[Webinar] Realizing equitable global access to COVID-19 health technologies: WHO C-TAP’s progress, challenges and opportunities

Event description

Event date: 16 June 2022, 14:00–16:00 CEST

The World Health Organization (WHO) is organising a panel and an open discussion on how its COVID-19 Technological Access Pool (C-TAP) could advance in promoting equitable access to pandemic-related health technologies. The debate will focus on making the C-TAP more attractive to technology users, holders, and other stakeholders. There will be a briefing on the progress, challenges, and opportunities identified in two previous discussion papers prepared by the secretariats. Distinguished guests and speakers will offer feedback and future recommendations.

For more information, and to register, please visit the official page.

[Launch] Global Report on Assistive Technology (GReAT)

Event description

Event date: 16 May 2022, 15:00–16:00 CEST

The Global Report on Assistive Technology (GReAT) was jointly produced by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Acknowledging the central role that assistive technology and enabling environment play for people in need in their comprehension of human rights, the report highlights evidence-based best practices along with ten key actionable recommendations on improving access to assistive technology. The launch event will be emceed by Ms Nujeen Mustafa (author, refugee, and disability rights advocate) and include a list of distinguished guest speakers.

For more information, and to register, please visit the official page.

Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development

Address: Place des Nations, 1211 Geneva 20, Switzerland

Website: https://www.broadbandcommission.org/

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

The Broadband Commission was originally established in 2010 by the ITU and UNESCO as the Broadband Commission for Digital Development in response to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s call to boost the UN’s efforts to reach the millennium development goals.

In 2015, following the adoption of the sustainable development goals (SDGs), the Broadband Commission was relaunched as the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, with the aim of showcasing and promoting information and communication technologies (ICTs) and broadband-based technologies for sustainable development by putting digital co-operation into action.

Led by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Carlos Slim Helù of Mexico, it is co-chaired by ITU’s Secretary-General Houlin Zhao and UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay. It comprises over 50 commissioners who represent a cross-cutting group of top CEOs and industry leaders, senior policymakers and government representatives, and experts from international agencies, academia, and organisations concerned with development.

Digital activities

The Broadband Commission focuses on closing the digital divide and promoting broadband development in developing countries and underserved communities, ensuring that all countries reap the benefits of digital technologies. The Broadband Commission’s efforts are detailed in the annual State of Broadband report, and take the form of thematic working groups and regular meetings and advocacy activities at the margins of flagship events such as WEF (Davos), GSMA MWC, IGF, HLPF, WSIS, and UNCTAD e-Commerce week.

In 2018, the Broadband Commission set seven objectives in its 2025 Targets initiative to help ‘connect the other half’ of the world’s population by expanding broadband infrastructure and access to the Internet.

Digital policy issues

Telecommunications infrastructure 

The Broadband Commission promotes the adoption of practices and policies that enable the deployment of broadband networks at the national level, especially among developing countries. It engages in advocacy activities aimed to demonstrate that broadband networks are basic infrastructure in modern societies and could accelerate the achievement of the SDGs. The Broadband Commission publishes an annual State of the Broadband Report, providing a global overview of broadband network access and affordability, with country-by-country data measuring broadband access.

The Broadband Commission also launched a number of the working groups focused on ICT connectivity, including the World Bank led: Working group on Broadband for all: a ’Digital Infrastructure Moonshot’ for Africa and the Working Group on 21st Century Financing Models for Sustainable Broadband Development in 2019. These initiatives aim to provide governments and policymakers with a set of policy recommendations to foster innovative financing and investment strategies to achieve the Broadband Commission’s targets for broadband connectivity and adoption​.

The ongoing global pandemic has put at the forefront the vital role that broadband networks and services play in making economies and societies work, In response to the effects of the pandemic, the Broadband Commission adopted the Agenda for Action: For Faster and Better Recovery to accelerate the world’s response. This initiative includes immediate and long-term efforts that governments, global industry, civil society, and international organisations can undertake to support the development and strengthening of digital networks that remain so integral to our economy and society. The three pillars of resilient connectivity, affordable access, and safe use of online services provide a framework for all commissioners to mitigate the adverse effects of COVID-19 and lay the foundation for a better and faster recovery.

