Q1/2020 - Freedom Online Coalition (FOC)

Joint Statements, Accra, 5 - 6 February 2020

At its Annual Conference in Accra/Ghana, the Freedom Online Coalition (FOC) adopted two joint statements, one dealing with cyber security and human rights (Human Rights Impact of Cybersecurity Laws, Practices and Policies) and another on digital inclusion. The Federal Government of Germany presented the two documents, in its role as member of the FOC and of the UN Human Rights Council, at the session of the UN Human Rights Council on 5 March 2020 in Geneva[1].

The “Joint Statement on Human Rights Impact of Cybersecurity Laws, Practices and Policies” reaffirms the principle outlined in the “FOC Tallinn Agenda” (2015) that cyber security and human rights are not antagonisms but two sides of the same coin (cybersecurity and human rights are complementary, mutually reinforcing, and interdependent). It says that even though protecting cyber security primarily is a task of the governments, a strong commitment of all stakeholders is required (Promoting stability of cyberspace is not the responsibility of States alone). However, the Joint Statement expresses concerns that an ever increasing number of states is using measures required to promote cyber security as a pretext for restricting human rights. This is particularly true for censorship and surveillance by biometric technologies[2]. The document criticises companies that offer technologies that are used for restricting human rights. The FOC proposed a total of eleven measures to be implemented by governments and stakeholders[3].  

The “Joint Statement on Digital Inclusion” complains about the continuing digital divide, which is said to increase the existing societal and economic inequalities in the world. While there is a growing awareness of the importance of digital inclusion – the paper refers to the UN High-Level Panel, the Broadband Commission and the IGF – practical progress does not come up to theoretical insights. Activities are needed on the supply side (supply side factors), such as investment in infrastructure, spectrum, bandwidth and terminal devices, as well as on the demand side (demand side factors), such as relating to the cost of data and terminals, digital taxes, education (digital literacy), online provision of content in local languages, censorship, surveillance, discrimination against women and girls, etc. The data generated in developing countries, especially in the public sector, is still hardly used by the local economy, so the paper. Local multistakeholder activities are a necessity here. Access to the Internet is an important condition but this alone does not suffice. It is also necessary that skills are imparted so that the people are enabled to use and shape the opportunities offered to them by the Internet in social, cultural and economic terms. In this context, labour rights in the “gig economy” must be protected. The statement proposes nine concrete activities[4].  

The FOC had been initiated by the Dutch government in 2011 as a multistakeholder platform for promoting human rights in cyber space. Today, 31 governments are members of the Coalition. Originally the FOC conference was held yearly with alternating chairs. In 2016, the FOC switched to a two-year rhythm. In 2018, Germany held the chair of FOC. The FOC presidency of Ghana ended with the Accra Conference. In 2021, Finland will assume this role. The FOC chair is advised by an Advisory Network (FOC-AN), which is composed of 24 members. The FOC-AN is currently co-chaired by Mallory Knodel from the human rights organization “Article 19” and Bernard Shen from Microsoft. In January 2020, a call for applications was published to find replacements for four members of the FOC-AN who will leave the body according to the principle of rotation[5].

