Publication: Freedom of Expression, Encryption, and Anonymity: Civil Society and Private Sector Perceptions

CIHR participated in a background study, to inform a report on encryption prepared by David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on the freedom of expression. You can download the publication here

In many countries in the world, human rights organizations, journalists and political dissidents are targets of surveillance by government intelligence and law enforcement agencies and non-governmental groups. Surveillance affects their right to privacy and freedom of expression.

Encryption is a technical solution to this problem, because it allows users to communicate securely. However, in many places around the world, the use of encryption is either heavily restricted or punishable by law.

David Kaye, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the protection and promotion of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, published a Report on encryption, anonymity and human rights framework on May 18, 2015. The report will be presented to the Human Rights Council in June 2015.

To provide regional input for the report, CIHR conducted research on the use of encryption and anonymity in digital communications in collaboration with the World Wide Web Foundation, Oficina Antivigilância at ITS Rio, Derechos Digitales. The research was supported by Bertha Foundation.

The main goal of this initiative was to collect cases to highlight regional peculiarities from Latin America and a few other countries from the Global South, while debating the relationships within encryption, anonymity, and freedom of expression. The core of the research was based on two different surveys focused on two target groups. 

The first target group were digital and human rights organizations as well as potential users of the encryption. Researchers conducted interviews in over twenty countries from the Global South to determine the level of awareness about both the anonymity and encryption technologies, collect perceptions about the importance of these technologies to protect freedom of expression, and understand  the legal framework and corporate practices in their respective jurisdictions. The second part of the research, conducted by the CIHR, consisted of over a dozen interviews with private sector representatives to document their attitudes towards the topic.

Event: Innovation within Government? Using Punjab’s model of m-governance to understand public sector innovation

This Friday 8. May 2015 from 12:00 to 13:00 we’re proud to present a talk at the Impact Hub Berlin (Friedrichstrasse 246) with Mustafa Naseem, Director Innovations for Poverty Alleviation Lab (IPAL) at the Information Technology University (ITU) in Lahore, Pakistan on:

Innovation within Government? Using Punjab’s model of m-governance to understand public sector innovation
Governments are large bureaucratic organizations that are not known to innovate, let alone be the agent of change that spurs innovation within and outside the government. Also, governments (especially in developing countries) have historically been very poor at monitoring their own work. This talk will highlight how the Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB) and the Information Technology University (ITU) is has been able to design and roll out innovative technological projects at scale in the Punjab province of Pakistan. The talk will discuss case studies such as the Citizen Feedback Model and Dengue Tracking to highlight the importance of low-end smartphones in helping developing country government’s leapfrog their developed country counterparts in the digital arena.  

Anyone is welcome to attend but space is limited, so please send an email to ue.rhicnull@eciffo if you want to participate in the event.

CIHR at re-publica 2015

Over the next few days numerous CIHR staff and fellows will be presenting their ideas at the re-publica 2015 conference in Berlin. Here is a short overview of just a few of their talks:








We look forward to seeing you there!

Publication: Export Controls of Surveillance Technologies

This report was prepared by the CIHR with the contributions from Ben Wagner and Joanna Bronowicka. The report will feed into the discussion at the Global Conference on Cyberspace in The Hague on April 16-17, 2015.

In recent years, there has been a growing concern about oppressive reminds using surveillance technologies in ways that led to human rights violations. A growing body of evidence shows that oppressive regimes purchase surveillance technologies to monitor and censor citizens online, thereby violating the right to privacy and freedom of expression.

CIHR expert workshop in Berlin showed that governments, public institutions, civil society and majority of private sector actors share a common concern: preventing surveillance technologies from getting into the hands of oppressive governments. The paper recommends four avenues for future international policy initiatives: transparency and impact assessment, smart regulation, the use of EU policy instruments as well as the creation of a global playing field.

You can download the full report here.

CIHR at the GCCS2015: Watch live

The Centre for Internet and Human Rights will be participating in the Global Conference on Cyberspace in The Hague on April 16-17, 2015. The CIHR prepared the background papers for two of the sessions of the Conference. Both of those sessions will be streamed online at the GCCS2015 website.

April 16, 15:00 – 16:15

Ethics of Algorithms: From offensive content to self-driving cars

Background paper can be downloaded here.

Twitter hashtag: #EOA2015

April 17, 2015, 9:15 – 10.45

Updating of export controls of dual use surveillance technologies

Background paper can be downloaded here.

