Industry Dialogue participates in the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights

For the first time, the Industry Dialogue took part in the Third Annual UN Forum on Business and Human Rights from 1-3 December in Geneva, Switzerland.  Facilitator Lisl Brunner spoke about the Industry Dialogue at panel on The Right to Privacy in the Digital Age, focusing on challenges facing telecommunications companies as they seek to respect user privacy and progress that companies have made in implementing the ID Guiding Principles in this respect.

Former ID Chair Yves Nissim of Orange spoke at panel discussions on Embedding the Corporate Responsibility to Respect Human Rights, which examined companies’ experiences and challenges in making human rights a part of their everyday business, and Meaningful Stakeholder Engagement in Human Rights Due Diligence.  In the latter discussion, Yves related how Orange engaged with civil society in response to a situation that affected freedom of expression in Africa, as well as how the company has made progress in implementing the UN Guiding Principles through its membership in the Industry Dialogue.

During these discussions, audience members asked the Industry Dialogue questions such as the following:

  • Can companies inform customers after the fact that surveillance has taken place?
  • How are companies engaging with governments on legal frameworks that are not transparent?
  • How do companies engage local stakeholders during or after network shutdowns?

The Industry Dialogue highlighted that the law generally does not permit telecommunications companies to notify users after governments have used their lawful intercept powers or obtained communications-related data, as illustrated by the Vodafone Law Enforcement Disclosure Report and its Legal Annexe, to provide an example.  Notably, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights have declined to find that notification of users subsequent to communications surveillance is required of governments as part of their duty to protect the right to privacy.   During 2015, the Industry Dialogue plans to build on Vodafone’s work by commissioning a report on the legal frameworks governing telecommunications in several of our countries of operation.   The Industry Dialogue also plans to engage with the Freedom Online Coalition in order to address the need for greater government transparency with regard to how laws and policies governing lawful intercept and access to communications-related data takes place.   Finally, due to tensions that accompany most network shutdowns, it is difficult for companies to engage with local stakeholders when determining which course of action to take.  However, companies participating in the Industry Dialogue welcome ideas from civil society and others as to how this might be done in the future.

Representatives from Nokia and Telefonica also participated in the UN Forum and valued the opportunity to learn from panel discussions and to engage with members of civil society, academia, industry, and international organizations.  Discussions on grievance mechanisms and remedy and conducting human rights due diligence were of particular interest.  Many participants highlighted the importance of National Action Plans on Business and Human Rights, and the Industry Dialogue looks forward to providing its input into plans that are under consideration in its markets, where possible.

Finally, the Industry Dialogue held its annual Joint Learning Forum with the Global Network Initiative on Monday, 1 December, on the margins of the UN Forum.  Watch videos from the event and read a summary here.

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Lisl Brunner

Lisl Brunner is the Facilitator for the Telecommunications Industry Dialogue. Prior to this role, Lisl spent five years as a staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. She is a fluent Spanish speaker and holds a law degree from the University of Pittsburgh and a Bachelor’s degree from the College of William & Mary.

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