Access 

When advocating for the rollout of broadband infrastructure and bridging the digital divide, the Broadband Commission underlines the increasing importance of Internet access and adoption as an enabler of sustainable growth and development. It is paying particular attention to aspects related to the deployment of infrastructure in developing countries, education and capacity development, and safety online (particularly for children and youth), as well as the digital gender divide and the empowerment of women in the digital space.

Sustainable development

The Broadband Commission advocates for actions to be taken by all relevant stakeholders with the aim to close the digital divide, which is seen as an important step towards the achievement of the SDGs. Its annual State of the Broadband Report looks at the progress made in implementing broadband networks in various countries around the world, which it regards as an essential element in addressing the digital divide.

The Broadband Commission also addresses the impact of digital technologies on specific issues covered by the SDGs. One example is the Working Group on Digital Health, whose final report outlined recommendations for improving human health and well-being by implementing universal digital health coverage. In 2019, the Working Group on Data, Digital, and AI in Health was launched with the aim of raising awareness of the transformative power of data and artificial intelligence (AI) in health systems worldwide.

The Broadband Commission has also been active in environmental and climate change issues; in particular, its activities (ranging from publications and events to advocacy actions) cover the link between climate change and ICTs.

Interdisciplinary approaches

The work of the Broadband Commission contributes to the UN Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, which lays out how all stakeholders can play a role in advancing a safer and more equitable digital world. Through its range of working group initiatives and the advocacy of its commissioners, the Broadband Commission is an example of SDG 17: ‘Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development.’

 

Inter-Parliamentary Union

Acronym: IPU

Address: Chem. du Pommier 5, 1218 Le Grand-Saconnex, Switzerland

Website: https://ipu.org

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) is the global organisation of national parliaments. It was founded more than 130 years ago as the first multilateral political organisation in the world, encouraging co-operation and dialogue between all nations. Today, the IPU comprises 179 national member parliaments and 13 regional parliamentary bodies. It promotes democracy and helps parliaments become stronger, younger, gender-balanced, and more diverse. It also defends the human rights of parliamentarians through a dedicated committee made up of MPs from around the world. Twice a year, the IPU convenes over 1,500 parliamentary delegates and partners in a world assembly, bringing a parliamentary dimension to global governance, including the work of the UN and the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Digital Activities 

The IPU’s digital activities mainly focus on the promotion of the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in parliaments. To this end, it has established a Centre for Innovation in Parliament, which undertakes research on the impact of digital technologies on parliaments, publishes the landmark World e-Parliament Report, hosts the biannual World e-Parliament Conference and co-ordinates a network of parliamentary hubs on innovation in parliaments.

Digital policy issues

Capacity development 

In line with its objective to build strong and democratic parliaments, the IPU assists parliaments in building their capacity to use ICTs effectively, both in parliamentary proceedings and in communication with citizens. The IPU has also been mandated by its member parliaments to carry on capacity development programmes for parliamentary bodies tasked to oversee observance of the right to privacy and individual freedoms in the digital environment.

The IPU also encourages parliaments to make use of ICTs as essential tools in their legislative activities. To this aim, the IPU launched the Centre for Innovation in Parliament in 2018 to provide a platform for parliaments to develop and share good practices in digital transformation strategies, as well as practical methods for capacity building. The IPU holds the World e-Parliament Conference, a biannual forum that addresses from both the policy and technical perspectives how ICTs can help improve representation, law-making, and oversight. It also publishes the annual World E-Parliament Report.

As of August 2020, eight regional and thematic parliamentary hubs are operating under the Centre for Innovation in Parliament, covering IT governance, open data and transparency, hispanophone countries, Eastern Africa, Southern Africa, the Caribbean, and the Pacific. Each hub is co-ordinated by a national parliament and brings together parliaments to work on subjects of common interest, such as remote working methods during COVID-19.

