UN Special Rapporteur calls upon Internet infrastructure providers to take responsibility for respecting human rights

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08 Jun 2016


Corinne Cath

Yesterday, United Nations Special Rapporteur (UNSR) on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, published a report calling upon the private sector to respect human rights. He emphasizes the changing role of the private sector in the protection of human rights, and provides guidance on ‘how private actors should protect and promote freedom of expression in a digital age’. His work touches upon content restrictions, surveillance, digital security, transparency, remedies, and technical standards.

The Special Rapporteur’s report, for the first time, explicitly mentions the role of Internet Standard Developing Organisations (SDO) and infrastructure providers in upholding human rights. He explicitly mentions the work of the Internet Engineering Task Force, the  Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), as crucial to enabling the right to freedom of expression. He calls on them to ‘take steps to ensure respect for the freedom of opinion and expression’.

The importance of Internet Standard Developing Organisations (SDO) and infrastructure providers in enabling the right to freedom of expression and access to information has long been a focus area of ARTICLE 19. The report directly mentions the work done by ARTICLE 19 at the Human Rights Protocol Considerations Research Group (HRPC) at the IRTF, the Cross Community Working Party on ICANN's Corporate and Social Responsibility to Respect Human Rights (CCWP-HR) at ICANN, and the Global Initiative for Ethical Considerations in the Design of Autonomous Systems at the IEEE. By clarifying the link between technical engineering, standard making and human rights, as well as presenting strong recommendations for improvements, the Special Rapporteur anchors the discussion on the role of these organizations in a human rights framework.

The Special Rapporteur also mentions the importance for the private sector to undertake human rights impact assessments, develop policies on the basis of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and allocate resources to include the human rights perspective in their work, issues ARTICLE 19 has long been advocating for.

ARTICLE 19 will closely follow the discussion about this report as it unfolds at various intergovernmental bodies and the technical community. Simultaneously, we will also be providing input to the resolution at the UN Human Rights Council on "the Internet and Human Rights", looking to develop international human rights standards in this field. 

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