I’m very pleased to announce the launch of a new long-term project that will explore the responsibilities of the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector to protect and promote the freedom of opinion and expression. The announcement at the OHCHR website, pasted below, notes that we are seeking public submissions on a range of issues.

The announcement speaks for itself, but I want to emphasize one point: This is very much the “first bite of the apple” for this project. At this stage, we are preparing what we call a mapping report to identify relevant sectors, legal issues of concern, and existing principles/frameworks, a report that I will present to the Human Rights Council during its June session. We have intentionally left it wide open to enable a range of input. But we also want to urge submissions to be in the nature of issue-spotting and identifying national examples that the project should take into account, not exhaustive analyses of specific sectors or legal issues. That will come later, as we’ll leave ample opportunities for further submissions and consultations. For now, consider what *you* think the project should address — and please do so in as succinct a manner as possible.

I hope this ‘gloss’ on the call for submissions answers some questions in advance. Submissions will be accepted through January. Be in touch if you have specific questions. We hope to hear from a wide range of stakeholders.

Call for submissions: Freedom of expression and the private sector in the digital age

The Special Rapporteur on the protection and promotion of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, is launching a project to study the responsibilities of the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) sector to protect and promote freedom of expression in the digital age.

During the initial phase of the project until the spring of 2016, the Special Rapporteur will prepare a study that maps 1) the categories of actors in the ICT sector whose activities implicate the freedom of opinion and expression; 2) the main legal issues raised for freedom of opinion and expression within the ICT sector; and 3) the conceptual and normative work already done to develop corporate responsibility and human rights frameworks in these spaces, including governmental, inter-governmental, civil society, corporate and multistakeholder efforts. This report will also identify the work plan and objectives for the duration of the project.

This initial mapping report will be presented to the Human Rights Council in June 2016.

Over the course of the project, the Special Rapporteur will regularly seek the input of all stakeholders: governments, civil society, corporations, trade associations, international and regional organizations, national human rights institutions, and others. To prepare this initial report, the Special Rapporteur invites all stakeholders to share concise comments and/or existing work-product focusing on one or more of the following sets of issue-areas:

  • At a minimum, the actors within the ICT sector that implicate freedom of opinion and expression include search engines and data processors, social media, news media, Internet Service Providers (ISPs), telecommunications providers, e-commerce, surveillance and cybersecurity firms. The Special Rapporteur would welcome input that identifies the ways in which these or other private corporate actors implicate freedom of expression.
  • Legal and policy issues concerning the ICT sector have become prominent in recent years. These include, to name a very small number of examples, the regulation of content on all platforms and by all services and providers; acquiescence of corporate actors with government mandates or requests to take down content or services, to cooperate with government surveillance, or to localize data; the liability of intermediaries; and the security and privacy policies and technologies adopted by private actors, such as encryption. The Special Rapporteur would welcome input that identifies key legal and policy issues in the ICT sector, as well as legal and policy concerns raised by government regulation of the ICT sector, that implicate freedom of opinion and expression.
  • The Special Rapporteur is aware of a wide range of existing projects that identify relevant human rights principles or obligations of the private ICT sector, and he would welcome input that identifies those projects as well as strengths or weaknesses of existing approaches.

Original submissions should be concise, aiming to introduce and highlight topics rather than fully explore each one, as detailed studies and consultations will follow during the course of the project. Submissions will be posted on the OHCHR website at the time of the report’s publication, except those containing a clear request not to be made public. Stakeholders may also submit existing work product such as articles, working papers, studies, websites and so forth.

Please send submissions no later than 29 January 2016 to freedex@ohchr.org using the email title: “Submission to study on private ICT sector responsibilities”.  Those wishing to file securely may submit to the Special Rapporteur at dkaye@lawnet.uci.edu  (fingerprint: ABA0 1654 A5A4 F057 C9F1 3DF1 8626 0F7E 1E7E 1BB7).

Call for submissions for ICT Sector Project