things, ‘comprehensive protection for secure digital communications, including by promoting strong encryption and anonymity- enhancing tools, products, and services, and resisting requests for “backdoors” to digital communications’ and recommending that ‘government digital identity programs are not used to monitor and enforce societal gender norms, or for purposes that are not lawful, necessary, and proportionate in a democratic society.’
The Special Rapporteur also addressed the challenges of AI and privacy, as well as children’s privacy, particularly the role of privacy in supporting autonomy and positive participation of children in society, in his report in 2021 (A/HRC/46/37).
Lastly, in 2022, the Special Rapporteur examined developments in privacy and data protection in Ibero- America in her report titled Privacy and Personal Data Protection in Ibero-America: A Step Towards Globalization? (A/HRC/49/55).
Freedom of expression
The High Commissioner and her office advocate for the promotion and protection of freedom of expression, including in the online space. Key topics in this advocacy are the protection of the civic space and the safety of journalists online; various forms of information control, including internet shutdowns and censorship; addressing incitement to violence, discrimination, or hostility; disinformation; and the role of social media platforms in the space of online expression.
Freedom of expression in the digital space also features highly on the agenda of the UNHRC. It has often been underlined that states have a responsibility to ensure adequate protection of freedom of expression online, including when they adopt and implement measures aimed at dealing with issues such as cybersecurity, incitement to violence, and the promotion and distribution of extremist content online. The UNHRC has also been firm in condemning measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or the dissemination of information online, and has called on states to refrain from and cease such measures.
In 2021, at the request of the UNHRC A/HRC/47/22, the High Commissioner prepared a report on internet shutdowns (A/HRC/50/55), which looks at trends in internet shutdowns, analysing their causes, their legal implications, and their impact on a range of human rights, including economic, social, and cultural rights. She called on states to refrain from the full range of internet shutdowns and for companies to uphold their responsibilities to respect human rights. She stressed the need for development agencies, and regional and international organisations to bridge their digital connectivity efforts with efforts related to internet shutdowns.
UN Human Rights also weighs in on a range of law-making processes that are relevant to the exercise of the right to freedom of expression. For example, it has engaged with the development of the EU Digital Services Act, commented extensively on global trends in regulating social media, and participated in the process of elaborating a Comprehensive International Convention on Countering the Use of Information and Communications Technologies for Criminal Purposes.
Special Rapporteurs on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression have been analysing issues relating to free expression in the digital space for more than a decade. Reports in the first half of the 2010s already addressed the importance of universal access to the internet for the enjoyment of human rights, free expression in the context of elections, and the adverse impacts of government surveillance on free expression. In 2018, the Special Rapporteur published a report on online content regulation. It tackles governments’ regulation of user-generated online content, analyses the role of companies, and recommends that states should ensure an enabling environment for online freedom of expression and that businesses should rely on human rights law when designing their products and services. The same year, he also presented to the UNGA a report addressing freedom of expression issues linked to the use of AI by companies and states. A year later, the Special Rapporteur presented a report to the UNGA on online hate speech that discusses the regulation of hate speech in international human rights law and how it provides a basis for governmental actors considering regulatory options and for companies determining how to respect human rights online.
In 2020, the Special Rapporteur issued Disease Pandemics and the Freedom of Opinion and Expression, a report that specifically tackles issues such as access to the internet, which is highlighted to be ‘a critical element of healthcare policy and practice, public information, and even the right to life’. The report calls for greater international coordination on digital connectivity given the importance of digital access to healthcare information. Other reports addressed the vital importance of encryption and anonymity for the exercise of freedom of opinion and the threats to freedom of expression emanating from widespread digital surveillance.
The Special Rapporteur, while acknowledging the complexities and challenges posed by disinformation in the digital age, noted that responses by states and companies to counter disinformation have been inadequate and detrimental to human rights. In her 2021 report Disinformation and Freedom of Opinion and Expression (A/HRC/47/25), she examined the threats posed by disinformation to human rights, democratic institutions, and development processes, and called for multidimensional and multistakeholder responses to disinformation that are well grounded in the international human rights framework and urged companies to review their business models and states to recalibrate their responses to disinformation.
More recently, in 2022, the Special Rapporteur issued Reinforcing Media Freedom and the Safety of Journalists in the Digital Age (A/HRC/50/29), a report in which she calls on states and the international community to strengthen multistakeholder cooperation to protect and promote media freedom and the safety of journalists in the digital age, and ensure independence, pluralism, and viability of the media. She also calls on digital services companies and social media platforms to respect the UNGPs on BHR.