Sustainable development 

The IPU works to raise awareness about the sustainable development goals (SDGs) among parliaments, and provides them with a platform to assist them in taking action and sharing experiences and good practices in achieving the SDGs.

Privacy and data protection 

One of the IPU’s objectives is to promote and protect human rights. To this aim,its Committee on Democracy and Human Rights is involved in activities aimed to contribute to ensuring privacy in the digital era and the use of social media as effective tools to promote democracy. A 2015 resolution on ‘Democracy in the digital era and the threat to privacy and individual freedoms’ calls on parliaments to create adequate mechanisms for the protection of privacy in the online space, and to ensure that legislation in the field of surveillance, privacy, and data protection is based on democratic principles.

Freedom of expression 

The IPU’s Committee on Democracy and Human Rights works, among others, on promoting the protection of freedom of expression in the digital era and the use of social media as an effective tool to promote democracy. In 2015, the IPU adopted a Resolution on ‘Democracy in the digital era and the threat to privacy and individual freedoms’ encourages parliaments to remove all legal limitations on freedom of expression and the flow of information, and urges them to enable the protection of information in cyberspace, so as to safeguard the privacy and individual freedom of citizens.

Digital tools

 

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

Acronym: UNHCR

Address: Rue de Montbrillant 94, 1201 Genève, Switzerland

Website: https://www.unhcr.org/

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

Established in 1950 after the end of WWII, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is a UN agency mandated to help and protect refugees, internally displaced and stateless people, and to assist in their voluntary repatriation, local integration or resettlement to a third country.

Whereas the majority of its activities take place in the field (given that 90% of its staff is based on the ground) and include, among other things, the provision of protection, shelter, emergency relief, and repatriation, it also works with national political, economic and social actors in order to ensure that refugee policies are enacted and laws are compliant with international frameworks. In addition, the organisation also takes on advocacy activities where it works with governments, non-government actors in order to promote practices and provide assistance to those in need.

As recognition for its work, in 1954, the UNHCR was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Digital activities

The UNHCR’s digital activities centre around its core objective – to aid refugees and displaced persons. The organisation, therefore, has been very active in the area of digital inclusion and digital identity. In this context, the UNHCR, for instance, looks for ways how digital identity can facilitate protection and empowerment of refugees and asylum-seekers. In addition, the Refugee agency has conducted substantial work in the field of privacy and data protection and transition to online learning to ensure the right to education.

Digital policy issues

Digital identities 

To promote the inclusion of refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs), stateless persons and other vulnerable individuals, the UNHCR focuses a part of its work on digital identity. Within this scope, it published in 2018 its “UNHCR Strategy on Digital Identity and Inclusion”. In this document, the UNHCR defines the challenges faced by individuals, in particular, foreigners, migrants, asylum seekers and refugees who lack their legal identity papers. It highlights the advantages brought about by digitalisation and defines three main objectives for achieving the digital inclusion and digital identity: 1) Empower refugees, stateless and forcibly displaced persons to access, among other things, the job market, education and financial services; 2) strengthen states’ capacity to register and document all individuals living on their respective territories and ensure conformity with international standards of data security and privacy; 3) improve service delivery (e.g. delivery of legal and protection) through the use of the Internet and mobile technologies.

From a practical point of view, the Refugee Agency uses Population Registration and Identity Management Ecosystem (PRIMES) which gathers UNHCR’s digital registration, identity management and case management tools into a single internally connected and interoperable ecosystem. The tool makes use of personal information including biographic and biometric data, to provide necessary assistance, protection and services to protection to refugees and other displaced populations.

Online education 

Online learning plays also features in UNHCR’s work. In a recent publication titled ‘Supporting Continued Access to Education during COVID-19’, the UNHCR underscored its vital role in advocating for and ensuring the inclusion of refugees in national response plans to ensure the continuity of learning. The document sheds light on some of the activities that it has undertaken in light of the health crisis, including, the launch of online learning platforms in Jordan as well as related education programmes in Uganda.

