» UNESCO launches Global Survey on Internet Privacy and Freedom of Expression at the Internet Governance Forum
09.11.2012 - Communication & Information Sector

UNESCO launches Global Survey on Internet Privacy and Freedom of Expression at the Internet Governance Forum

Workshop on Internet privacy and freedom of expression at IGF 2012 - © UNESCO/Cedric Wachholz

How do the “digital footprints” of Internet and cellphone users affect privacy, and what impact does this have on freedom of expression? These questions lie at the heart of a new study released by UNESCO this week.

The new report also served as the basis of a well-attended workshop on Wednesday addressed by a renowned expert panel at the 2012 Internet Governance Forum Panellist Katitza Rodriguez, from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, pointed out how correlations of data could allow inferences about the religious views and sexual orientation of individuals, at a time in history when privacy was still an emerging right.

Organized in collaboration with Global Partners & Associates, the Council of Europe and Article 19, the workshop also heard from Andrew Puddephatt and Ben Wagner, who contributed to the global survey.

The two experts highlighted how challenges to privacy protection have multiplied through the advent of new types and amounts of information being collected. In addition, they pointed to issues around data storage and analysis, surveillance by public and private actors, and to the growth of markets for personal data.

Puddephatt and Wagner also explained how privacy rights, and anonymity, can reinforce freedom of expression, yet also limit it, such as when journalists wish to publish information about personal bank accounts that expose corruption. When freedom of expression and privacy clash, the decision on which should prevail should be guided by an assessment of which right best serves the public interest, said the two researchers.

The pair reiterated the recommendations in the report that strong constitutional protection is needed to safeguard both privacy and freedom of expression. They proposed a highly limited role for criminal law to protect privacy, putting the emphasis instead on civil remedies for violations. 

Other speakers included Gabrielle Guillemin from Article 19, who argued against privacy being protected prior to publication. Sophie Kwasny of the Council of Europe highlighted the importance of work to set standards for privacy and data protection.

Max Senges of Google warned against setting privacy barriers too high, giving examples of data enabling customised services to individuals as well as being necessary for developing online simultaneous interpretation. He also stressed how corporate self-regulation, and media and information literacy for users, could protect privacy and freedom of expression.     

Ceren Ünal, from Bilkent University Faculty of Law in Turkey, emphasized the importance of simple, practical privacy protection instruments being made available in diverse languages to accompany users’ education.

David Souter, from ICT Development Associates, praised the UNESCO study for linking freedom of expression and privacy rights in the light of a constantly changing Internet in which many people have not adapted their behavior to new privacy threats.  

Director of UNESCO’s Division of Freedom of Expression and Media Development, Guy Berger, chaired the workshop and reported its outcomes at the IGF’s main session on Security, Privacy and Openness, held on Thursday.

The Global Survey on Internet Privacy and Freedom of Expression is part of the UNESCO Series on Internet Freedom and is framed within the Organization’s mandate to promote comprehensive freedom of expression online and offline.

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