Last week, Foreign Policy
reported that the United Nations (U.N.) has backtracked on its partnership with Tencent, a Chinese telecommunications
company, to provide its online platform for the U.N.’s upcoming 75th anniversary.
Today, Access Now and other international organisations released an open letter
to the U.N. emphasising the fundamental importance of transparency in any private-public partnerships the U.N. enters
into, particularly as the COVID-19 pandemic pushes U.N. operations and the global community online. We also stressed the
need to undertake sufficient due diligence and assess the human rights impact of such partnerships.
“We’re excited by these new digital bridges for the U.N.’s 75th Anniversary, but the roadways for conversation and
debate need strong foundations in transparency, security, and respect for human rights,” said Peter Micek, General
Counsel and U.N. Policy Manager of Access Now. “Private platforms that benefit from association with the U.N. must
promote privacy and freedom of expression in their operations, and open up to public scrutiny.”
“We caution the U.N. to carefully consider whether adequate privacy, data protection, and security measures are in place
before entering into any agreement with any digital platform,” said Laura O’Brien, U.N. Advocacy Officer of Access Now. “That includes keeping a watchful eye on
concerning contractual provisions the U.N. may encounter.”
“Intentionally or not, such partnerships may create the perception that the company is in a unique position to influence
conversations. Safeguards must be set in place to protect users already at risk of censorship and reprisals for
exercising their freedom of expression,” stresses Micek.
Access Now commends the U.N.’s decision to undertake further internal consultation before engaging in the partnership
with Tencent, and encourages the U.N. to consult with various stakeholders, including civil society, on an equal
footing, regarding any private-public partnerships going forward.