The increased use of information and communication technologies for terrorist and violent extremist purposes is raising new challenges related to countering terrorism while respecting human rights. In particular the rights to freedom of expression and privacy. In the context of preventing and countering terrorism and violent extremism, effective counter-measures and the protection of human rights are not conflicting goals, but complementary and mutually reinforcing.
As part of the Tech Against Terrorism project, we have developed six guiding principles which inform our approach and will underpin a framework for engaging with technology companies. This work will help reinforce the importance of anticipating and addressing challenging content, and support technology companies in articulating their commitment to respecting freedom of expression and diversity, in ways that are transparent, accountable, and collaborative.
These Principles are based on internationally recognised laws and resolutions on counter-terrorism and human rights, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“UDHR”), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“ICCPR”), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (“ICESCR”), UN Security Council resolutions and documents S/RES/1624 (2005), S/RES/2129 (2013), S/RES/2322 (2016), S/RES/2354 (2017) and S/20 17/375, and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (“UN Guiding Principles”) . They represent important tenets that can help technology companies address potential abuse of their services for terrorist purposes while navigating the challenges of promoting and protecting human rights. As such these principles do not purport to represent a complete catalog of all responsible business conduct-related principles that companies should consider. Neither does their articulation or explanation here constitute legal advice. For a complete framework of responsibilities, companies are advised to read and carefully consider the full text of the UN Guiding Principles and their accompanying commentary.
These principles are intended to help companies think through their responsibilities and determine how best to make them consistent with applicable law, and their own resources and business models. They should be seen as a starting point from which companies can build their own appropriate systems and policies. It should be appreciated that most small companies face challenges in both familiarising themselves with and addressing the myriad legal regimes and social contexts which may apply to their services. Accordingly, company commitments to these principles should be understood as aspirations to be achieved as quickly and thoroughly as possible, and consistent with available resources and scale. The Tech Against Terrorism project is committed to working with technology companies to develop tools and build capacity in this regard.
“We respect the right to freedom of expression that should be enjoyed by our users and will take actions consistent with applicable law to protect it from unlawful or unnecessary restrictions.”
Article 19 of the ICCPR provides that “1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference. 2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice. 3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may, therefore, be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary: (a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others; (b) For the protection of national security or of public order (order public), or of public health or morals.”
“We respect the right of our users to express diverse views and opinions, and commit to educating users regarding what content and expression is not permitted on our platforms through clear terms of service and their transparent and consistent application.”
Article 24 of the ICCPR states that “All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law.” Article 15 of the ICESCR recognizes the rights of everyone to take part in cultural life.
“We respect the privacy of all our users and will take actions consistent with applicable law to protect it from arbitrary or unlawful interference.”
UNDHR Article 12 and ICCPR Article 17 states “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks upon his honor and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”
“ We appreciate the need to account for what content we deem impermissible on our platforms, how we address government requests related to content on our platforms, and how we make determinations about content. To this end, we value and strive for transparency regarding those policies and practices, especially with regard to how they may impact the above – mentioned human rights – principles.”
Guiding Principle 21 articulates an expectation that companies will account for how they address human rights and the commentary further explains that this “requires that business enterprises have in place policies and processes through which they can both know and show that they respect human rights in practice. Showing involves communication, providing a measure of transparency and accountability to individuals or groups who may be impacted and to other relevant stakeholders, including investors.”
“While we strive to apply content policies fairly and consistently, we recognise that resource limitations, cultural contexts, and other factors may result in decisions that unintentionally cause negative impacts. To address this eventuality, we commit to devising appropriate mechanisms to allow individuals impacted by our policies and practices to bring information to our attention.”
Guiding Principle 20 states: “To make it possible for grievances to be addressed early and remediated directly, business enterprises should establish or participate in effective operational-level grievance mechanisms for individuals and communities who may be adversely impacted.”
“We commit to work with partner organisations and enter prises to collaboratively develop strategies to keep our platforms and products safe from abuse by terrorist organisations and their supporters, and to promote tolerance, coexistence and diversity.”
“We commit to work with partner organizations and enterprises to collaboratively develop strategies to keep our platforms and products safe from abuse by terrorist organizations and their supporters, and to promote tolerance, coexistence, and diversity.”
Article 19 of the ICCPR states that the exercise of freedom of expression carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may, therefore, be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary: (a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others; (b) For the protection of national security or of public order of public health or morals.
S/RES/1624 (2005) calls upon States to prohibit by law incitement to commit a terrorist act and S/RES/2354 (2017) condemns “in the strongest terms the incitement of terrorist acts” and repudiates “attempts at the justification or glorification of terrorist acts that may incite further terrorist acts.”
S/RES/2354 (2017) further stresses the importance of the role of the business community “in efforts to enhance dialogue and broaden understanding, and in promoting tolerance and coexistence, and in fostering an environment which is not conducive to incitement of terrorism, as well as in countering terrorist narratives.” It urges further development of initiatives to strengthen public-private partnerships in this area and notes the benefits of engagement, with a wide range of actors, including youth, families, women, community leaders, and other concerned groups of civil society.