The rapid expansion of cyber technology and digital tools promises to improve our lives and revolutionize industries. However, the development of risk management and legal measures have lagged, and that poses a danger.
“We must work to ensure these technologies are designed, developed, deployed, and used in a responsible way,” said United States Counselor to the United Nations Economic and Social Council Ed Heartney. “Innovation must not disregard human rights concerns, and human rights should be a centerpiece for any international agreement driving responsible practices in the digital sphere.”
“The United States remains concerned with the growing list of technology misuses for censorship, transnational repression, arbitrary or unlawful surveillance and other privacy violations, and disinformation. These misuses have been further exacerbated in some countries by repressive legislative environments intended to silence peaceful critics and limit factual reporting,” he said.
“We are particularly concerned by the proliferation and misuse of commercial spyware to target human rights defenders, activists, journalists, and perceived critics, as well as diplomats and their families,” said Counselor Heartney. “These technologies often give perpetrators unfettered access to personal information and locations without the user’s awareness.”
“Activists lobbying for women’s rights are being harassed and intimidated. Journalists are being targeted for factual reporting on corrupt or authoritarian practices. For example, civil society experts reported finding commercial spyware on a prominent Russian journalist’s phone,” he said. “These cases of digital repression can also lead to physical abuses, such as arbitrary detentions, disappearances, and extrajudicial killings in the most egregious of cases.”
A number of these challenges were recently addressed by the Freedom Online Coalition, a group of countries specifically dedicated to supporting and advancing respect for human rights online and in digital contexts. The Coalition, with the United States at its head this year, “is developing a set of donor principles to align investments in digital governance and data management programs with our commitments to human rights and democratic values,” said Counselor Heartney.
“The United States remains committed to working with all relevant stakeholders on approaches that drive innovation and inclusive economic growth while respecting universal human rights,” he said.
“We call on other governments,” said Counselor Heartney, “to join us in taking meaningful actions to discourage the misuse of commercial spyware, develop responsible use practices that are consistent with respect for universal human rights and the rule of law, and drive responsible business practices in that area.”