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Human rights and disinformation

At a glance

Digitalisation is changing societies in many ways. This requires new “digital rights”. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is considered a strong reference point to ensure that people around the world can communicate online, express their opinions and engage with education, knowledge, health and commerce. Freedom of opinion and association, data protection and privacy, the right to education and multilingualism, and the protection of consumers are particularly affected by digitalisation. In addition, digitalisation also calls for the definition of new rights, for example with regard to access to the Internet.

The German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) makes sure that it does not promote institutions that monitor citizens in authoritarian regimes. This is also regulated at EU level: A corresponding regulation lays down strict rules to ensure export control of dual-use goods. The strict European data protection rules also apply to all implementing organisations of the German development cooperation. Digital projects in particular are based on the “do-no-harm” principle. All technologies are to be subjected to a technology impact assessment that excludes misuse as far as possible.

Measures that violate the right to freedom of opinion, freedom of assembly and privacy are not accepted. A human rights assessment serves to identify human rights risks at an early stage, for example in the context of digitalisation projects.


Policy objectives for human rights in the digital space

In its Digital Agenda, the German Federal Government has committed itself to strengthening the protection of human rights in the digital space. In the context of development cooperation, capacity building in the areas of transparent and efficient governance, cyber-security and a mainstreaming of digitalisation were identified as priorities. In its Digital Agenda, the BMZ names the protection of digital rights as one of five strategic goals. Human rights to privacy and freedom of expression are to be strengthened online and data protection and non-discriminatory Internet access for all is to be promoted. Digital skills, especially of disadvantaged groups, are to be developed.

With the 2011 Human Rights Concept, the BMZ systematically orients German development policy towards human rights and supports partner countries in implementing their human rights obligations. The Guidelines for the Consideration of Human Rights Standards and Principles in the Preparation of Programme Proposals of the German Governmental Development Cooperation, which came into force in February 2013, specifies these requirements and demands that impacts and risks relating to human rights be examined in advance.


Protection for human rights defenders

In our view, human rights defenders, media professionals and opposition groups in many partner countries are increasingly affected by online censorship and surveillance due to the growing importance of the Internet. More and more countries are introducing restrictive cyber laws. According to the German Federal Government, repression due to online activities has increased significantly in recent years. Internet disconnections and other access restrictions are increasingly being used to hinder political protests and the diversity of opinion, e.g. in the context of elections.

The Federal Government considers the lack of protection of privacy and personal data to be an additional risk. In our view, data misuse and non-transparent or discriminatory regulation of online content by platform operators also restrict the right to freedom of opinion, privacy and civil society’s scope for action on the Internet.

Human rights defenders are important partners of German development policy. The BMZ’s digital strategy “Digitalisation for Development” (2019) identifies the protection of human rights on the Internet as one of the main objectives of the measures.

Measures of the BMZ