Technology & Civic Space

New technologies are reshaping civic space by providing new ways to exercise the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression — and new ways for governments and private actors to restrict those rights.

ICNL conducts research to collect best practices and identify challenges related to technology and civic space. We work closely with our global network of partners to develop international, regional, and national norms and standards so that new technologies protect basic freedoms and build an enabling environment for civil society. We also aim to enhance the fluency of civil society actors in technology so that they can participate meaningfully in crafting policies that affect civic space.

Key Resources

The World According to ChatGPT

It’s not hard to imagine someone utilizing ChatGPT to generate fake articles to harm or deceive intentionally. We are focusing on ChatGPT because it has drawn the most headlines, but the concerns discussed below apply equally to all the other generative AI systems and chatbots from families of large language models, as well as AI systems more broadly, which we’re defining as “GPTs” for this article.

Responding to the Disinformation Dilemma

While disinformation is not a new problem, the digital age has created new threats. This ICNL policy prospectus examines legal and regulatory measures that can address the evolving challenges of disinformation while protecting the freedom of expression.

Virtual Currency Donations

This report, assembled by the Blockchain Trust Accelerator at New America with the support of the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, assesses opportunities and obstacles in charitable donations of virtual currencies. It aims to bring civil society organizations, would-be virtual currency donors, and policymakers up to speed on emerging trends.

Artificial Intelligence & Civic Space

Artificial intelligence pervades all facets of modern life and has unparalleled abilities to expand or restrict civic space. ICNL is helping to develop international norms and national laws to ensure that artificial intelligence effectively promotes and protects civil society.

Freedom of Association in the Digital Age

The internet is both a tool and a space where freedom of association can be exercised, which has created new opportunities and challenges. Through our support of the UN Special Rapporteur Clement Voule’s 2019 report on freedom of association in the digital age and our work on the impact of emerging technology on civic space, ICNL is aiming to better understand and protect freedom of association online.


CivicSpace.Tech was created as an interactive resource to provide civil society organizations and development workers with overviews of 14 types of emerging digital technologies and related issues, including their potential benefits, risks, and best practices for their use. It covers a wide range of  broader technology trends in the Democracy, Human Rights and Governance (DRG) space.

Reports & Articles

COVID-19: The Surveillance Pandemic

Some governments have incorporated surveillance technology into their efforts to halt the spread of COVID-19. While the use of all the tools at hand is understandable, emergencies do not obviate states’ obligations to consider the broader societal and human rights effects of these measures.

Report on Freedom of Assembly and Association on the Internet

This Council of Europe report explores the implications of new communications technologies for the exercise of rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. It examines new challenges to these rights and presents possible responses to them.

Democracy in the Digital Era and the Threat to Privacy and Individual Freedoms

This resolution on the right to digital privacy was adopted unanimously by the 133rd Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly in October 2015.

The International Right to Freedom of Expression in the Digital Age

This report explores the application to the internet of the right to freedom of expression. It examines the approaches of major international and regional human rights instruments and explores new challenges and opportunities for freedom of expression in the digital age.

Mapping Regulatory Proposals for Artificial Intelligence in Europe

This 2018 report outlines major regulatory initiatives related to artificial intelligence and mass data collection in the European Union and its member states.

Intro to AI for Policymakers: Understanding the shift

This 2018 report helps policymakers make informed decisions about regulating artificial intelligence by providing an overview of AI and the crosscutting challenges it poses.

Overseas Surveillance in an Interconnected World

There has been relatively little public or congressional debate about the U.S. Government’s overseas surveillance operations. This 2016 report explores the implications of Executive Order 12333, which authorized expanded data collection by U.S. intelligence agencies.

Global Internet Filtering Map

The OpenNet Initiative tracks restrictions on access to the internet in more than forty countries.

Global Survey on Internet Privacy and Freedom of Expression

This 2012 publication by the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization identifies the relationship between freedom of expression and internet privacy, in particular asking whether they support or compete with each other in differing circumstances.

UN Resources

UN Special Rapporteur's report on Freedom of Assembly & Association in the Digital Age

In this 2019 report, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Clément Voule, focuses on the opportunities and challenges facing these rights in the digital age.

