UNESCO triggers debate on privacy, encryption and source protection at WSIS Forum 2017

22 June 2017


UNESCO Assistant-Director General for Communication and Information Frank La Rue speaking at the high-level session C9 Media Action Line Meeting in the WSIS Forum 2017 in Geneva (Switzerland).

In the framework of the World Summit of the Information Society (WSIS) Forum in Geneva (Switzerland), UNESCO convened a session on “Strengthening privacy, encryption and source protection for media freedom and Internet development”.

Held on 15 June, the meeting brought together stakeholders and experts to brainstorm on a comprehensive strategy for implementing WSIS Action Line C9 in post-2015 phase, particularly on strengthening source protection for media freedom and Internet development.

“The Internet is the contemporary space for human rights interaction. What encryption provides is a certain level of privacy to enjoy freedom of expression,” said David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, during his keynote speech. He stressed that security cannot only be the security of the State but should also be the security of individuals, including journalists. The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression concluded his speech by saying that the public needs to engage with appropriate security tools that could empower them and strengthen security in a broader sense.

“Privacy and freedom of expression are very close, and are valid for individuals, for society and journalism, especially investigative journalism,” said the UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information, Frank La Rue. Regarding the breech of privacy on the issue of national security, he emphasized that all breaches must be done in the legal and due form of the rule of law.

“The right to privacy and the right to freedom of expression are both inalienable human rights and are generally mutually supportive and interdependent,” stated the moderator Xianhong Hu (UNESCO). She suggested the UNESCO R.O.A.M principles (Rights based, Openness, Accessibility, and Multi-stakeholder participation) provide holistic views and recommendations by considering not only the protection of those rights but also their impact on the broader dimension of preserving Internet’s openness, accessibility and multi-stakeholderism.

Within this context, the author of UNESCO’s publication Protecting Journalism Sources in the Digital Age Julie Posetti from the University of Wollongoing (Australia), explained that “the issue of source protection has come to intersect with the issues of mass surveillance, targeted surveillance, data retention, the spillover effects of anti-terrorism/national security legislation and the role of third party Internet providers.” In addition, she highlighted that “there is a need for more transparency and accountability on the issue of search warrants for journalism; sources and whistleblowers should have the confidence to contact journalists.”

Another debated issue was on redefining the boundaries of privacy, free expression and transparency, and how to balance these rights in the digital age. Jeanne Bonnici and Bo Zhao from the Faculty of Law of the University of Groningen, co-authors of UNESCO’s publication Privacy, Freedom of Expression and Transparency, noted that “the right to information must be guaranteed, and it includes the right to know how our information is stored, used and processed.”

Since 2006, UNESCO facilitates the WSIS Action Line C9 Media and invites all stakeholders to continue debating on those emerging issues during future WSIS conferences.

Link to the programme: https://www.itu.int/net4/wsis/forum/2017/Agenda/Session/325#intro