Q&A  | 

Fair societies need digital rights, by Minda Moreira, co-Chair of the Internet Rights and Principles Coalition

"Some apps can even keep tracking after users have uninstalled them."

Tags: 'Derechos humanos digitales' 'Digital Rigths'


Reading Time: 7 minutes

Minda Moreira is the co-Chair of the Internet Rights and Principles Coalition (IRPC), part of the UN Internet Governance Forum.

“We are a network of individuals and organisations who committed to making Human Rights work for the Internet”, she explains.”Our main document is the Charter of Human Rights and Principles for the Internet that was firstly published in 2011, soon celebrating its 10th anniversary”.

What are digital rights?

Digital rights are human rights, or to be more precise, human rights are digital rights. We often use the term ‘digital rights’ to refer to the human rights that enable the access and the full realisation of the fundamental rights and freedoms online. 

These are not necessarily new rights, the first right of the IRPC Charter, the Right to Access the Internet, is an exception in this context, but an important exception because it is an enabler of all other digital rights. 

The Charter of Human Rights and Principles for the Internet  draws on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other covenants that comprise the UN International Bill of Human Rights

In this Charter you can find rights such as the Right to Non- Discrimination in Internet Access, Use and Governance, Right to Development through the Internet, Freedom of Online Assembly and Association, the Right to Education on and about the Internet, the Right to Culture and Access to Knowledge on the Internet, the Rights of Children and the Internet, Rights of People with Disabilities and the Internet, the Right to Legal Remedy and Fair Trial on the Internet for actions involving the Internet and even the Right to Health and Social Services on the Internet, which is crucial right in the current times.

Why do we need to talk about them?

Human Rights online should apply exactly as they do offline and even though this seems like a straightforward principle it does not unfortunately translate this way in reality. In fact we have a long way to go in this process of enabling full realization of human rights in the online environment. 

From internet shutdowns, online censorship, the digital divide, online discrimination, harassment, hate speech, misinformation and disinformation to the use of AI technologies for widespread surveillance and its consequences on the right to privacy and data protection, these are just every day issues that many Internet users are facing globally. 

The current Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated some of these issues and highlighted the urgent need to tackle human rights online. Ten years on, the Internet Rights and Principles Coalition recognises that the Charter and its human rights and principles for the Internet are even more relevant and urgent. 

The more we talk about digital rights or human rights online, the more awareness can be raised to promote change and to ensure that people can enjoy the full realisation of fundamental rights and freedoms both offline and online.

Which are the main issues regarding digital rights in Europe?

In Europe, and despite the work that has been done to protect rights online, there is still a lot to be done to ensure that digital rights are fully protected. Freedom of expression and protection of journalists online and offline is crucial in Europe. Responsible journalism is the antidote to the widespread disinformation and misinformation online and essential to democracy.  

Other main issues regarding digital rights in Europe are the use of AI for mass surveillance and its implications in the right to privacy and the right to data protection, or issues related to cybersecurity. 

Not so prominent but equally important are other technical, legal and social issues at the intersection of human rights and internet access that need to be addressed to promote digital inclusion, equality and non-discrimination online, protection from hate speech and online abuse and to enable the rights minorities in the broader sense of the term: from people with disabilities, refugees and displaced people, the homeless, people in detention or people with less privileged backgrounds to those living in disadvantaged areas, there are still many in Europe whose rights are not fully protected in the online environment. 

I also think that more can be done at European level to address children’s rights online, which have been negatively impacted by the current health crisis: from the increase of child sexual abuse online to issues related to access to education, health and well-being, it is clear that much more needs to be done to promote children’s rights, to protect their rights and prevent online abuse, and most importantly to educate and empower young people as digital citizens.

One other area that the IRPC has been actively campaigning in Europe through its Charter’s Article 4: Right to Development Through the Internet is the need to ensure environmental sustainability of the ICTs to enable the full realisation of human rights. 


As stated in Article 28 of the UDHR: “Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized”. Does the internet grant that order and what’s the impact of big tech at this regard?

The Internet can be an enabler of Human Rights and a driving force for good. 

There is a lot of potential and there are great success stories as the Internet as a free and open source of information provides easy access to information, education and culture, enables social interaction and work opportunities, is a vehicle for freedom of expression and freedom of association, promotes the right to development and so many other rights. 

Unfortunately the Internet does not yet grant the international order as stated in Article 28 of the UDHR, but this would be the IRPC’s ultimate goal and that of so many human rights defenders around the globe. 

