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

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Inter-Parliamentary Union – Agenda, resolutions and other texts of the 133 rd Assembly

Democracy in the digital era and the threat
to privacy and individual freedoms

Resolution adopted unanimously by the 133 rd IPU Assembly
(Geneva, 21 October 2015)

The 133 rd Assembly of the Inter -Parliamentary Union,

Recalling the guiding principles of the Charter of the United Nations,
Also recalling the human rights and fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights and relevant international human rights treaties, including the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural

Further recall ing the resolution The role of parliaments in striking a balance between
national security, human security and individual freedoms, and in averting the threat to democracy
adopted by the 118
th IPU Assembly (Cape Town, April 2008),
Noting United Nations General Assembly Resolution 69/166 The right to privacy in the
digital age of 18 December 2014 ,

Also noting the report of the United Nations High Comm issioner for Human Rights on the
right to privacy in the digital age,

Recalling the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and
bearing in mind that civil society and business entities can play an important role in either enhancin g or
diminishing the enjoyment of human rights, including the right to privacy and freedom of expression in
the digital era,

Considering that fundamental rights also apply in cyberspace,
Acknowledging the interdependence between democracy and the right to privacy, freedom
of expression and information and an open and free Internet, and in view of the universal recognition of
the right to privacy, its protection in international law and the expectations of citizens around the world
that the right to priv acy is safeguarded both in law and in practice,

Also acknowledging that, in the area of digital surveillance, it is not enough simply to adopt
and enforce legislation and that procedural safeguards are sometimes weak and oversight ineffective,

Expressing concern that mass surveillance programmes regarding digital communications
and other forms of digital expression constitute violations of the right to privacy, including when
conducted extraterritorially, and endanger the rights to freedom of expression and information, as well
as other fundamental human rights, including the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of
association, thus undermining participative democracy ,

Acknowledging the need for capacity -building, for the empowerment of parliamentarians
and parliamentary specialized bodies in the identification of legislative gaps, for the enactment of
legislation dealing with the protection of human rights, including the right to privacy, and for the
prevention of the violation of such rights,

Affirming the responsibility of parliaments to establish, in line with international principles
and undertakings, a comprehensive legal framework to exercise effective oversight of the actions of
government agencies and/or surveillance agencies acting on their behalf, and to ensure accountability
for all violations of human rights and individual freedoms ,

Express ing the need to engage and consult with all relevant stakeholders, including civil
society groups
, academia, the technical community and the pr ivate sector on policy -making related to
the digital era ,

Inter-Parliamentary Union – Agenda, resolutions and other texts of the 133 rd Assembly
Acknowledg ing the importance and expertise of national human rights institutions, non-
governmental organizations and human rights advocates, and their role in monitoring, policy -making,
consultat ion and awareness -raising, and welcoming greater cooperation between these organizations
and advocates, parliaments and parliamentarians worldwide,

Taking note of the work and contribution of these entities, such as the International
Principles on the A pplication of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance (the Necessary and
Proportionate Principles), endorsed by more than 400 non- governmental organizations and the Global
Network Initiative,

Affirming the need for secure and uncompromised systems o f communication for the public
good and the protection of basic rights ,

Considering the findings of the report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the
promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, on the use of encr yption and
anonymity ,

Recogniz ing the contribution of parliaments to, and their impact on, decisions facilitating
the national and international consensus needed for concerted and effective action on these issues,

1. Calls on parliaments to take part i n the development and implementation of an overall
strategy to enable in the long run the whole population to enjoy the considerable benefits
that the Internet can bring to economic, social, cultural and environmental life in order to
achieve the Sustainab le Development Goals adopted by the United Nations;

2. Underlines that this overall strategy should aim both legally and ethically to build a digital
ecosystem that is capable of guaranteeing the same rights to all citizens and ensuring that
their freedom is effectively protected, particularly in terms of educating all people in digital
know -how, and ensuring an equity between actors that will avoid any abuse of a dominant

3. Underscores that all legislation in the field of surveillance, privacy and personal data must
be based on the principles of legitimacy, legality, transparency, proportionality, necessity
and the rule of law;

4. Calls on parliaments to review their national frameworks and State practices with a view to
promoting and increasing p ublic participation and involvement in the digital era, free
exchange of information, knowledge and ideas and equal access to the Internet and, with a
view to enhancing democracy in the 21
st century, encourages parliaments to remove all
legal limitations o n freedom of expression and the flow of information and to uphold the
principle of Net neutrality;

5. Urges parliaments to carefully review national laws and the practices of government
agencies and/or surveillance organizations acting on their behalf so as to make sure that
they comply with international law and human rights, especially as they relate to the right to
privacy, and calls on parliaments to guarantee, as part of that review, that private and
public companies will not be forced to cooperate with the authorities on practices that
impair their customers’ human rights, with the exceptions provided for in international
human rights law ;

6. Calls on parliaments to ensure that national legal frameworks comply fully with international
human rights law when applied to interception, analysis, collection, storage and
commercial use of data and to share reviews and information from individual States and
the IPU on related cases;

7. Urges parliaments to review their legislation in order to prohibit the interception, collection,
analysis and storage of personal data, including when those actions are of an
extraterritorial or bulk nature, without the informed consent of the individuals concerned or
a valid order granted by an independent court on grounds of reasonabl e suspicion of the
targets’ involvement in criminal activity;

Inter-Parliamentary Union – Agenda, resolutions and other texts of the 133 rd Assembly

8. Underscores that privacy protections must be consistent across domestic and international
borders and calls on parliaments to make sure that privacy protections in national law
cannot be bypass ed by reliance on secretive and informal data- sharing agreements with
foreign States or multinationals;

