#techprom Featured Speaker – Ambassador Eileen Donahoe
As attendees of the March 5 CDT #techprom are wined and dined, they will hear remarks from two amazing speakers. We recently had an opportunity to talk with one of our featured keynotes, Eileen Donahoe, the US Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Council, and asked her a few questions to preview her remarks. Follow her work at @AmbDonahoe and CDT at @CenDemTech.
CDT: The UN Human Rights Council (HRC) Resolution on Internet Rights was a significant accomplishment, with governments around the world affirming the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online". What do you see as some of the biggest barriers to the full exercise of human rights online?
Ambassador Donahoe: Some governments are working hard to impose national and international restrictions that would cripple the exercise of human rights online. In these cases, governments often hide behind concerns about “information security” or “internet governance” to justify repression. We see these efforts are a real threat to online freedom. From our vantage point, the free flow of information is essential to the integrity of the network as well as to human rights. The interoperability of the network both in the technical sense – the ability of the cables and servers that transfer data to talk to each other – and in the sense that countries must not isolate their citizens inside national intranets - are central to the functionality of the internet and the full enjoyment of human rights. Locking people inside a world of government-controlled content and cutting them off from the world destroys the Internet and threatens human rights.
We are also concerned about an emerging trend in which some governments increasingly rely on private Internet corporations to carry out Internet censorship and illicit surveillance campaigns. These governments create vague legal standards to criminalize political speech by characterizing it as “subversive” or a threat to security. Then, to intimidate political dissidents and chill expression, these governments demand that
Internet companies delete their users’ online content, or turn over users’ personal information, so the users can be identified and, perhaps, arrested. In effect, these governments have outsourced censorship, surveillance and intimidation to private companies, which feel obligated to comply with government demands if they hope to continue operating their businesses.
CDT: What role do other stakeholders - industry, technical experts, civil society advocates, grassroots organizers, academics - play in protecting human rights online?
Donahoe: We fully understand that a multi-stakeholder approach is essential to ensuring that human rights are protected online and that all voices are included in policy discussion as both civil society and technology continue to change. We engage daily with the civil society actors who will shape the future of the Internet in their countries. Our Mission in Geneva makes it a priority to build relationships with “netizens" so we stay aware of online threats and opportunities as they develop around the world. We also encourage private corporations to respect human rights that are exercised via new technologies. The Global Network Initiative is an example of a multi-stakeholder organization that is trying to help Internet and technology corporations address human rights challenges, and to develop workable solutions when faced with improper government demands.
CDT: What do you hope the UN HRC will accomplish in the next two years?
Donahoe: One top priority is to reinforce the core tenant of the HRC Resolution on Internet Freedom last July - namely - that human rights must be protected online to the same extent as they are offline. This is a very simple proposition - with huge implications for human rights in the 21st century.