UNRC Talking Points - Conference on Human Rights in the Digital Era
24 February 2022
Talking points by Francoise Jacob, UN Resident Coordinator in Serbia, at the Human Rights in the Digital Era conference.
Minister, Excellencies, Colleagues,
Thank you for inviting me and my colleague from UNICEF to talk on behalf of the United Nations on this important topic.
I changed my speech a little bit this morning, with the very very sad circumstances happening in Ukraine not so far from us. And mostly what I want to say today is that Peace is NEVER given forever and needs to be sustained and invested in every single day, one of the ultimate goals of the United Nations.
My speech is positioned in this context. We need to be extremely mindful that the discussion today is an important one in the context of anticipating and addressing risks and threats, and building a society that nurtures the values of peace, solidarity, compassion, joy, inclusiveness, transparency and love. A society that embraces the full scope of human rights as its core functioning mechanism, throughout its evolution.
Digital technology already delivers many benefits – including in the promotion and defense of human rights. This has accelerated with the COVID pandemic. But the digital revolution is also proving to be a major global human rights issue, and we cannot ignore its growing dark side, where threats might cancel out the benefits. We know that already now, and possibly more in the future, tensions and conflicts will be triggered heavily through online technology, with the spread of misinformation, hate and threats. The UN SG calls this the 5th emergency in a list of global fires.
We are talking about multiple issues, and here are only a few:
The right to privacy and the misuse of information for profiling, which can lead to discrimination, control, and manipulation, including in the area of elections of course, but also employment, access to services, etc… in its worst version, a threat to democracy.
Incitation to hate and violence/hate speech and buillying – Threats, harassment, violence, murder. And we know that women, children and more vulnerable groups such as refugees, migrants, Roma, are most at risk
Cyber crime, cyber security, trafficking of persons including children, including sexual exploitation – with a transborder perspective.
Freedom of expression, role of the media
Whose responsibility is it to tackle these multiple, complex risks that cross cultures, national boundaries and legal jurisdictions? States that hold the primary duty to protect human rights and ensure remedies? Businesses that can change the way they work? International organizations that can seek cross-border solutions? Academics? Journalists? Parliamentarians? Human rights defenders? NGOs and civil society groups?I believe the answer is all of the above, in partnership, with a sense of shared responsibility and ownership.
What is the UN doing? on Feb 21, 3 days ago, the UN SG office has made a number of proposals to the General Assembly third thematic consultation on building a framework for a peaceful world, promoting peace, international law and digital cooperation. The UN SG call is about putting humanity at the centre of the digital world and frontier technologies. He has proposed the following:
A focus on digital threats and opportunities in the Transformative Education global summit in 2022
A global digital compact for an open, free and secure digital future, with a roadmap for international law, and
A global code of conduct to promote integrity in public information. On this, I also want to say that the UN SG and his team has engaged in the past 2 years with the top leadership of the GAFA group, and we are now asked to engage locally.
Concretely for the UN team in Serbia, we will expand our focus on the digital risks through a few key platforms:
A new youth strategy, that will harness the multiple actions of UN agencies with youth, and in support of the upcoming Youth Strategy of the government;
Expanded work on Violence against women, including online;
A new hate speech strategy, addressing the digital challenge, and based on i) engaging the private actors, ii) using education as a tool for addressing and countering Hate speech, iii) promoting media and information literacy, iv) engaging with representative bodies, v) monitoring data.
We will extend our work on the protection of personal data, and in promoting public awareness of risks, rules and safeguards.
Our ongoing regional and national work on upholding the commitment of multiple international conventions, such as the The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, which include multiple components impacted by the digital technology.
We have to make sure that the same rights exist online and offline, and we cannot afford to see cyberspace and artificial intelligence as an ungoverned or ungovernable space – a human rights black hole. Failure to take action result in further shrinking of civic space, decreased participation, enhanced discrimination. Under regulation, over-regulation and deliberate misuse, this will be a constant balancing act to find the right solutions.
It means empowering people to control decisions on use of their personal data. It means ensuring the marginalized and poorest sections of our societies have access to remedies when their data is misused, or when they are subject to discriminatory decisions from automated decision-making processes. It means conducting human rights impact assessments at every stage of the development and deployment of artificial intelligence systems – this is a very important area where companies and researchers can show responsibility and leadership.
If governed properly, the opportunities are extraordinary. It is precisely the human rights that bring standards of conduct and certainty in order to protect everyone from abuse. I look forward to working with all of you on this. Hvala.