UN Special Rapporteur's report on the regulation of user-generated content online

In this 2018 report, the United Nations special rapporteur of the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom of opinion and expression recommends a framework for regulating user-generated online content.

Freedom of expression and the private sector in the digital age

This 2016 report marks the launch of a new project by the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, exploring issues at the intersection of state and private-sector activities and freedom of expression in the digital age.

Principles for Governing the Internet

This 2015 study by the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization provides a comprehensive overview of core documents about internet governance, which were developed and adopted by various stakeholders.

Report on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression

In this 2011 report, the United Nations special rapporteur of the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom of opinion and expression emphasizes that international norms governing these rights apply to the internet.

UNODC Comprehensive Study on Cybercrime

As required by United Nations General Assembly Resolution 65/230, this 2013 study by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime examines options for strengthening national and international legal and other responses to cybercrime.

UNSR/FOAA Clement Voule Issues Report on Internet Shutdowns

This report by UNSR Clement Voule, identifies a path forward for ending Internet shutdowns and will act as a key resource for supporting efforts by governments, companies, international institutions, and civil society to strengthen cooperation and implementation measures to end shutdowns.

Resolutions & Diplomatic Statements

UN Human Rights Council Resolution on the Right to Privacy in the Digital Age

This March 2015 resolution by United Nations Human Rights Council recognizes the need to promote and protect the right to privacy in the digital age based on international human rights law. The UNHRC adopted additional resolutions on the right to privacy in the digital age in 2017 and 2018.

UN Human Rights Council Resolution on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in the Context of Peaceful Protests

This 2018 resolution expresses the concern of the United Nations Human Rights Council about disinformation, noting the need for protection of secure and private use of digital tools in exercising the right to peaceful assembly.

UN Human Rights Council Resolution on Freedom of Assembly and Association

This October 2012 resolution reminds states that all individuals have the right to assemble peacefully and associate freely online as well as offline.

UN Human Rights Council Resolution on the Promotion, Protection, and Enjoyment of Human Rights on the Internet

In this 2012 resolution, the United Nations Human Rights Council recognizes that human rights must be protected online and resolves to continue considering how to promote, protect, and facilitate human rights on the internet. The UNHRC affirmed this resolution in 20142016, and 2018.

Background Resources

The Copenhagen Document

Article 9 of this 1990 document from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe affirms that freedom of expression applies to new mass printing technologies and, more broadly, that laws governing new technologies incorporate rights preexisting in any era.

The Jamming of Western Radio Broadcasts to Eastern Europe and The Soviet Union: The CSCE Compromise and its Future

This article argues that the Soviet Union’s decision to stop jamming broadcasts at the end of the Cold War was not a concession but rather a sign that it respected its international obligations made years earlier.

All Technology & Civic Space Related Resources

Enhancing Digital Civic Space Through the OGP Process

enhancing digital civic space through the OGP process: principles and recommendations for enabling reforms
In this guide, ICNL offers a checklist of principles to consult before embarking on digital ... Read More

Growth of Digital Restrictions in India

CCTV at the beach end of VGP 2nd Main Road, Uthandi, Chennai, India (Photo: Timothy A. Gonsalves)
This briefer focuses on surveillance and other digital threats to free expression in India, examining ... Read More

Promoting an Enabling Environment for Civil Society in Uganda

Enabling Civil Society in Uganda
This handbook aims to strengthen the capacity of paralegals and others working to protect and ... Read More

HRC 47: Civic Space On and Offline

pen on keyboard (photo credit:
In this article, the European Center for Not-for-Profit law analyzes the extent to newly adopted ... Read More

The Human Rights Implications of Nigeria’s Twitter Ban

Twitter on mobile phone (credit:
On June 4, 2021, Nigeria’s government suspended Twitter. While it is unclear which law the ... Read More

Being AI-Ware: Incorporating Civil Society Into National Strategies on Artificial Intelligence

circuit board (photo credit:
These country papers outline safeguards for fundamental rights and freedoms that need to be implemented ... Read More
Explore our full resource collection, which includes reports, legal analysis, and curated collections of materials covering an array of issues impacting civic space around the world.