The Global Network Initiative welcomes the opportunity to provide input for the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights being prepared as requested in General Assembly Resolution 68/167 entitled “The right to privacy in the digital age.” This submission expands on GNI’s February 24 letter to the High Commissioner on this topic.
GNI brings together ICT companies with civil society organizations, investors, and academics to forge a common approach to protecting and advancing free expression and privacy online. GNI has developed a set of principles and implementation guidelines to guide responsible company, government and civil society action when facing requests from governments around the world that could impact the freedom of expression and privacy rights of users.
This submission offers specific recommendations to inform the High Commissioner’s report based on the experience and perspectives of GNI’s multi-stakeholder membership. We recommend the report include the following specific points:
- Bulk collection of communications data—both content and metadata—threatens privacy and freedom of expression rights.
- Rather than bulk collection, government surveillance should be particularized, with independent judicial oversight.
- Governments that exercise “virtual control” over the digital communications of foreigners have an obligation to respect their privacy rights under the International Covenant on Civil and political Rights (ICCPR).
- The GNI principles and guidelines provide specific measures that can be taken by companies to respect privacy and free expression rights when facing requests by governments for access to data.
- Increased transparency by governments and companies is a key building block to ensure that communications surveillance regimes are consistent with human rights standards.
- Governments and companies should be as specific as possible with their users and the general public about the legal limitations on disclosing surveillance practices.
- Governments should commit to more specific areas of increased transparency based on consultation with other stakeholders.