IGF 2019 WS #375 States as Clients: Issues in surveillance & ID procurement

Organizer 1: Civil Society, African Group
Organizer 2: Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Speaker 1: Wafa Ben-Hassine, Civil Society, African Group
Speaker 2: Luis Fernando Garcia, Civil Society, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)
Speaker 3: David Kaye, Intergovernmental Organization, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Policy Question(s): 

As states employ the servicesĀ of private vendors to assist with essential functions like law enforcement, e-voting, and identification, who should oversee the procurement process? How is accountability achieved when misuse or breach takes place? Sub questions include: What innovative oversight structures are local municipalities putting in place to hold law enforcement accountable for their purchase and operation of invasive surveillance technologies? How might these inform global governance structures? Is it appropriate to test new identification systems on displaced and refugee populations?

Relevance to Theme: Governments contract private sector companies to assist in producing data on individuals and communities at a greater rate than ever before. This procurement often occurs without public oversight or attention to the potential use of the technology. States can produce this data without consent or even knowledge of the data subjects. In the case of law enforcement surveillance via third-party tools like spyware, the state may not have any legal basis for collection and processing, and affected persons and communities often lack any meaningful pathway to achieve remedy for harms caused.

Relevance to Internet Governance: Governments are a major stakeholder in the development of information and communications technologies related to the internet, not only through their policy making but also through their procurement and budgeting. We seek to draw greater attention to the obscure processes used to vet and purchase tools for surveillance and digital identification, and theorize more inclusive governance of this procurement and ultimate use of such ICTs. We will uncover innovative and forward-thinking measures and structures to safeguard the public interest in government ICT contracting as it relates to the production and governance of data, with a focus on hearing from the vulnerable and marginalized groups often left out of policymaking in this area. As massive new identification systems and invasive new forms of surveillance arise, norms are needed to ensure human rights, anti-corruption, and other values are accounted for by design.


Birds of a Feather - Auditorium - 60 Min

Description: Through their purchasing and procurement of information and communications technologies, governments act as powerful clients whose policy agendas direct and sustain large swatches of private sector activity. From e-government systems for digital identification and authentication, public services delivery, and electronic voting, to police, military, and intelligence agency surveillance programs, a broad and increasing set of government functions depend on private vendors for essential platforms and service tools. The rollout or sunset of digital and cyber strategies can make or break entire sub-industries in the ICT sector.

Partnering with private sector vendors for such services represents a vector for advancing the public interest in efficient and effective governance. However, often occurring without adequate public oversight, the procurement and deployment of ICTs also provides a pathway for unscrupulous, opaque, and self-serving financial and technical dealings.
In this session, we will uncover innovative and forward-thinking measures and structures to safeguard the public interest in government ICT contracting. We will focus on two areas of interaction between the private and public sectors: the private surveillance technology trade, and digital identification systems.

The private surveillance sector is the focus of an upcoming study by David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on the freedom of opinion and expression, for its human rights impacts and attendant responsibilities. The sector is expanding to reach new markets and increase the capacity of governments as well as non-state actors to access sensitive information and systems. Despite their powerful capabilities and expensive prices, these technologies are often purchased through confidential arrangements, allowing certain state officials to circumvent laws and regulatory structures in place to protect the public and facilitate fiscal, political, and criminal accountability. Transparency is often lacking, leaving oversight inadequate.

A second area of inquiry will look at the vendors behind national digital identification systems, and the services they provide to governments, intergovernmental bodies, and other entities who engage in public service tracking and delivery at scale. From biometric data collection tools and databases to SIM cards and chip-enabled identification modules, these tools are seen as essential in many humanitarian and e-government initiatives aimed at achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Digital IDs are proposed as crucial to integrating displaced and dispossessed populations into the digital economy and host country political systems. However, the security of digital ID devices and systems has been shown in cases to fail, leaving the sensitive data of large populations at risk. Trust in institutions suffers as a result.

Innovative, local oversight structures, like the Community Control Over Police Surveillance (CCOPS) laws passed recently in many United States municipalities, will be described and analyzed for their effectiveness. Global norms on the human rights responsibilities of businesses, and multi-stakeholder initiatives in the extractives and labor and employment industries will be scrutinized as potential drivers and models for inclusive governance over procurement in the ICT sector.

Lead discussants will begin by describing the current status of the two sectors mentioned above, and highlighting the nature of their interaction with government clients. Journalists and affected civil society representatives will respond with narratives of the unintended consequences and abuses enabled by these private sector actors, and their experiences of navigating accountability and remedial mechanisms. Public and private representatives will respond before we yield the floor to participation.

Expected Outcomes: Increased understanding of common and best practices in government procurement of ICTs, focusing on those with acute impacts on the public such as surveillance and digital identification technologies

Knowledge of the innovative methods to ensure adequate public oversight, such as municipal laws ensuring civilian oversight of police surveillance technology, and multi-stakeholder initiatives, will be developed and shared, based in part on the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur David Kaye in his upcoming report to the 2019 UN General Assembly on the topic of surveillance technology and freedom of expression

Tools to improve private sector policies and practices on disclosure and transparency, including human rights impact assessments, publish-what-you-pay databases, and technical and legal measures.

Discussion Facilitation: 

As this is a birds of a feather session, we will work to interrogate panelists on their assumptions, ferret out pathways that have not led to expected or desired results, and generally act as skeptical parties. Lead discussants will begin by describing the current status of the two sectors of private surveillance tech and digital identity, and the nature of those businesses' interaction with government clients. Journalists and civil society representatives affected by the technology and contracting will respond with narratives of the unintended consequences and abuses enabled by these private sector actors' tools, and their experiences of navigating accountability and remedial mechanisms to date. Public and private representatives will respond before we yield the floor to participation.

Online Participation: 

We will advertise the panel and the tool before the event via our social media channels, request comments and questions be posed, and use the contributions to shape the interventions from the participants during the event.


GOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
GOAL 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
GOAL 17: Partnerships for the Goals