In the broader context of online education, in its ‘Education 2030: A Strategy for Refugee Inclusion’, the UNHCR highlights the increasingly important role played by digital technologies and proposes the strengthening of policies and practices to promote the development of digital and transferable skills through connected and blended learning

methods. Keeping within the broader approach, in 2016, the UNHCR, together with Arizona State University, initiated the Connected Learning in Crisis Consortium (CLCC). The objective of the initiative is to promote, coordinate and support the provision of quality higher education in contexts of conflict, crisis and displacement through Connected Learning that thanks to the use of information technology combine face-to-face and online learning.

To pursue its action in the domain of access to education, the Refugee Agency runs several platforms. To illustrate, its online platform ‘UNHCR Opportunities’ allows refugees, IDPs and other displaced persons to find accredited higher education academic or scholarship programmes that have been verified by UNHCR. The ‘Learn and Connect’ portal enables UNHCR staff and partners to access a comprehensive set of learning activities.

Sustainable development 

The UNHCR is firmly committed to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The interplay between digital and development is evident in the Agency’s contributions in the field of digital inclusion. To this end, the UNHCR has published the above-mentioned ‘Strategy on Digital Identity and Inclusion’.

The Agency has also developed Digital Access, Inclusion and Participation programme, to ensure that refugees and other displaced communities have access to digital technology and connectivity, and increasing their participation in Agency’s work. UNHCR’s Innovation Service leads the programme.

In 2018, the UNHCR launched the Global Compact for Refugees, a  framework for more equitable responsibility-sharing, noting that sustainable solutions to refugee situations cannot be realised without international cooperation. Therefore, it sets out four key objectives: to ease the pressures on host countries, enhance refugee self-reliance, expand access to third-country solutions, and support conditions in countries of origin for return in safety and dignity. Moreover, the Agency developed a digital platform for the Global Compact on Refugees, which enables the sharing of experiences and knowledge on the implementation of the Global Compact for Refugees.

The UNHCR has also worked with students and young people to raise awareness on many challenges faced by refugees. For instance, the Agency has launched ‘The MUN Refugee Challenge’ to encourage students worldwide to debate on and shape solutions to numerous refugee crises.

Privacy and data protection 

The UNHCR has been very vocal in the area of data protection, emphasising that ‘Data protection is part and parcel of refugee protection’. Since 2015, the Refugee agency has its own Data protection policy. The Policy is accompanied by the ‘Guidance on the Protection of Personal Data of Persons of Concern to UNHCR’, published in 2018, with the aim of assisting the UNHCR personnel in the application and interpretation of the above Policy.

The Refugee agency has recently published a ‘Data Transformation Strategy 2020-2025’ aimed at strengthening its role as a leading authority on data and information related to forcibly displaced and stateless persons.

Commission on Science and Technology for Development

Acronym: CSTD

Address: Palais des Nations, 1211 Geneva, Switzerland

Website: https://unctad.org/topic/commission-on-science-and-technology-for-development

The Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) is a subsidiary of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). It was established to advise the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on science and technology issues through analysis and appropriate policy recommendations. It is the focal point of the UN for science, technology, and innovation (STI) for development.
Under the mandate given by ECOSOC, the CSTD leads the follow-up to the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and advises ECOSOC accordingly, including through the elaboration of recommendations aimed at furthering the implementation of the WSIS outcomes.

The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) is responsible for the servicing of the CSTD.

International Organization for Standardization

Acronym: ISO

Address: Chem. de Blandonnet 8, 1214 Vernier, Switzerland

Website: https://iso.org

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is a non-governmental international organisation composed of 165 national standard-setting bodies that are either part of governmental institutions or mandated by their respective governments. Each national standard-setting body therefore represents a member state.

