'It’s Not Just About Big Tech: Online Harms and International Law’

On Thursday, 30 July, at 7:30 p.m. BST, ELAC and its Programme for International Peace & Security (IPS) are hosted a panel at the 2020 RightsCon conference. RightsCon is the world's leading event on human rights in the digital age. Bringing together our research on Cyber Due Diligence and Atrocity Prevention, our panel looked at States' obligations to prevent, halt and redress online harms ranging from malware attacks to digital surveillance, hate speech, mis/disinformation and electoral interference. This topic couldn't be timelier, as the COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to move significant aspects of our lives online. Although digital technologies are instrumental to the management of and recovery from this crisis, they have also been exploited by State and non-State actors for malicious ends. In particular, we have seen an unprecedented surge in xenophobic and violent rhetoric against minorities groups on social media as well as cyberattacks against frontline health institutions and vaccine research facilities. 

Against this background and shifting away from current debates about Big Tech companies, our session focussed on States' obligations to protect key information and communications technologies from online harms. In fact, while most demands for accountability have targeted corporations after the damage is done, our aim is to strengthen the primary responsibility of States to behave diligently in anticipation of online harms. 

Our event has brought to RightsCon a fantastic line-up: ou very own Antonio Coco (ELAC Visiting Fellow) will speak alongside Agnès Callamard (Director of Columbia University's Global Freedom of Expression project & Executive Director for ARTICLE 19), Jan Neutze (Senior Director for Digital Diplomacy & Head, Cybersecurity & Democracy Team, Microsoft) and Harold Hongju Koh (Sterling Professor of International Law at Yale & Former Legal Advisor to the US State Department). The panel will be moderated by Talita Dias (ELAC Research Fellow) and Tsvetelina van Benthem (ELAC Research Officer) and it was broadcasted live to all registered to RightsCon.

The discussion continued at the joint ELAC-Microsoft virtual mini-workshop on The Oxford Process on International Law Protections in Cyberspace: Safeguarding the COVID-19 Vaccine Research, which took place on Friday, 31 July, at 2 p.m. BST.

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