UNESCO new research on balancing privacy and transparency debated at 10th IGF

"Privacy and transparency do not balance each other, but complement each other", asserted by professor Joseph Cannataci at the University of Groningen, who has led UNESCO research project "Balancing privacy and transparency in the context of promoting online freedom of expression".

The session, well attended by 80 participants, was held at the 10th IGF on 10th November. UNESCO representative Ms Xianhong Hu chaired the session and introduced that UNESCO initiated this research out of its mandate to promote freedom of expression online and offline. She said this UNESCO research aims to unpack complexities around transparency and freedom of expression due to the blurred border between personal and public information on Internet.  UNESCO thanks Netherlands government for its financial support of the research.

Professor Joseph Cannataci, who was recently appointed as the UN Special Rapporteur on Right to Privacy, presented the initial findings and recommendations of the research. He disputed the claim that privacy is dead in the digital age, and said that privacy must be examined at the individual, corporate, state, and international levels. The study looked at “Google Spain” case, public figures and freedom of expression, anti-terrorism legislation and privacy protection. It further offers recommendations for national state authorities, private sector and international society.

For national state authorities, recommendations include encouraging self-regulation and co-regulation of the private sector, updating existing legal protection frameworks, improving transparency, putting in place safeguards for secret and surveillance services, encouraging use of encryption and privacy by design, and stopping support for countries abusing technologies. For the private sector, recommendations are for more transparency (in internal policies and structures, clarifying privacy policies, issuing transparency reports, and conducting human rights impact assessments), following higher industrial standards (through self-regulation and co-regulation), and respecting human rights for all people. Recommendation for international society include continually emphasizing the importance of rights, negotiating and developing new/existing international agreements, (e.g., minimize surveillance across borders), improve digital literacy and reduce the digital divide (teaching digital literacy as a life skill that has a substantial economic impact), promoting democracy and digital transparency.

Most panellists supported Professor Cannataci’s position that privacy and transparency complement each other and that transparency is fundamental to the protection of personal data. Debates focused on the lack of harmonization of different legislations and principles among different countries and regions, which are faced different challenges. Privacy was deemed as a barrier in international trade agreements, and in Latin America, about 50% of content removal requests relate to defamation. Balancing transparency and privacy in conflict area depends on protecting source and providing secure channels for journalists to communicate without violating privacy, and training reporters so that they do not expose themselves on the Internet.

During the discussion, it was pointed out that individuals now have a "set of capabilities": Everybody has the capacity to collect, process, share and use data, and not only large companies. There is a need to separate personal data from informationwhich serves a key issue at "Google-Spain" case. A number of questions were raised including self-regulation and co-regulation in balancing transparency and privacy, how to balance right of citizen journalists to remain anonymous / private and accountable, etc.

The workshop serves a final consultation with stakeholders on the new research, which will be finalized by the end of year 2015. This study has also been prepared as a contribution to UNESCO’s comprehensive study titled Keystones to Foster Inclusive Knowledge Societies: Access to information and knowledge, Freedom of Expression, Privacy and Ethics on a Global Internet as mandated by Resolution 37 of the UNESCO General Conference.