Trust and Security digest (October 2022)

10 Nov 2022

This extract is taken from the October 2022 issue of The digest, GPD’s newsletter. Sign up here.


Key takeaways from the 2022 ITU Plenipot
Last month, our Head of Global Engagement and Advocacy, Sheetal Kumar, attended the 2022 Plenipotentiary Conference of the International Telecommunication Union—a major agenda-setting juncture in the calendar of this UN telecoms body. Read Sheetal’s concise read-out and key takeaways here.

As Sheetal reports in her blog, aside from Doreen Bogdan-Martin’s widely reported victory in the Secretary-General election, there were few substantive new resolutions or amendments from a digital rights perspective. However, certain smaller decisions, developments and dynamics at the Plenipot may become significant as they are interpreted and implemented over the coming year. See the full blog for more details.

An update on the Global Digital Compact 
GPD alongside seven other civil society organisations—Derechos Digitales, Fundación Karisma, Transparência Brasil, Nigerian Network of NGOs, Paradigm Initiative—has responded to the Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology’s call for input into the development of the Global Digital Compact (GDC).

The GDC is a UN-led initiative that aims to develop a set of guiding principles for member states on how human rights standards apply in the digital age.

Our submission provided recommendations on the core principles to underlie AI regulation as well as a set of suggested commitments for states, the private sector and civil society.

With the passage of a resolution delaying the process, member states have agreed on the following timeline for the development of the final text of the GDC:

  • Stakeholders have until 31 March 2023 to submit input into the consultation on the GDC
  • A preparatory ministerial meeting in September 2023 to be organised and co-facilitated by the representatives of the governments of Namibia and Germany,
  • Final text of the GDC will be presented at the Summit of the Future in September 2024
Listening Post
We’ve been keeping an eye on a few digital policy developments this month.

  • Iranian authorities have continued to use regional internet shutdowns to quell domestic protests over Mahsa Amini’s death throughout October, and Instagram, WhatsApp, Skype and LinkedIn remain blocked and VPN access limited. With the death count of protesters now in the hundreds, the 34 member states of the Freedom Online Coalition published a joint statement calling upon Iranian authorities to end the network disruptions and respect Iran’s international human rights obligations. Many other international organisations—such as the OHCHR, the Council of the European Union and the Association for Progressive Communications—have also issued statements calling on the Iranian authorities to protect citizens’ human rights and restore access.
  • India proposed a new Draft Telecommunications Bill in late September, which seeks to consolidate and repeal India’s outdated laws governing telecom services and telecom infrastructure. The new law, if passed, would dramatically expand the existing definition of “telecommunications services” to include virtually all OTT and online platforms, giving the government the right to shut down the internet if doing so is in the national interest, and broadening the circumstances in which authorities are permitted to surveil citizens’ private online messages. We and a coalition of civil society organisations will be calling on the Indian government to withdraw the bill and produce a revised draft through multistakeholder consultation.
  • Turkey’s controversial “Omnibus bill” was passed in mid-October. Like India’s draft telecommunications bill, it brings OTT services within the scope of existing requirements for telecommunications services to intercept or decrypt messages, increasing the ability of authorities to surveil citizens’ online messages. It also increases the financial, administrative and criminal liability of technology companies for user-generated content, and criminalises the spreading of “false information” with a penalty of up to three years in prison. The Council of Europe and the OSCE each raised urgent concerns over the law and urged Turkish authorities to amend the provisions relating to disinformation in order to comply with internationally-agreed standards for freedom of expression.
  • Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover, and subsequent firing of virtually all of the company’s content moderation experts, has prompted extensive commentary from all sectors of society. The platform has already seen a reported surge in hate speech and disinformation, with potentially far-reaching impacts on the US midterms. Many are also concerned at the potential implications of the confidential data-sharing deals Musk has struck with some of his Saudi and Qatari investors who backed the deal. We’ll continue to monitor Musk’s plans for Twitter’s new Content Moderation Council, and hope that his idea of a “diverse” group includes human rights experts and representatives of marginalised and minority groups who are vulnerable to online abuse.