Governments, the private sector and civil society all have an interest in determining how digital technologies are designed, implemented and managed. Technological artifacts, including those developed in global standardization bodies, have embedded politics and profound human rights implications. The Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) commends the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) for launching a year-long consultation on technical standards and human rights.
OHCHR has invited relevant stakeholders to provide input for the preparation of a thematic report on this critical issue, to be presented at the 53rd session of the Human Rights Council (HRC) in 2023. In 2021, the HRC passed Resolution 47/23 on “New and Emerging Digital Technologies and Human Rights.” The resolution calls for the OHCHR to submit a report after its “convening”.[s] an expert consultation to discuss the relationship between human rights and technical standard-setting processes for new and emerging digital technologies.”
This work has been ongoing for CDT for many years. We first participated in the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standardization in 1995 and attended our first Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) meeting in 2001. We have long been active advocates for human rights through technical standard setting bodies and educating civil society about the importance of these forums.
Because of this extensive experience, we have worked with OHCHR to help shape the consultation and also to contribute lessons from our expertise.
Additionally, in December 2022, we co-hosted an open forum at the Global Internet Governance Forum (IGF) with OHCHR and the Office of the Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Technology. The event provided an opportunity to bring together various stakeholders, particularly from academia, professionals, the private sector and civil society at the IGF, to discuss many of the issues raised in the open call, such as: ” Panelists at the event included ITU’s Bilel Jamoussi; Lars Eggert Chair of the Internet Engineering Task Force; and Mehwish Ansari from ARTICLE 19.
CDT Chief Technology Officer Mallory Knodel on a screen testifying in person before an expert interview at the Human Rights Council headquarters in Geneva.
Additionally, last month we were invited to the HRC headquarters in Geneva for the “HRC-Mandated Expert Consultation on New and Emerging Digital Technologies and Human Rights”, where our contributions were heard before an audience of governments, the private sector and other SDO stakeholders . We discussed the challenges facing civil society participation and shared concrete examples of where progress has been made.
In order to continue this commitment, we have written our response to the open call for proposals. We also welcome community engagement with submissions from W3C participants and the Internet Architecture Board (IAB). We emphasize:
Open, multi-stakeholder standard-setting is an important venue for human rights discussion, analysis and support, and we are committed to participating in standard-setting to promote human rights. Organizations with multilateral treaties are less well positioned to engage the community of stakeholders and represent civil society. Further support is needed to increase civil society participation and make technical standardization more accessible and inclusive.