Online hate speech and discrimination have also been addressed by the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief. For instance, in a report published in 2019, the online manifestation of antisemitism (including antisemitic hate speech) was underscored, and best practices from the Netherlands and Poland were shared. The report highlights that governments ‘have an affirmative responsibility to address online antisemitism, as the digital sphere is now the primary public forum and marketplace for ideas’. In another document published that same year, the Special Rapporteur assesses the impact of online platforms on discrimination and on the perpetuation of hostile and violent acts in the name of religion, as well as how restrictive measures such as blocking and filtering of websites negatively impact the freedom of expression.
The issue of online blasphemy and undue limitations on expressing critical views of religions and beliefs imposed by governments has also been addressed on a number of occasions, including in a report from 2018.
Gender rights online (3)
UN Human Rights and the UNHRC have reiterated on several occasions the need for countries to bridge the gender digital divide and enhance the use of ICTs, including the internet, to promote the empowerment of all women and girls. It has also condemned gender-based violence committed on the internet. Implementing a 2016 UNHRC resolution on the Promotion, Protection, and Enjoyment of Human Rights on the Internet, the High Commissioner on Human Rights in 2017 prepared a report on Ways to Bridge the Gender Digital Divide from a Human Rights Perspective.
Rights of persons with disabilities
The promotion and protection of the rights of persons with disabilities in the online space have been addressed on several occasions by the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities. A report from 2016 underscored that ICTs including the internet can increase the participation of persons with disabilities in public decision-making processes and that states should work towards reducing the access gap between those who can use ICTs and those who cannot.
Nevertheless, a report from 2019 stressed that the shift to e-governance and service delivery in a digital manner can hamper access for older persons with disabilities who may lack the necessary skills or equipment.
The Special Rapporteur also examined the opportunities and risks posed by AI, including discriminatory impacts in relation to AI in decision-making systems. In his 2021 report (A/HRC/49/52), the Special Rapporteur emphasises the importance of disability-inclusive AI and the inclusion of persons with disabilities in conversations about AI.
Freedom of peaceful assembly and association
The exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association in the digital environment in recent years has attracted increased attention. For example, the High Commissioner presented to the 44th session of the UNHRC a report on new technologies such as ICTs and their impact on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of assemblies, including peaceful protests. The report highlighted many of the great opportunities for the exercise of human rights that digital technologies offer, analysed key issues linked to online content takedowns, and called on states to stop the practice of network disruptions in the context of protests. It also developed guidance concerning the use of surveillance tools, in particular facial recognition technology.
The Human Rights Committee published in July 2020 its General Comment No. 37 on Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) (right of peaceful assembly), which addresses manifold aspects arising in the digital context.
The Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in 2019 published a report for the UNHRC focusing on the opportunities and challenges facing the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in the digital age. In following reports, he condemned the widespread practice of internet shutdowns and raised concerns about technologically mediated restrictions on free association and assembly in the context of crises.
Technical standard-settings and human rights
The UNHRC adopted resolution A/HRC/RES/47/23 on new and emerging digital technologies and human rights, which requested UN Human Rights to convene an expert consultation and write a report discussing the relationship between human rights and technical standard-setting processes for new and emerging digital technologies. The expert consultation and the report will be presented in 2023 at the UNHRC.
As requested by the UNHRC, in its resolution A/HRC/ RES/47/23, the High Commissioner presented her report on UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and Technology Companies (A/HRC/50/56), following the multistakeholder consultation held on 7–8 March 2022. The High Commissioner’s report demonstrated the value and practical application of the UNGPs in preventing and addressing adverse human rights impacts by technology companies
The UNHRC has developed an e-learning tool to assist government officials from least-developed countries and small island developing states (SIDS) as per the mandate of the Trust Fund to develop competencies on the UNHRC and its mechanisms.
Future of meetings
For more information, visit the UN Human Rights meetings and events page.
Address: 7bis, Avenue de la Paix, CH-1202 Geneva
Stakeholder group: NGOs and associations
The Geneva Internet Plaform (GIP) is a Swiss initiative operated by DiploFoundation that strives to engage digital actors, foster digital governance, and monitor digital policies.
It aims to provide a neutral and inclusive space for digital policy debates, strengthen the participation of small and developing countries in Geneva-based digital policy processes, support activities of Geneva-based Internet governance (IG) and ICT institutions and initiatives, facilitate research for an evidence-based, multidisciplinary digital policy, bridge various policy silos, and provide tools and methods for in situ and online engagement that could be used by other policy spaces in International Geneva and worldwide. The GIP’s activities are implemented based on three pillars: a physical platform in Geneva, an online platform and observatory, and a dialogue lab.