Twitter Hashtag: #EXC2015

Publication: The Ethics of Algorithms: from radical content to self-driving cars

Following a two-day event on the Ethics of Algorithms a report was prepared by the CIHR with contributions from Zeynep Tufekci, Jillian C. York, Ben Wagner and Frederike Kaltheuner. The report will feed into the discussion at the Global Conference on Cyberspace in The Hague on April 16-17, 2015.

Algorithms are increasingly used to make decisions for us, about us, or with us. From areas of life that did not exist more than a decade ago, like online search or social media news areas, to fields where decisions used to be made exclusively via human judgement, such as health care or employment, algorithms are becoming important tools, or even sole decision-makers.

The report argues that three attributes cause algorithms to raise ethical challenges: the fact that many algorithms are complex and opaque, that they operate as gatekeepers and that they are rapidly encroaching into “subjective” decision-making where there is no right or wrong answer.

You can download the full report here.

CIHR Event Inspires Discussions about the Ethics of Algorithms

During a two-day event CIHR brought together leading experts from academia, technology and civil society to discuss the ethical dimensions of algorithms.

The exchanges initiated during the Ethics of Algorithms event in Berlin helped to deepen our understanding of the way algorithms govern our lives now and refine questions for future research. Discussions in Berlin will feed into the discussions at the Global Conference on Cyberspace, which will take place in the Hague on 16 and 17 April 2015.

Several participants shared their summaries and insights from the event. According to Mathias Weber, the author of a blog Beyond Silicon Valley: “It is high time to leave an observing standpoint as a society and take on our responsibility as creators, critics and academics”.

Beatrice Martini adds in her blogpost: “It’s clear that we need a new and multi-disciplinary understanding of how the Internet and the algorithms keeping it in motion work, and what does this mean from a global, intersectional perspective. It’s a matter of human rights, and exercise of power, and it’s crucial for our societies to work eagerly on underlining that freedom of expression, plurality and privacy are fundamental rights we all need to fight for and defend.”

Florian Gilberg writes for (in German): “For businesses or intelligence agencies, the ethical dimension of this automatic decision-making is often not an issue. The debate about the dangers and opportunities of these formulas is still nascent. The Ethics of Algorithm conference this week gave it a strong impetus.”

For more information:

– Input from participants under Twitter hashtag #EOA2015

– Keynote speech by Zeynep Tufekci:

– Interview with Ben Wagner for Deutschland Radio Kultur:

– Youtube video: Zeynep Tufekci about the ethics of algorithms and Keynote of the 2nd Day

– Beyondsiliconvalley “The Ethics of Algorithms: A Human Debate on Machine Code in Berlin” by Matthias Weber

– “The Ethics of Algorithms: notes, emerging questions and resources”

– “Über die ethische Dimension von Algorithmen – Zeynep Tufekci und die Konferenz #EOA2015″ by Florian Gilberg

Event: The Ethics of Algorithms, March 9-10, Berlin

Date: March 9 and 10, 2015
Location: Technical University of Berlin, Hardenbergstr. 16 -18, 10623 Berlin
Chatham House Rule

NOTE: Registration for March 10 is now closed. You can still register for March 9 until midnight on Friday March 6.

Algorithms, or computational systems that make decisions, are rapidly spreading to different areas of society. Algorithms are used to decide who should be hired and flagged as a terrorism suspect; which news gets highlighted and which stories disappear from social media feeds.

As a result, the subjective decisions by institutions and companies who design computer algorithms to process information, may directly interfere with freedom of speech. Ensuring that such algorithms are in line with human rights standards will be a challenge for governments and companies in the coming years.

This is why at the beginning of March, the CIHR will bring together leading experts from academia, technology and civil society to discuss the ethical dimensions of algorithms. The event will be hosted by the Technical University of Berlin.

The event is organised with the support of supported by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs as part of a wider policy effort to promote human rights online. Discussions in Berlin will feed into the discussions at the Global Conference on Cyberspace, which will take place in the Hague on 16 and 17 April 2015. More information about GCCS2015 here.

March 9

On the first day, we will discuss algorithms in the context of social media, terrorism and freedom of expression. Extremists of all kinds are increasingly using social media to recruit and raise funds. January’s attacks in Paris, have spurred a widespread debate over how to identify terrorists and prevent radicalization on social networks But what are the possible effects on freedom of expression?

