Human rights and digital platforms – Contradiction in terms?

26 Nov 2019 10:45h - 11:45h

Event report

[Read more session reports and updates from the 14th Internet Governance Forum]

The session started with a reference to a recent viral speech by actor Sasha Baron Cohen. Mr Jan Kleissen (Council of Europe) described it as debunking the myth that freedom of expression covers everything on social media. Kleissen said, ‘I think he rightly pointed out that those that deny or justify the Holocaust on social media are not offering an academic point of view. They are preparing the next one’. The discussion then focused on the tension between law enforcement and data protection. The main question guiding the presentations was: What should governments do?

Kleissen pointed out the importance of already existing international legislation, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), although he reflected on the need for the enforcement of criminal sanctions. Ms Fanny Hidvegi (Access Now) considered that the laws regulating these issues should be enforced more effectively and enhanced with e-privacy rules. Ms Florence Raynal (French National Data Protection Authority, CNIL) pointed out that the GDPR should be reinforced with tools and guidelines. Mr Rami Efrati (Tel Aviv University) talked about how reinforcing privacy might also prevent criminals from abusing privacy online and increase security. Ms Alexandria Walden (Google) gave the Internet industry perspective, suggesting a multistakeholder approach to achieve our goals.

Raynal noted that the use of new technologies like artificial intelligence, automated decision-making, and facial recognition by governments and companies must be carefully framed because they raise privacy challenges. They can lead to blacklisting, discrimination, or even improper decision-making for users. She underlined the need for transparent regulation with possibilities for people to control their own data. According to Hidvegi, current regulatory efforts have turned into political talking points about addressing information management mainly through self-regulatory measures, but there is no systematic reform strengthening data privacy and protection.

What happens when data protection conflicts with security? Efrati pointed out that data availability and privacy are very different depending on their context. Even without considering data online, in some countries like Israel, security is often prioritised over privacy, but more so when considering the availability and the amounts of data online. Efrati pointed out that digital platforms are important not only when you need to protect yourself as a civilian, but also if you are a terrorist. Unfortunately, terrorist groups are using these platforms against privacy because they understand the difficulty for the law enforcement agencies to deal with the issues related to the use of social media platforms.

What happens when businesses like social media platforms need to solve the tension between two rights that are in conflict with each other? Walden claimed that where the issues are most challenging, there must be a significant multistakeholder dialogue with governments, companies, and society. She stated ‘I think is critically important to think of the way companies are addressing these issues both in how they design products but also in terms of how they engage with governments and contribute to thinking around policy, one aspect of that is executive commitment to human rights and engaging on these issues’.

By Paula Szewach