After receiving a request from a consumer group or an industry association, ISO convenes an expert group tasked with the creation of a particular standard through a consensus process.

ISO develops international standards across a wide range of industries, including technology, food, and healthcare, in order to ensure that products and services are safe, reliable, of good quality, and ultimately, facilitate international trade. As such, it acts between the public and the private sector.

To date, ISO has published more than 22 000 standards.

Digital Activities

A large number of the international standards and related documents developed by ISO are related to information and communication technologies (ICTs), such as the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) that was created in 1983 and established a universal reference model for communication protocols. The organisation is also active in the field of emerging technologies including blockchain, the Internet of Things (IoT), and artificial intelligence (AI).

The standards are developed by various technical committees dedicated to specific areas including information security, cybersecurity, privacy protection, AI, and intelligent transport systems.

Digital policy issues

Artificial intelligence 

The joint technical committee of ISO and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) for AI is known as ISO/IEC JTC1/SC 42 Artificial intelligence and is responsible for the development of standards in this area. To date, it has published one standard specifically pertaining to AI with 18 others in development.

ISO/IEC TR 24028 provides an overview of trustworthiness in AI systems, detailing the associated threats and risks associated and addresses approaches on availability, resiliency, reliability, accuracy, safety, security, and privacy.

The standards under development include those that cover: concepts and terminology for AI (ISO/IEC 22989); bias in AI systems and AI-aided decision-making (ISO/IEC TR 24027); AI risk management (ISO/IEC 23894); a framework for AI systems using machine learning (ISO/IEC 23053); and the assessment of machine learning classification performance (ISO/IEC TS 4213).

Up-to-date information on the technical committee (e.g. scope, programme of work, contact details, etc.) can be found on the committee page.

Cloud computing 

ISO and IEC also have a joint committee for standards related to cloud computing which currently has 19 published standards and a further 7 in development.

Of those published, two standards of note include ISO/IEC 19086-1, which provides an overview, foundational concepts, and definitions for a cloud computing service level agreement framework, and ISO/IEC 17789, which specifies the cloud computing reference architecture.

Standards under development include those on health informatics (ISO/TR 21332.2); the audit of cloud services (ISO/IEC 22123-2.2); and data flow, categories, and use (ISO/IEC 19944-1).

Up-to-date information on the technical committee (e.g. scope, programme of work, contact details, etc.) can be found on the committee page.

Internet of things 

Recognising the ongoing developments in the field of IoT, ISO has a number of dedicated standards both published and in development, including those for intelligent transport systems (ISO 19079), future networks for IoT (ISO/IEC TR 29181-9), unique identification for IoT (ISO/IEC 29161), Internet of Media Things (ISO/IEC 23093-3), trustworthiness of IoT (ISO/IEC 30149), and industrial IoT systems (ISO/IEC 30162).

 IoT security is addressed in standards such as ISO/IEC 27001 and ISO/IEC 27002, which provide a common language for governance, risk, and compliance issues related to information security.

 In addition, there are seven standards under development, some of which provide a methodology for the trustworthiness of an IoT system or service (ISO/IEC 30147); a trustworthiness framework (ISO/IEC 30149); the requirements of an IoT data exchange platform for various IoT services (ISO/IEC 30161); and a real-time IoT framework (ISO/IEC 30165).

 Up-to-date information on the ISO and IEC joint technical committee for IoT (e.g. scope, programme of work, contact details, etc.) can be found on the committee page.

Telecommunications infrastructure 

ISO’s standardisation work in the field of telecommunications infrastructure covers areas such as planning and installation of networks (e.g. ISO/IEC 14763-2 and ISO/IEC TR 14763-2-1), corporate telecommunication networks (e.g. ISO/IEC 17343), local and metropolitan area networks (e.g. ISO/IEC/IEEE 8802-A), private integrated telecommunications networks (e.g. ISO/IEC TR 14475), and wireless networks. Next generation networks – packet-based public networks able to provide telecommunications services and make use of multiple quality of service enabled transport technology – are equally covered (e.g. ISO/IEC TR 26905).