9. Calls on parliaments to enact comprehensive legislation on data protection, for both the
public and private sectors, providing, at the minimum, for str ict conditions regarding
permission to intercept, collect, analyse and store data, for clear and precise limitations on
the use of intercepted and collected data, and for security measures that ensure the safest
possible preservation, anonymity and proper and permanent destruction of data; and
recommends the establishment of independent and effective national data- protection
bodies with the necessary power to review practices and address complaints, while further
urging parliaments to ensure that their nati onal legal frameworks on data protection are in
full compliance with international law and human rights standards, making sure that the
same rights apply to both offline and online activities;

10. Also calls on parliaments to ensure through legal means that a ll collaboration on various
surveillance programmes between governments and companies, entities and all other
organizations is subject to parliamentary oversight, insofar as it does not hamper the
conduct of criminal investigations;

11. Further calls on national parliaments and governments to encourage the private technology
sector to honour its obligations to respect human rights, bearing in mind the Guiding
Principles on Human Rights and Business, as customers of these companies must be fully
informed of how their data is being gathered, stored, used and shared with others, and
further calls on parliaments to promote both global norms on user agreements and more
development of user -friendly data- protection techniques which counter all threats to
Internet sec urity;

12. Urges parliaments to reject the interception of telecommunications and espionage activities
by any State or non- state actor involved in any action, which negatively affects international
peace and security, as well as civil and political rights, es pecially those enshrined in Article
12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 17 of the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that “no one shall be subjected to
arbitrary or unlawful interference with his priv acy, family, home or correspondence” and
that “everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or

13. Recognizes the need for parliaments to specify , in relative detail, the circumstances under
which any interference w ith the right to privacy may be permitted, to establish strict judicial
procedures for the authorization of communications surveillance and to monitor the
implementation of those procedures, limits on the duration of surveillance, security and
storage of t he data collected, and safeguards against abuse;

14. Emphasizes that while national security arguments will invariably be advanced that diverse
digital technology tools may threaten the security and well -being of a State, parliaments
need to review their capacity to oversee all executive action and ensure that a balance is
struck between national security and individual freedoms so as to ensure that measures
taken in the name of national security and counter -terrorism comply strictly with human
rights, and avert any threats to democracy and human rights;

15. Strongly urges parliaments to review and establish effective, independent and impartial
oversight mechanisms where needed and include them in the legal framework; stresses
that parliaments must investigate any shortcomings in their oversight function and the
reasons behind them, making sure that their oversight bodies, such as parliamentary
committees and parliamentary ombudsmen, have sufficient resources, proper
authorizations and the requisite authority to re view and publicly report on the actions of
government agencies and/or surveillance agencies acting on their behalf, including actions
in cooperation with foreign bodies through the exchange of information or joint operations;

16. Calls on parliaments to ackno wledge that civil society and public participation can play a
vital role in monitoring the executive branch and encourages parliaments and
parliamentarians to promote and engage in consultation and to welcome assistance from

Inter-Parliamentary Union – Agenda, resolutions and other texts of the 133 rd Assembly
all stakeholders, including national human rights institutions, the private sector, civil
society, the technical community, the academic community and users, in their monitoring,
policy -making and policy implementation efforts;

17. Strongly urges parliaments to ensure that attempts to rest rict democratic voices online,
including journalists, other media actors and human rights defenders, through
imprisonment, harassment, censorship, hacking, illicit filtering, blocking, monitoring and
other repressive means are strictly forbidden in nationa l legislation in accordance with
international human rights law, treaties and conventions;

18. Strongly recommends that parliaments, as part of their oversight function, enact coherent
and comprehensive legislation on the protection of whistleblowers in line with international
standards and best practices;

19. Calls on parliaments to uphold both governmental and corporate accountability for
violations of human rights, such as the right to physical and psychological integrity, the
right to privacy, freedom of expr ession and other individual freedoms, so that such
accountability includes adequate sanctions to ensure justice and to act as a deterrent,
including criminal prosecution, administrative fines, suspension or withdrawal of business
licences, and the payment of reparation to individuals for harm caused;

20. Also calls on parliaments to ensure that the necessary legal and administrative measures
are taken to combat trafficking in persons perpetrated through the Internet, and to combat
gender -based harassment and c yber-violence that targets, in particular, women and

21. Underscores the right to effective remedy for victims of violations of the right to privacy and
other individual freedoms and calls on parliaments to provide for procedural safeguards in
law, thereby facilitating access to duly implemented remedies;

22. Strongly urges parliaments to enable the protection of information in cyberspace and
associated infrastructure, so as to safeguard the privacy and individual freedom of citizens
by developing formal as well as informal cooperation and relationships among nations to
exchange information and share experiences; further calls on parliaments to carry out
technical and procedural cooperation as well as to collaborate in order to mitigate the risk
of cyber -crimes and cyber -attacks and, in this context, to modernize mutual legal
agreements so as to address the multidimensional challenges of the digital era, including
speed of response;

23. Welcomes the appointment of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to
privacy and calls on the IPU to initiate a dialogue with him as well as the United Nations
Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and
expression, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights
defenders and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of
human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, and to work with them
to produce a compilation of best legislative practices in this field;

24. Calls on Parliaments to ensure that their respective governments cooperate fully with the
United Nations Special Rapporteurs on the right to privacy, on the promotion and
protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, on the situation of human
rights defenders and on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental
freedoms while countering terrorism, including in relation to challenges arising in the digital
age; invites parliaments to keep themselves informed of the Rapporteurs’
recommendations, and to provide the necessary legislative framework for their
implementation, as appropriate;

25. Invites the IPU to develop – in cooperation with relevant stakeholders, including
international and regional organizations, civil societ y and human rights experts – capacity –
building programmes for parliamentary bodies tasked to oversee observance of the right to
privacy and individual freedoms in the digital environment.