Without well-established rights-based regulatory frameworks many connected users face constant violations of their rights.

Over the years, the race for control of and profit from the Internet has not only enabled big corporations to harness huge concentrations of power, but it has also curbed its great potential as ‘the’ enabler of rights.  

More worrisomely it has revealed how the Internet and internet-connected technologies can in fact, hinder and prevent the full realisation of the individual rights and freedoms when they fall into the wrong hands or are put to the wrong use.

In recent times, the big tech has been under scrutiny over their failure to protect human rights online and we have seen some timid changes, usually as a reaction to those violation scandals. 

However, years of prioritising profit over people’s rights and using a business model that is based in surveillance rather than privacy-by-design, big tech has been able to harvest huge amounts of Internet user’s data with minimum or non-consent. 

There is an urgent need to rebuild trust and this can only be achieved through more accountability and transparency from governments and the private sector to prevent further human rights violations online.

Also, the Internet Rights and Principles Coallition’s Charter of Human Rights and Principles for the Internet says that “Everybody has the duty and responsibility to respect the rights of all individuals in the online environment”. How often do we inadvertently disrespect the rights of others on the internet?

On our everyday use of the Internet we do sometimes inadvertently disrespect the rights of others. 

How many times have we seen interactions on social networks and online forums that would be considered extremely disrespectful in a face to face situation? How many times have we inadvertently shared something online that could be a breach of privacy of others? A friend’s picture? Some very cute videos of our children or the children of others without consent and for the whole world to see?  

Words such as virtual, cloud, etc. help the sense of disconnect between us and the digital other, so there is a tendency to forget that the virtual world is populated by real people; that behind each screen there is a human being whose rights and freedoms need to be respected. It is therefore crucial that the same principles that guide our social interactions offline are transferred to the online world. 


During the 10th European Data Protection and Privacy Conference some weeks ago, Apple’s Craig Federighi talked about the company’s upcoming App Tracking Transparency requiring all apps that want to track users to obtain their explicit permission. Is user tracking a common feature among apps?

It is great to hear that Apple is leading on this, it is most overdue! 

User tracking in apps is a common feature and there have been worrying reports of apps both on Apple and Android devices that track users without their consent and against the companies’ policies: some apps can even keep tracking after users have uninstalled those apps. 

Most of the tracking is to fulfil the marketing-driven ambitions of big tech and apps can legally use the Advertiser ID numbers (which can be reset), however it is also known that many apps are using the device’s unique IMEI number without the users’ prior consent. A couple of years ago the  New York Times published a report that revealed how easy it was to identify people using location data collected by apps on our smart devices.

At the pace at which we are selling away our privacy, will we ever be able to get it back?

History has shown it is a difficult process to get our rights and liberties back once they are taken away from us, so my personal advice is to urge others not to trade away their privacy whenever possible. 

In the online world I think it is crucial to change the current model in which it seems that the only way to be able to use the Internet is by giving away our data to big corporations so that they can profit from the free “new oil”. 

The Internet does not need to be like this. It was most certainly not created with this business model in mind and it can be changed.

Is the right to be forgotten granted and attainable for the average user?

The right to be forgotten, or the ability to delete or de-list online content, has been a controversial right since it first came to light in 2014. On the one hand there is the need to protect the individual right to data protection this right provides remedy to victims of cyber crime, for instance, on the other hand there is the right to freedom of expression and right to information. 

The right to be forgotten is not an absolute right and it needs to be carefully balanced with other fundamental rights and freedoms to prevent it from abuse or to be used as a censorship tool.

In Europe, for instance, the General Data protection Regulation (GDPR) introduced the right of erasure, through which individuals have the right to have their personal data erased. This is done by a request made to the data controller, which can be granted, except if the personal data held is needed to exercise the right of freedom of expression, when there is a legal obligation to keep that data, or for reasons of public interest.

So in a way, in Europe as long as users are aware of their rights under GDPR, they can make use of their ‘right to be forgotten’. 

Some issues have been raised on the globally versus locality of this right and recent decisions of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) have confirmed that this is a local right and that it does not apply outside European jurisdiction. This means that while content can be de-linked in a search engine in Europe, it can still be accessible in the same search engine elsewhere in the world. 

The right to be forgotten is, thus, more the right to be ‘blurred’ as one may not be completely forgotten online.