ISO also has standards for the so-called future networks, which are intended to provide futuristic capabilities and services beyond the limitations of current networks, including the Internet.

Up-to-date information on the joint ISO and IEC technical committee that develops these standards (e.g. scope, programme of work, contact details, etc.) can be found on the committee page.

Blockchain 

ISO has published three standards on blockchain and distributed ledger technologies: ISO/TR 23455 gives an overview of smart contracts in blockchain and distributed ledger technologies; ISO/TR 23244 tackles privacy and personally identifiable information protection; and ISO 22739 covers fundamental blockchain terminology respectively.

ISO also has a further ten standards on blockchain in development. These include those related to: security risks, threats and vulnerabilities (ISO/TR 23245.2); security management of digital asset custodians (ISO/TR 23576); taxonomy and ontology (ISO/TS 23258); legally-binding smart contracts (ISO/TS 23259); and guidelines for governance (ISO/TS 23635).

Up-to-date information on the technical committee (e.g. scope, programme of work, contact details, etc.) can be found on the committee page.

Emerging technologies 

ISO develops standards in the area of emerging technologies. Perhaps the largest number of standards in this area are those related to robotics. ISO has more than 40 different standards either published or in development that cover issues such as: collaborative robots (e.g. ISO/TS 15066); safety requirements for industrial robots (e.g. ISO 10218-2); and personal care robots (e.g. ISO 13482).

Autonomous or so-called intelligent transport systems (ITS) standards are developed by ISO’s ITS Technical Committee and include those for forward vehicle collision warning systems (ISO 15623) and secure connections between trusted devices (ISO/TS 21185).

Standards are also being developed to address the use of virtual reality in learning, education, and training (e.g. ISO/IEC 23843) and the display device interface for augmented reality (ISO/IEC 23763).

Network security 

Information security and network security is also addressed by ISO and IEC standards. The ISO and IEC 27000 family of standards covers information security management systems and are used by organisations to secure information assets such as financial data, intellectual property, and employee information.

For example, ISO/IEC 27031 and ISO/IEC 27035 are specifically designed to help organisations respond, diffuse, and recover effectively from cyberattacks. ISO/IEC 27701 is an extension to ISO/IEC 27001 and ISO/IEC 27002 for privacy information management, and details requirements and guidance for establishing, implementing, maintaining, and continually improving a Privacy Information Management System (PIMS).

Network security is also addressed by standards on technologies such as the IoT, smart community infrastructures, medical devices, localisation and tracking systems, and future networks.

Up-to-date information on the joint ISO and IEC technical committee (e.g. scope, programme of work, contact details, etc.) can be found on the committee page.

Encryption 

As more and more information (including sensitive personal data) is stored, transmitted, and processed online, the security, integrity, and confidentiality of such information becomes increasingly important. To this end, ISO has a number of standards for the encryption of data. For example, ISO/IEC 18033-1, currently under development, addresses the nature of encryption and describes certain general aspects of its use and properties. Other standards include ISO/IEC 19772 that covers authenticated encryption, ISO/IEC 18033-3 that specifies encryption systems (ciphers) for the purpose of data confidentiality, and ISO 19092 that allows for encryption of biometric data used for authentication of individuals in financial services for confidentiality or other reasons.

ISO also has standards that focus on identity-based ciphers, symmetric and asymmetric encryption, public key infrastructure, and many more related areas.

Data governance 

Big data is another area of ISO standardization, and around 80% of related standards are developed by the ISO/IEC AI committee. The terminology for big data-related standards is outlined in ISO/IEC 20546, while ISO/IEC 20547-3 covers big data reference architecture.

ISO/IEC TR 20547-2 provides examples of big data use cases with application domains and technical considerations and ISO/IEC TR 20547-5 details a roadmap of existing and future standards in this area. A further eight standards are in development and include those for big data security and privacy (ISO/IEC 27045), terminology used in big data within the scope of predictive analytics (ISO 3534-5), and data science life cycle (ISO/TR 23347).

