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Human rights are integral to the realisation of human autonomy and to advancing social justice. While the COVID-19 pandemic raised multiple intersectional issues of digital security and privacy, freedom of expression and information, and the further marginalisation of already vulnerable communities, the post-pandemic terrain that has emerged has seen shrinking civic space, with malicious state and non-state actors using technology to attack, threaten and harm women, gender-diverse individuals, minorities and migrants; suppress dissent; roll back human rights; and thwart advocacy by these communities.

The complexity of the current scenario also includes rapid digitalisation of services catalysed by the pandemic; the datafication of economies and societies; geopolitical shifts in power leading to a rise of restrictive reactionary governments or policies; polarisation of debate and perspective; troubling narratives around migration; and potential disempowerment of multistakeholder voices in global and regional forums.

The landscape of human rights protection and promotion has changed, and the private sector mediates many of our rights. While the tech industry has benefited enormously from the pandemic through deals and alliances with governments, it is anticipated that AI technologies will significantly impact on the amount and type of disinformation circulated on the internet, and contribute to the shaping of a new public sphere online where little can or will be trusted.

In a nutshell, human rights crosscut all the priority themes highlighted for the GDC, and therefore, ahuman rights framework, standards and principles should be at the centreof the GDC.

In view of this premise, we call on the GDC to adhere to the following principles:

  • Alignment with existing international human rights law in all aspects pertaining to the digital sphere is a must to ensure accountability and transparency by states and corporations, address structural inequalities, strengthen democracy, mitigate the impact of the environmental crisis, and reinforce the enjoyment of human rights offline and online.

  • All individuals of the global digital ecosystem, no matter who they are or where they live, should be able to fully enjoy equal rights to safety, freedom and dignity.

  • The internet must be operated, governed and regulated on the legal and normative foundations of international human rights standards and the rule of law and must remain open, diverse, free and interoperable.

  • Any solutions proposed to address challenges in the digital space must adhere to the principles of necessity and proportionality to avoid negative consequences for the exercise of human rights online.

  • Governments and companies should adopt a human rights-based approach as the standard for the design and use of digital technologies, including and in particular, human and automated content moderation systems, in accordance with the standards of international human rights bodies and instruments.

  • Governments and companies should undertake human rights impact assessments of digital technology-related policies, acknowledging their impact on all human rights as well as taking into account local contexts and realities of groups in conditions of vulnerability and marginalisation.

  • Governments should strengthen meaningful multistakeholder participation mechanisms where all those who are affected by digitalisation, particularly historically marginalised groups, have a say in internet governance and internet policies at all levels.