IGF 2020 WS #243 Civil and Political Rights in the Digital Age


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

Speaker 1: Edouard Gaudot, Intergovernmental Organization, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 2: Kalypso Nicolaidis, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 3: Tyson Nicholas, Government, Asia-Pacific Group


Debate - Auditorium - 90 Min

Policy Question(s)

1) Governance dimensions for data-driven technologies - What is the relationship between ethical considerations, civil and political rights and regulatory frameworks in data driven technologies governance? - Based on what rights and ethical principles (justice, responsibility) should we develop an ethical framework for resolving issues related to data-driven technologies? - What societal, political or economic benefits and purposes would potentially justify the use of digital technologies and data collection that have an impact on civil and political liberties? How should these benefits be weighed against the need to protect fundamental civil and political rights? 2) Digital identity - How to design governance strategies for meaningful consent in the use of personal data? - How to ensure transparency and accountability in the gathering and handling of personal data?

1. What data governance strategies and mechanisms should policy-makers adopt to avoid power abuses by state authorities, private corporations and other powerful actors, unintended side effects, and other potentially negative consequences of new technologies on the respect for and protection of civil and political rights (e.g. surveillance, social control, manipulation)? 2. What data governance strategies and mechanisms should policy-makers adopt to actively promote the respect for and protection of civil and political rights in the digital age)? 3. What analytical and ethical frameworks should policy-makers employ in order to a) assess if there is a need for regulation, b) balance risks and opportunities under conditions of uncertainty c) solve potential conflicts between competing values, norms and ethical principles in a transparent, explicable and fair fashion?


GOAL 5: Gender Equality
GOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
GOAL 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
GOAL 17: Partnerships for the Goals


Digital transformation has a profound effect on almost every aspect of human existence, posing a complex challenge: the development and rapid advancement of digital technologies has created both new opportunities for citizens to be empowered, and also new risks for abuses of power. This has led to the recognition that we require a robust ethical framework to guide the development and operation of digital technologies, including data collection, use and storage. During this workshop we will discuss aspects of legal, historical, political and social questions to more readily understand the how, why and what of protecting political and civil rights in the digital age. It will combine the question of what should be done to protect political and civil rights in the digital age, with the question of how this could possibly be achieved through well designed governance and regulation strategies. To this purpose, we will discuss three case studies: 1) The covid-19 pandemic: data collection for tracking the location and cross-reference or contact-trace individuals via their smartphones. Whilst at face value nation states have asserted that the use of existing digital surveillance technology and the rapid development and implementation of specific smartphone applications is about public safety, a point of inquiry will be to understand what effect this has in terms of shifting perceptions of what is a 'normal' level of control. For example, how does linking the use of digital technologies for state surveillance, as a precursor to the lifting of individual and collective movement restrictions currently in place in many states (lockdowns and curfews), result in a normalisation of deviance as society accepts indefinite intrusions into privacy for the sake of lifting strict controls that are affecting other rights, like freedom of movement, freedom of association and peaceful protest, and economic opportunities? Are individuals ready to share their data and accept restrictions on their privacy for 'good' purposes and for how long? 2) This second case study will specifically look at the regulation of private technology corporations. It will try to determine how, when and / or if private technology corporations are approved to market and sell digital technologies. It will discuss how policy-makers can balance priorities between the promotion of digital innovation for economic growth, and the minimum guarantees given to the rights of individuals (e.g. avoid applications that 'listen' and collect data without consent and knowledge of the users). 3) The third case will discuss on the state as an ‘enabler’ of citizen empowerment through the use of digital technology. This case study is concerned with how states can actively support and encourage the positive potential of technology for participatory, transparent and trustworthy politics, through mechanisms such as digital direct democracy, online petitions, the mobilisation of citizens, and civil society control mechanisms. How can the state guarantee that the data collected for these purposes is not misused or manipulated?

Expected Outcomes

This workshop is part of a bigger research project that aims to develop an ethical framework for policy-makers. A main output of this workshop will be the discussion and development of an ethical framework that can be used by policy-makers in their task to design governance strategies and draft regulations in the digital field. This will substantially aid the work of policy-makers on the national and international level to strike a balance between driving technological innovation and digitalisation while protecting civil and political rights to the benefit of society. During the workshop we aim to discuss the content of the ethical framework with a larger group of stakeholders. We will use their comments and inputs for adapting the ethical framework accordingly and reach out to participants to collaborate in one form or anther in the joint research project.

The discussion will be organized around the three case studies (see above) which will allow to discuss present and future technological trends; the legal, political and social context; the regulative capacities of national institutions and international organisations; the level of agreement on a shared vision of with intentions and for what purposes we aim to use (personal) data; and the discrepancy between the most likely outputs based on current trends and our vision of a fair and just society.

Relevance to Internet Governance: From a governance viewpoint, this workshop addresses the need to effectively regulate the development and use of digital technologies and invites discussions on the question of which direction we would like our societies to develop, namely towards more freedom and empowerment, or towards more control and repression. Specifically, this workshop (and discussion of an ethical framework) aims to guide policy-makers in the difficult task to ‘translate’ civil and political rights from the analogue to the digital space. Although there is widespread agreement that rights are valid with regards to the use of digital technologies, there is less agreement on what this means in practice and how norm conflicts can be fairly addressed - this workshop addresses this shortfall in a practical and meaningful way.

Relevance to Theme: The main objective of our workshop is precisely to address the fundamental challenge of ensuring the benefits of the data revolution to contribute to inclusive economic development while protecting the rights of people. The generation, collection, storage, transfer and processing of data (including personally identifiable data) have enabled new social, cultural, and economic opportunities than ever previously imagined. At the same time, the massive collection, transfer and processing of data through the application of data driven technologies by public as well as private entities have created new risks for the respect and protection of civil and political rights (which are a backbone of international human rights law, see Convenant on Political and Civil Rights 1966). Out workshop aims to contribute to identifying best approaches to ensure the development of human-centric data governance frameworks at national, regional and international levels that are in accordance with fundamental rights and core ethical principles (most notably justice and responsibility, among others). It will encourage an exchange of views among participants on how to guarantee the respect and protection of civil and political rights in current uses and development of data-driven technologies.

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