By: Milou Jansen, Coordinator on behalf of the Cities Coalition for Digital Rights core team, which comprises the cities of Amsterdam, Barcelona and New York
COVID-19 has left much of the world perplexed and even paralysed. During this unprecedented time, nearly every part of the globe has been confronted with how necessary technology is to everyday life as many people are forced into lockdown at home to protect against the spread of the coronavirus.
The Internet, specifically, has become an even more crucial tool to help people stay connected to the outside world. For many, connectivity has been the only way to buy groceries, access city services and education, and connect with family and loved ones. The pandemic has especially impacted those in lower-income communities who are even less likely to be able to access or afford connectivity. Those without Internet access are more vulnerable to harm if they are unable to get online.
Technology has also shown potential, which is still being realised, in helping cities and nation states to investigate and attempt to track the spread of coronavirus. As such, individual information and data are even more at risk of being misused during the crisis.
The Cities Coalition for Digital Rights, launched in 2018, is made up of 50 member cities committed to the humane use of technology. The Coalition is organised around five principles that aim to ensure governments and public-service organisations are utilising technology with human rights in mind.
Since the pandemic began, most of us have been convening meetings through video-conferencing platforms, and the global video-conferencing industry is experiencing a surge in users.
Additionally, cities and governments are looking at technology to advance contact-tracing of the virus but with low adoption or mixed results. A majority of people, including 71 percent of Americans, said they would not use contact-tracing apps due to privacy concerns. A number of European cities have released or have been testing contact-tracing apps with low user adoption. And, countries such as China, India and Singapore have launched similar apps that have experienced varying success.
As such, with the increased use of technologies for contact-tracing, video conferencing, geographic mapping and surveillance, the Coalition wanted to go even further in safeguarding digital rights and released of a statement regarding the responsible use of technology with regard to COVID-19 response. While technologies should be leveraged during the pandemic crisis, the Coalition is helping governments and organisations use them responsibly through 10 principles tied to the Coalition’s core values:
- Principle of Nexus and Proportionality. Purpose limitations must be in place. Neither the technologies nor the data collected may be used for purposes other than those deemed strictly necessary for crisis response.
- Principle of Impermanence. Use of these technologies and data must be limited in time. Once the risk of the pandemic has decreased to insignificant levels, they must no longer be used and all personal data should be deleted. There should be both technical and legal sunset clauses in place.
- Principle of Consent and Trust. Use of technologies should be voluntary and adhere to notice and consent. They cannot be imposed under any kind of coercion or reward system. Only then can a mutual trust arise.
- Principle of Privacy by Design. The technologies must respect the privacy of users and of all related persons; e.g. contacts. Privacy should be evaluated in the context of the real risks of re-identification or other privacy loss, especially when using highly sensitive information such as healthcare data.
- Principle of Control. Citizens must be considered the primary owners of data they generate through the use of applications and services, where possible. Where applicable, technologies should empower citizens to be stewards of their own data.
- Principle of Openness and Transparency. Technologies must be developed using open technologies, data models, formats and code, so that the code can be audited, verified and adopted by other cities and organisations, fostering transparency.
- Principle of Responsiveness. Technologies for COVID-19 should not be stand-alone measures but should draw upon the existing expertise, needs and requirements of public health authorities and society, culture, and behaviour, if they are to be effective in combatting the pandemic.
- Principle of Participation. The development of such technologies should consider the needs of all people and include strong feedback loops between policymakers and citizens, with opportunities for iteration. Human rights should be explicitly taken into account in the selection of solution providers and in the process of technical development.
- Principle of Social Innovation. The successful and equitable use of these technologies requires a focus on social innovation, rather than on technological innovation, when they are to be used in everyday life in our societies. Collective social intelligence, behaviour and social cohesion are equally important.
- Principle of Fairness and Inclusion. Technologies must be accessible and serve all communities, assuring equal accessibility and equal treatment across communities. Technologies should be used to eliminate social inequalities, while paying particular attention to marginalised groups.
Since the pandemic began, the Coalition has been able to track and report observations and lessons-learned on our blog as various cities confront the pandemic. The real value of the global cities coalition during a crisis is that cities can collaborate and innovate together to fight a common threat, such as the virus, and to share these learnings to help other cities.
While much is still to be learned, we will continue to monitor the threats to digital rights and to guide our member cities to act responsibly and use technology to serve the public good.About this Content