Mehr zum Thema
  1. [2] FOC issues Joint Statement on Human Rights Impact of Cybersecurity Laws, Practices and Policies, Accra, 7 February 2020: „While State authorities are responsible for protecting the human rights of those in their territory and law enforcement should be enabled to assist victims of harmful cyber activities, the FOC is deeply concerned about the practices by some States of asserting excessive control over the Internet under the pretence of ensuring national security while disregarding international human rights law and the principles of an open, free, secure, interoperable and reliable Internet. In particular, the FOC is alarmed at the growing number of restrictions placed on the exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression online, including where States have manipulated or suppressed online expression in violation of international law, including through discriminatory or politically motivated Internet censorship or Internet shutdowns, unlawful or arbitrary monitoring, and the arrest and intimidation of online activists for exercising their human rights. Additionally, some technologies and practices pose risks to the enjoyment of human rights when used for unlawful or arbitrary surveillance, whether mass or targeted, including through the use of facial recognition or other biometric technologies; unlawful or arbitrary restrictions on encryption and anonymity; unlawful restrictions of content; and, network shutdowns that are inconsistent with international human rights law.“ See: https://freedomonlinecoalition.com/news/
  2. [3] FOC issues Joint Statement on Human Rights Impact of Cybersecurity Laws, Practices and Policies, Accra, 7 February 2020: „1. States need to comply with their obligations under international human rights law when considering, developing and applying national cybersecurity policies and legislation; 2. States need to develop and implement cybersecurity-related laws, policies and practices in a manner consistent with international human rights law, and seek to minimise potential negative impacts on vulnerable groups and civil society, including human rights defenders and journalists. This includes building, where appropriate, supporting processes and frameworks for transparency, accountability, judicial or other forms of independent and effective oversight, and redress towards building trust. It may also include embedding the principles of legitimacy, legality, necessity or proportionality into policy and practice; 3. Cybersecurity-related laws, policies, and practices should be developed through ongoing open, inclusive, and transparent approaches that involve all stakeholders; 4. States should promote international cooperation on cyber issues that focuses on protecting and upholding human rights in order to build mutual trust between all stakeholders; 5. States should seek to implement the rules, norms and principles of responsible State behaviour contained in the (2010, 2013, 2015) consensus reports of the UNGGE; 6. States should find ways to draw attention to acts contrary to these rules, norms and principles of responsible State behaviour in order to increase accountability, transparency and help build patterns of responsible behaviour; 7. As humans are directly impacted by potential threats in cyberspace, including cyberattacks, due attention should be paid to the human dimension of cybersecurity. This includes direct and indirect harm to individual well-being manifesting itself in a range of ways including loss of life, loss of access to vital services, financial loss, undermining of democratic institutions and processes, suppression of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association, and failure to respect the right to be free from arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, etc.; 8. In compliance with best practice data protection laws and regulations, States should consider, as appropriate, collecting and sharing data, as well as funding research, on the nature and scale of these aforementioned harms, to underpin and drive a human-focused international cybersecurity capacity building agenda; 9. States should encourage education, digital literacy, critical thinking, information exchange and technical and legal training as a means to improve cybersecurity and build collective capacity at local, regional, and global levels; 10. States should encourage private sector actors to adhere to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, to improve their accountability and to share best practices in this respect and help to share lessons learned; 11. States should encourage private sector actors to promote and practice good cyber hygiene.“ In: https://freedomonlinecoalition.com/news/
  3. [4] FOC issues Joint Statement on Digital Inclusion, Accra, 7 February 2020: „The FOC suggests 1. The conduct and support of good quality, independent research, on supply and demand-side challenges affecting digital inclusion and digital divides. Research activities should investigate existing and emerging issues related to digital access that may negatively affect digital inclusion by deterring Internet use, such as human rights violations and abuses relating to privacy, online abuse, censorship, surveillance and other cybersecurity methods that limit individuals’ ability to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms; 2. Civil society organizations should be supported in their efforts to address barriers and bottlenecks to digital access, cybersecurity risks, and on how to develop policy that drives positive outcomes related to the improved access and use of digital technologies. Moreover, all stakeholders should be encouraged to share best practices on issues pertaining to bridging digital divides, especially in support of community networks, and enabling digital inclusion, and governments should play a supportive role in facilitating this; 3. Welcoming contributions, and leadership, by the private sector and civil society to promote digital inclusion. Encourage the private sector to ensure that resources accrued for the purpose of overcoming digital divides are used transparently for their intended purpose in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights; 4. Encouraging the availability of free Internet access points in public spaces, especially in school Encouraging the availability of free Internet access points in public spaces, especially in schools and libraries in economically underprivileged communities. 5. Promoting open source software, open access technologies, open data, and open learning towards enabling meaningful access, as well as supporting the people who develop these resources; 6. Enacting digital policies which give special consideration to those who face particular difficulties in reaping the benefits of digital inclusion. Governments should build into their programs and policies safeguards to make sure these persons are able to benefit fully in the push for digital inclusion. These may consist of, inter alia, creating safe and accessible spaces, childcare facilities and specially trained support staff. 7. Advancing, with the help of public-private partnerships, digital literacy and other technology training in trusted and comfortable locations (libraries, community centers, places of worship, schools, recreation centers, senior centers, etc.) which is tailored for different levels of education and specific needs and supported. 8. Facilitating, reinforcing, and developing multi-stakeholder models of Internet governance, including growing capacity of civil society to participate in fora like the Internet Governance Forum, expanding availability of independent Internet exchange points, ensuring ability of private sector providers to connect and exchange data traffic directly with one another, and similar inclusive models; 9. Addressing underlying causes of digital exclusion (economic, social, political and cultural contexts) because technical solutions alone will not bridge digital divides; and, support initiatives at intergovernmental spaces that further digital inclusion.“, in: https://freedomonlinecoalition.com/news/
  4. [5] Open Call for Applications to the Freedom Online Coalition’s Advisory Network, January 2020, in: https://freedomonlinecoalition.com/news/open-call-for-applications-to-the-freedom-online-coalitions-advisory-network/