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Cities coalition seeks to safeguard privacy and human rights in the Covid-19 era

The Cities Coalition for Digital Rights has issued recommendations for the responsible use of digital technologies such as contact-tracing and surveillance tools in response to the pandemic.

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The Cities Coalition for Digital Rights says digital tools must be deployed for the public good
The Cities Coalition for Digital Rights says digital tools must be deployed for the public good

The Cities Coalition for Digital Rights has issued a statement and recommendations to safeguard digital rights when applying technologies in response to Covid-19.

 

The recommendations, which have been developed in partnership with the United Nations Human Rights Office, United Nations Habitat, Eurocities and United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), focus on privacy and human rights related to the responsible use of digital technologies in response to pandemics such as the coronavirus outbreak.

 

Digital rights

 

The Cities Coalition for Digital Rights (CC4DR) is a joint initiative launched in 2018 initially by Amsterdam, Barcelona and New York City, supported by UN-Habitat, Eurocities, CGLU and other participating cities to protect, promote and monitor residents’ and visitors’ digital rights. It has a worldwide membership of 50 cities.

 

The coalition and its partners believe that technologies, such as contact-tracing applications, video-conferencing and learning platforms, geographic mapping and the use of surveillance tools during this unprecedented time should be deployed at the service of people and for the public good.

 

“Digital technology can play a role in addressing the pandemic, but it needs to be hand in hand with public health responses and follow human rights criteria," said Laia Bonet, deputy mayor of Barcelona. "Technology can be a force of good, but can also reproduce and exacerbate social inequalities.

"Our concept of what makes a city ‘smarter’ begins with the citizen, and that includes making sure people stay safe as well as understand the use of and have access to their data"

"Digitalisation is a human rights issue: this is why we have worked with fellow cities for digital rights to provide recommendations to protect digital rights in times of Covid-19."

 

It has issued a statement on its website based on its five digital rights, which includes the following:

 

1 Digital tools that are applied to solve the pandemic crisis and to help transition to a ’new normalcy’ should not be seen as stand-alone solutions.

 

2 While considering the possible role of digital technologies in the transition from pandemic phases of containment, mitigation, and rebuilding, we emphasise the need to respect the rights of citizens, including anonymity, transparency, and control regarding both the medium used and the data collected.

 

3 Those mandated to deploy technologies for crisis response should avoid fuelling asymmetries and inequality.

 

4 Civil society should be prominently involved in the specification, design, development, and testing of these technologies, with more transparency and openness, including pre- and post-assessment of these technologies.

 

5 Our cities should work together to promote social dialogue on Covid-19 technologies, with a holistic government approach and through public debate with residents and stakeholders.

 

6 Human rights and public health responses go hand-in-hand. A rights-based approach to the design and use of technology to respond to Covid-19 is fundamental to the success of public health response.

“Digitalisation is a human rights issue: this is why we have worked with fellow cities for digital rights to provide recommendations to protect digital rights in times of Covid-19"

Its statement also includes 10 recommendations based on a set of principles focusing on areas such as consent and trust, openness and transparency, fairness and inclusion and social innovation. For example, the Principle of Consent and Trust says that the use of technologies should be voluntary and adhere to notice and consent and cannot be imposed under any kind of coercion or reward system. Only then can “a mutual trust arise”, said the CC4DR.

 

The Principle of Openness and Transparency states that technologies should, whenever possible, 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”.

 

"The effects of the digital transformation are already all around us in our everyday lives and are ever more important now," said Anna Lisa Boni, secretary general of Eurocities. "As public authorities we want to ensure the digital transformation is accessible to and works for all people, and that data is used in a responsible way.

 

"Our concept of what makes a city ‘smarter’ begins with the citizen, and that includes making sure people stay safe as well as understand the use of and have access to their data."

 

The full statement and set of recommendations can be read here.

 

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