UN human rights experts today warned of increased patterns of closing of digital spaces amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
UN Special Rapporteurs* attending the annual RightsCon conference on human rights in the digital age, the first fully
online, stressed that “COVID-19 has made us even more reliant on digital technologies and the space they create for
civic engagement. With the closing of civic space and restrictions on offline media, access to universal, open,
affordable, secure, and stable Internet is vital to save lives, to prevent abuses, to continue to promote and protect
human rights and urgently increase access to information”.
“Digital technologies that construct and surround the space in which we conduct our lives during these unprecedented
times must not be used by governments or companies to restrict fundamental freedoms, reduce civic space, and target
civil society actors, including human rights defenders,” they said.
The independent experts joined the online summit to discuss a range of topics including lessons learned from the
pandemic, surveillance technologies, security and data collection, racial discrimination, and online attacks against
human rights defenders and protest movements.
“States continue to leverage the Internet and digital technologies to quell dissent, engage in unlawful surveillance,
and strip individuals of their capacity for collective action, both online and off. We are deeply concerned that such
patterns of abuse have accelerated under the exigencies of the global pandemic,” they said.
“As the UN nears its 75th General Assembly, the gap between the commitments and actual practices of States needs greater
scrutiny,” they said.
Experts extolled the protests movements by persons of African descent against systemic violence and institutional racism
and called on technology companies to meet their responsibility to respect human rights and contribute to remedial
efforts for any discrimination the sector causes or contributes to.
The Special Rapporteurs will continue to document the intersection of technology within their mandates, particularly as
they prepare to release their upcoming reports to the United Nations General Assembly this fall.