Government Policy for the Internet Must Be Rights-Based and User-Centred.

Author:Ben-Hassine, Wafa

Today there may be no resource as powerful, or as vulnerable, as data. The central role that data sharing plays in contemporary society, ranging from use of social media to accessing administrative services, is accompanied by a high degree of risk. Data sharing on a mass scale and for many purposes in a digitally connected world means that our personal information is increasingly open to attack and misuse. In our online communications and transactions, we risk exposing details about our lives that used to be private as a matter of course. This includes not just financial data that must be kept secure but also information about our location, our friends, families and associates, our political beliefs, our purchases and even our health data. Further, States across the globe are creating digital identity systems that connect to our biometric information, building a bridge from our digital activities to our lives and identity offline. This digital identity may then become the target of exploitation, either for commercial or political ends.

Prior to the 2016 presidential elections in the United States, the British firm Cambridge Analytica enabled the use of data from 50 million Facebook accounts to create profiles for targeted political advertisements. The resulting scandal has helped raise public awareness globally about the power of data for manipulation and control in the digital era, and of how few protections we have against this kind of abuse. There is no comprehensive data protection framework in the United States, and little to stop the misuse of Facebook's platform to sow discord online and potentially influence elections. The same lack of protections may have also been a factor in the 2018 presidential elections in Brazil. (1) In the absence of appropriate laws, policies and corporate practices that are grounded in internationally recognized principles for human rights, the data that we share every day can be twisted to undermine democratic processes and hurt the most vulnerable among us.

Unfortunately, how States respond to scandals like that involving Cambridge Analytica can make things worse, and some initiatives even serve to undermine the fundamental rights of the citizens they purport to protect. These responses go beyond passing inadequate data protection laws in haste without proper consultation or input by civil society. (2) Governments across the globe are using the focus on data and national security to push misguided...

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