Confirmed speakers:

  • Richard Allan, Facebook
  • Ahmed Ghappour, UC Hastings, College of the Law
  • Jillian York, Electronic Frontier Foundation
  • Frank LaRue, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression (2008-14)
  • Mohamad Najem Social Media Exchange (SMEX)
  • Kate Coyer, Central European University
  • Emily Goldberg Knox, UC Hastings

Agenda available here.

March 10

On March 10, we will grapple with the power and role of algorithms in society. What ethical challenges do we face now and in the future?  Should governments regulate algorithms? Should algorithms be transparent or a black box? How will algorithms change the social sciences? And what are the ethical dilemmas of designing self-driving cars?

Confirmed speakers:

  • Zeynep Tufekci, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
  • Robindra Prabhu, Norwegian Board of Technology
  • Fieke Jansen, Tactical Tech
  • Renata Avila,  World Wide Web Foundation
  • Leon Hempel Technical University of Berlin
  • Kave Salamatian, Université de Savoie
  • Frank Pasquale, University of Maryland.

Agenda available here.

Chatham House Rule
This event is held under the Chatham House Rule. Participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.


Registration for March 10 is now closed. You can still register for March 9 event until midnight Friday, March 6. In order to register, please email your full name to office[at]

Panel Discussion: Export controls of surveillance technology – state of play and the way forward

Experts from civil society, industry, governments and EU institutions met in Berlin on Thursday, February 5, 2015 to discuss policies on export controls of surveillance technologies. The event was organised by Centre for Internet and Human Rights (CIHR) with the support from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Participants agreed that a balanced approach that takes into account human rights concerns should be developed in the coming years.

There has been a growing body of evidence that repressive regimes purchased surveillance technologies to monitor and censor citizens online. In response to this evidence, the European Union and its member states have increased their efforts to restrict exports of such technologies to countries where they can be used to harm human rights.

Leading human rights organisations from the global Coalition Against Unlawful! Surveillance Exports (CAUSE) reminded that products developed by companies based in the EU have been used by repressive regimes to conduct surveillance. Edin Omanovic from Privacy International cited evidence that such technologies led to grave human rights violations in countries such as Bahrain, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Libya and Syria.

There is a growing consensus among the EU and its member states can lead the effort to use export control measures as a way to better protect human rights in third countries. Reinherd Schelle from the European Commission encouraged all civil society and industry representatives to participate in the ongoing review of the European policies in this area. “We want the EU standard to be of highest ethical value”, he stated on Thursday.

Experts also agreed that in order to protect human rights effectively, new regulations have to be based on reliable data about impact of specific technologies. “It is not enough to confine ourselves to political talk, we need to bring technical expertise into this discussion”, said Karen Costa-Zahn from the Germany Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy. A group of EU experts will take technical, economical and human rights perspective into account.

Participants also agreed that the EU should adopt a balanced approach, which does not harm research and development done by European companies. Magnus Nordeus from DIGTIALEUROPE stressed that for export controls to be efficient, they need to be well-assessed and harmonised across member states. “The EU should be a role model in this field” – Nordeus concluded.

For additional information on the subject, consult the following publications:

Publication: Towards Multilateral Standards for Surveillance Reform

Transatlantic surveillance standards need to be reformed to comply with human rights, argue researchers in a paper published by Oxford Internet Institute. The authors include Mathias Vermeulen, researcher at the CIHR and the European University Institute, Ian Brown from Oxford University, Ben Hayes from Statewatch, Mort Halperin, formerly with US National Security Council, and Ben Scott, former advisor to Hillary Clinton.

Edward Snowden’s revelations about the mass surveillance capabilities of the United States’ National Security Agency and its partners have created a unique opportunity to work towards the adoption of multilateral human rights-compliant standards for government surveillance conducted against nationals of other countries.

This paper attempts to map a path toward new international standards for foreign intelligence collection, in order to achieve increased transparency, control and oversight of national surveillance practices. We provide a basic comparison of the legal frameworks governing foreign surveillance law in the US and selected EU Member States, and set out the applicable international human rights law and major reform initiatives in as far as they relate to foreign surveillance and its oversight.

We attempt to identify key issues relevant to all signals intelligence reform efforts and to provide an analytical framework to guide the development of new standards and realistic options for reform.

You can download the study here.