Address: Palais Wilson 52, rue des Pâquis, CH-1201 Geneva, Switzerland
Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations
The Human Rights Council is a United Nations intergovernmental body whose mandate is to strengthen the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe, and to make recommendations on cases of human rights violations. The Council is made up of 47 member states, as elected by the UN General Assembly.
The Council works closely with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), headed by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, who is the principal human rights official of the United Nation.
Freedom of expression and privacy in the online space are two of the issues covered by the Council in its activities. These have been discussed at UNHRC sessions, and covered in resolutions adopted by the Council, as well as in reports elaborated by the special rapporteurs appointed by the Council. The Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression has issued reports on issues such as: the use of encryption and anonymity to exercise the rights to freedom of opinion and expression in the digital age; states’ surveillance of communications on the exercise of the human rights to privacy and to freedom of opinion and expression; the right to freedom of opinion and expression exercised through the Internet; etc. The Special Rapporteur on the righ to privacy has within its mandate the responsibility to make recommendations for the promotion and protection of the right to privacy, including in connection with challenges arising from new technologies.
Address: Palais des Nations, 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations
The IGF provides the most comprehensive coverage of digital policy issues on the global level. The IGF Secretariat in Geneva coordinates both the planning of IGF annual meetings (working together with the Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG) and the wider IGF community) and a series of intersessional activities (run all year long). These activities could be summarised in three ‘multi’ initiatives:
- Multistakeholder participation: It involves governments, business, civil society, the technical community, academia, and other actors who affect or are affected by digital policy This diversity is reflected in IGF processes, events, and consultations.
- Multidisciplinary coverage: It relates to addressing policy issues from technological, legal, security, human rights, economic, development, and sociocultural perspectives. For example, data, as a governance issue, is addressed from standardisation, e-commerce, privacy, and security perspectives.
- Multilevel approach: It spans IGF deliberations from the local level to the global level, through a network of over 150 national, subregional, and regional IGF They provide context for discussions on digital policy like the real-life impact of digitalisation on policy, economic, social, and cultural fabric of local communities. The IGF Secretariat supports such initiatives (which are independent) and coordinates the participation of the overall network.
The IGF ecosystem converges around the annual IGF, which is attended by thousands of participants. The last few IGFs include Paris (2018), Berlin (2019), online edition due to the pandemic (2020), and Katowice (2021), involving over 10,000 participants, more than 1,000 speakers in over 300 sessions.
The intersessional work includes best practice forums (on issues such as cybersecurity, local content, data and new technologies, and gender and access); dynamic coalitions (on issues such as community connectivity, network neutrality, accessibility and disability, and child safety online etc.); policy networks (on environment, meaningful access and Internet fragmentation); and other projects such as Policy Options for Connecting and Enabling the Next Billion(s) (which ran between 2015 and 2018) as well as a number of capacity development activities.
The IGF mandate was outlined in the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS, November 2005). It was renewed for another 10 years by the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on 16 December 2015, (70/125).
The main functions of the IGF are specified in Article 72 of the Tunis Agenda. The mandate of the Forum is to:
- Discuss public policy issues related to key elements of Internet governance in order to foster the sustainability, robustness, security, stability, and development of the internet.
- Facilitate discourse between bodies dealing with different cross-cutting international public policies regarding the internet and discuss issues that do not fall within the scope of any existing body.
- Interface with appropriate inter-governmental organisations and other institutions on matters under their purview.
- Facilitate the exchange of information and best practices, and in this regard, make full use of the expertise of the academic, scientific, and technical communities.
- Advise all stakeholders in proposing ways and means to accelerate the availability and affordability of the Internet in the developing world.
- Strengthen and enhance the engagement of stakeholders in existing and/or future internet governance mechanisms, particularly those from developing countries.
- Identify emerging issues, bring them to the attention of the relevant bodies and the general public, and where appropriate, make recommendations.
- Contribute to capacity building for internet governance in developing countries, drawing on local sources of knowledge and expertise.
- Promote and assess, on an ongoing basis, the embodiment of WSIS principles in internet governance processes.
- Discuss, inter alia, issues relating to critical internet resources.
- Help to find solutions to the issues arising from the use and misuse of the internet, of particular concern to everyday users.
- Publish its proceedings.