Up-to-date information on the technical committee (e.g. scope, programme of work, contact details, etc.) can be found on the committee page.

Privacy and data protection 

Privacy and data protection in the context of ICTs is another area covered by ISO’s standardisation activities. One example is ISO/IEC 29101 which describes a privacy architecture framework.

Others include those for privacy-enhancing protocols and services for identification cards (ISO/IEC 19286); privacy protection requirements pertaining to learning, education, and training systems employing information technologies (ISO/IEC 29187-1); privacy aspects in the context of intelligent transport systems (ISO/TR 12859); and security and privacy requirements for health informatics (ISO/TS 14441).

Digital identities 

Digital signatures that validate digital identities help to ensure the integrity of data and authenticity of particulars in online transactions. This, therefore, contributes to the security of online applications and services. Standards to support this technology cover elements such as: anonymous digital signatures (e.g. ISO/IEC 20008-1 and ISO/IEC 20008-2); digital signatures for healthcare documents (e.g. ISO 17090-4 and ISO 17090-5); and blind digital signatures, which is where the content of the message to be signed is disguised, used in contexts where, for example, anonymity is required. Examples of such standards are ISO 18370-1 and ISO/IEC 18370-2.

Digital tools

ISO has developed an online browsing platform that provides up to date information on ISO standards, graphical symbols, publications, and terms and definitions.

Future of Meetings

Any reference to online or remote meetings?

Any reference to holding meetings outside HQ?

Any reference to deliberation or decision making online?

  • Yes, ISO governance groups are also meeting virtually.

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Acronym: OHCHR

Address: Palais Wilson, Rue des Pâquis 52, 1202 Geneva, Switzerland

Website: https://ohchr.org

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 actor page*. 

The UN Human Rights Office is headed by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights 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 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 United Nations 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 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 in order 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 which 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 and national human rights institutions have the ability to participate as observers in UNHRC sessions after receiving the necessary accreditation.

Digital Activities

Digital issues are increasingly gaining in prominence in the work of UN Human Rights, the UNHRC, the Special Procedures, the UPR, and the Treaty Bodies. The range of topics covered is constantly growing, encompassing for example: Privacy and data protection-related questions; freedom of opinion and expression; freedom of peaceful assembly and association; racial discrimination; gender-related issues; the enjoyment of economic, social, and cultural rights; the rights of older persons; and the safety of journalists online.

A landmark document which provides a blueprint for digital human rights is the UNHRC resolution (A/HRC/32/L.20) on the promotion, protection, and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet, which was first adopted in 2016. A second resolution with the same name (A/HRC/38/L.10) was adopted in July 2018. Both 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, and economic, social, and cultural rights.

Digital policy issues

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 UN General Assembly and the UNHRC, the High Commissioner prepared two reports on the right to privacy in the digital age, which were presented to the General Assembly in December 2014 and to the UNHRC in September 2018.

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 including the latest version from 2019, which put a particular emphasis on the impacts of artificial intelligence (AI) on the enjoyment of the right to privacy. Resolutions on the safety of journalists have emphasised the importance of encryption and anonymity tools for journalists to freely exercise their work.

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 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).

The 2020 report (A/HRC/43/52) published by 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 recommends 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.’

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 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.

In response to the rise of the ‘fake news’ phenomenon, the High Commissioner has joined other organisations in urging stakeholders to ensure that any measures aimed to tackle this phenomenon do not lead to illegitimate restrictions of freedom of expression.

Freedom of expression in the digital space also features highly on the agenda of the UNHRC. It has often underlined that states have a responsibility to ensure an adequate protection of freedom of expression online, including when they adopt and implement measures aimed to deal with issues such 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 dissemination of information online, and has called upon states to refrain from and cease such measures.

The Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression has been mandated by the UNHRC to also explore issues related to freedom of expression online.