In fulfilling its mandate, the Forum is institutionally supported by the UN Secretariat for the Internet Governance Forum placed with the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA). Its working modalities also include MAG and most recently the Leadership Panel, both appointed by the UN Secretary-General.
Digital policy issues
Until 2019, IGF annual meetings used to host sessions tackling a wide range of digital policy issues (for instance, IGF 2018 had eight themes: cybersecurity, trust, and privacy; development, innovation, and economic issues; digital inclusion and accessibility; human rights, gender, and youth; emerging technologies; evolution of internet governance; media and content; and technical and operational issues). In 2019, in an effort to bring more focus within the IGF, the MAG decided (considering community input) to structure the IGF programme around a limited number of tracks: security, safety, stability, and resilience; data governance; and digital inclusion. This approach was kept for IGF 2020, which saw four thematic tracks: data, environment, inclusion, and trust. The thematic approach did not mean that the IGF saw some digital policy issues as being less relevant than others, but rather that it encouraged discussions at the intersection of multiple issues. The Geneva Internet Platform (GIP) Digital Watch reporting for IGF 2020 and IGF 2019 illustrates this trend, showing that the IGF discussed a wide range of policy issues (across all seven internet governance baskets of issues) within the limited number of thematic tracks.
The leadership panel
In line with the IGF mandate and as recommended in the Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, the UN Secretary-General established the IGF Leadership Panel as a strategic, empowered, multistakeholder body, to address urgent, strategic issues, and highlight Forum discussions and possible follow-up actions to promote greater impact and dissemination of IGF discussions.
More specifically, the Panel provides strategic inputs and advice on the IGF; promotes the IGF and its outputs; supports both high-level and at-large stakeholder engagement in the IGF and IGF fundraising efforts; exchanges IGF outputs with other stakeholders and relevant forums; and feeds input from these decision-makers and forums to the IGF’s agenda-setting process, leveraging relevant MAG expertise.
The 10-member Panel meets at least three times a year.
Future of meetings
Since its first meeting in Athens (2006), the IGF has been a pioneer in online deliberation and hybrid meetings. In addition to individual online participation, the IGF has encouraged the development of a network of remote hubs where participants meet locally while following online deliberations from the global IGF. In this way the IGF has created a unique interplay between local and global deliberations through the use of technology. For hybrid meetings delivered in situ and online, the IGF developed the function of remote moderator, who ensures that there is smooth interplay between online and in situ discussions.
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Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations
EBU is the world’s leading alliance of public service media. It has 112 member organisations in 56 countries and an additional 31 associates in Asia, Africa, Australasia, and the Americas. EBU members operate nearly 2,000 television, radio, and online channels and services, and offer a wealth of content across other platforms.
Together they reach an audience of more than one billion people around the world, broadcasting in more than 160 languages. The EBU operates Eurovision and Euroradio services.
Digital policy issues
EBU members use various types of network infrastructure for the production and distribution of PSM content and services to the entire population. In addition to traditional broadcasting networks – terrestrial, cable, or satellite – media service providers use fixed and wireless IP networks. The EBU’s activities aim to ensure that these networks are capable of meeting the requirements of PSM organisations and their audiences in a technically and economically viable way. This includes technical developments and standardisation in collaboration with industry partners as well as engagement with regulators and policymakers to ensure a suitable regulatory framework for PSM content and services.
The current focus is on broadband distribution infrastructure; distribution over internet platforms; wireless mobile technologies such as 5G; and terrestrial broadcast networks, including access to spectrum.
The governance of the EBU’s technical work is described here: https://tech.ebu.ch/about. The current Technical Committee Workplan is available here https://tech.ebu.ch/publications/tc_workplan_up_to_2023.
Further information about the EBU’s technical work, including the scope of different working groups, can be found at tech.ebu.ch.
Following the start of the war in Ukraine and the 2021 flooding in Europe, the EBU issued a recommendation to recall the crucial importance of PSM’s delivery to citizens – for this, no single resilient network will suffice.
Since its inception in 1950, the EBU has been mandated by its members to contribute to standardisation work in all technological fields related to media. This work ranges from TV and radio production equipment to the new broadcasting standards for transmission. This mandate has been naturally extended over the years to the field of mobile technologies, as well as online production and distribution.
The EBU hosts the digital video broadcasting (DVB) project, which has developed digital TV standards such as DVB-T/T2 and DVB-S/S2 which are the backbone of digital TV broadcasting around the world. DVB is currently working on an IP-based distribution system and on DVB-I, a new open standard for content distribution over the internet. This work is closely aligned with the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP).