In 2018, the Special Rapporteur published a thematic report on ‘online content regulation’ that tackles governments’ regulation of user-generated online content and that recommends states to ensure an enabling environment for online freedom of expression. The same year, he also presented to the General Assembly 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 UN General Assembly 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.

More recently, in 2020, the Special Rapporteur issued a report titled ‘Disease pandemics and the freedom of opinion and expression’ 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 co-ordination 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.

Online hate speech and discrimination has also been addressed by the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief. For instance, in a document published in 2019, the online manifestation of antisemitism (including antisemtic 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 has also been addressed on a number of occasions, including in reports from 2018 and 2017.

Gender rights online 

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 information and communications technologies (ICTs), including the Internet, to promote the empowerment of all women and girls. It has also condemned gender-based violence committed on the Internet. In a 2016 resolution on the promotion, protection, and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet, the UNHRC requested the High Commissioner on Human Rights to prepare a report on ways to bridge the gender digital divide from a human rights perspective, in consultation with states and other stakeholders.

Rights of persons with disabilities 

The promotion and protection of the rights of persons with disabilities in the online space has 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 more recent 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.

Freedom of peaceful assembly and of association 

The exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in the digital environment in recent years have attracted increased attention. For example, 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.

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 and 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 ICCPR (right of peaceful assembly), which addresses manifold aspects arising in the digital context.

For her 2020 thematic report to the General Assembly, the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance examined how digital technologies deployed in the context of border enforcement and administration reproduce, reinforce, and compound racial discrimination.

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is currently in the process of drafting its ‘General recommendation No. 36 on Preventing and Combating Racial Profiling: A call for contribution’, which among other things addresses forms of AI-based profiling.

Economic, social and cultural rights 

In March 2020, the UN Secretary-General presented to the UNHRC a report on the role of new technologies for the realization of economic, social, and cultural rights. He identifies the opportunities and challenges held by new technologies for the realisation of economic, social, and cultural rights and other related human rights, and for the human rights-based implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The report concludes with recommendations for related action by member states, private companies, and other stakeholders.

Child safety online 

The issue of child safety online has been in 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 of children, child prostitution and child pornography, mandated by the UNHRC to analyse the root causes of sale and sexual exploitation and promote measures to prevent it, also looks at issues related to child abuse such as 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 is currently drafting a General Comment on children’s rights in relation to the digital environment.

Content policy 

Geneva-based human rights organisations and mechanisms also address issues linked to the use of digital technologies in the context of terrorism and violent extremism.

For example, UN Human Rights, at the request of the UNHRC, prepared a compilation report in 2016, which explores, among other issues, aspects related to the preventing 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.

Artificial intelligence 

In 2018, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression presented a report to the UN General Assembly on artificial intelligence technologies and implications for the information environment. Among other things, the document addresses the role of AI on 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.

Data governance 

UN Human Rights maintians an online platform consisting of a number of databases on anti-discrimination and jurisprudence, as well as the Universal Human Rights Index (UHRI) which provide access to recommendations issued to countries by Treaty Bodies, Special Procedures, and the UPR of the UNHCR.

UN Human Rights has 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.

Capacity development 

UN Human Rights has also launched the UN Human Rights Business and Human Rights in Technology Project (B-Tech Project) that aims 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. In November 2019, a B-Tech scoping paper was published by the Office of the High Commissioner that outlines the scope and objectives of the project. In July 2020, UN Human Rights published a foundational paper on business model-related human rights risks.

Extreme poverty 

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.

Interdisciplinary approaches 
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.  

UN Human Rights also participates in the UNESCO-led process to develop ethical standards for AI.

In addition, the OHCHR 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). The OHCHR co-leads their work on biometrics.

Digital tools

The UNHRC has developed an e-learning tool to assist government officials from least developed countries and Small Islands Developing States as per the mandate of the Trust Fund to develop competencies on the UNHRC and its mechanisms.