The EBU is an active member of a number of other standards and industry organisations that are developing specifications relevant to media content production and distribution, including major standards developing organisations (SDOs) (e.g. the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), 3GPP, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) but also those with a more focused scope (e.g. Hybrid broadcast broadband TV (HbbTV), DASH Industry Forum (DASH- IF), the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), RadioDNS (1), Word Digital Audio Broadcasting (WorldDAB), Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), the Advanced Media Workflow Association (AMWA), and the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE)). In all these organisations, the EBU’s main objective is to ensure that specifications are capable of meeting the requirements of EBU members and their audiences.
In 2019, the EBU launched a 5G Media Action Group (5G-MAG), an independent non-profit cross-industry association that provides a framework for collaboration between media and information and communications technology (ICT) stakeholders on a market-driven implementation of 5G technologies in content creation, production, distribution, and consumption.
AI and data are central themes for PSM today, especially when it comes to strengthening and personalising relationships with its citizens. The EBU’s AI and Data Group defines the AI and Data Initiative strategy and priorities in order to support EBU members’ data usage and AI- and data-driven strategies. It brings together EBU member delegates and EBU permanent services delegates, who are directly involved in carrying out strategic, managerial, analytical, technological, legal, content-related, or other types of activities related to data usage in their respective organisations.
A prominent example of the EBU’s use of AI is its PEACH (Personalization for EACH) initiative, which has brought together a number of public broadcasters to develop AI-powered tools to deliver the right content to the right audience in accordance with current data protection regulations.
The EBU’s work in the field of net neutrality focuses on assisting its members in coordinating their positions on broadband network neutrality. To this end, it provides expertise and facilitates initiatives and the drafting of documents concerning net neutrality at the EU level. The EBU also encourages its members to exchange experiences from the national level. Net neutrality is addressed as part of the EBU’s Legal and Policy Distribution Group. Net neutrality is seen as a key principle for public service broadcasters to support and advocate for, as it ensures their services are equally accessible by all internet users.
Cybercrime and network security
The EBU has developed a Strategic Programme on Media Cyber Security, aimed mainly at raising awareness among its members of the increasing cybersecurity risks and threats to broadcasting. This initiative also provides a platform for its members to exchange information on security incidents (e.g. phishing campaigns, targeted malware attacks), as well as on lessons learned, projects, and internal procedures. A dedicated working group is focused on defining information security best practices for broadcast companies – it has recently published a recommendation providing guidance on cybersecurity safeguards that media organisations and media vendors should apply when planning, designing, or sourcing their products and services. The EBU organises an annual Media Cybersecurity Forum, which brings together manufacturers, service providers, and media companies to discuss security issues in the media domain.
Convergence and OTT
In an environment increasingly characterised by digital convergence, the EBU is working on identifying viable investment solutions for over-the-top (OTT) services. The organisation has a Digital Media Steering Committee, focused on ‘defining the role of public service media in the digital era, with a special focus on how to interact with big digital companies’. It also develops a bi-annual roadmap for technology and innovation activities and has a dedicated Project Group on OTT services.
In addition, there is an intersectoral group composed of EBU members and staff that exchange best practices for relations between internet platforms and broadcasters. During the COVID-19 crisis, a coordinated effort by the technical distribution experts of the EBU and its members monitored the state of the global broadband network to help avoid surcharges due to the increased consumption of on-demand programmes.
This work goes hand in hand with that developed by the Legal and Policy department – among others with the Content, Platform, Distribution, and Intellectual Property Expert Groups, all key in the establishment of EU rules enabling the proper availability of PSM services to people across the EU and beyond.
Most of the EBU’s activities are aimed at increasing the capacity of its members to address challenges and embrace opportunities brought about by the digital age. To that end, through its Digital Transformation Initiative, the EBU has developed a number of member support services, such as its expert community network that gathers over 200 experts from across its membership, and a digital knowledge hub with a repository of analyses and best practices. The EBU also offers a wide range of workshops and other sessions aimed at creating awareness about the digital transformation of the public service media, developing peer-to-peer assessment of members’ digital maturity, and initiating tailored interventions based on members’ needs.
1-RadioDNS is an organisation that promotes the use of open technology standards to enable hybrid radio. Hybrid radio combines broadcast radio and internet technologies to create a harmonised distribution technology. It relies upon the Domain Name System (DNS).
Social media channels
LinkedIn @Swiss Digital Initiative