UN SR on Violence Against Women Seeks Input on Technology-Facilitated Violence, Harassment & Abuse

| November 02, 2017

CIPPIC contributed to Citizen Lab's submission to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Dubravka Šimonović, who is seeking best practices for addressing technology-facilitated violence, harassment and abuse against women. The submission highlights the need to acknowledge the real-world harms that flow from technology-facilitated abuse—harms which are too often disregarded or trivialized. The atmosphere created by such abusive conduct operates at to exclude women and girls from critical digital spaces, can have professional consequences and can leverage technical capabilities to wage long-ranging and persistent harassment campaigns. Often, technology-facilitated abuse does not, however, fall neatly within existing causes of action or criminal prohibition, which poses a challenge for those seeking to leverage legal powers to find relief from such abuse. The online platforms on which technology-facilitated abuse too often plays out present an equally challenging landscape for women and girls facing online abuse. Voluntary mechanisms adopted by these platforms to address online abuse are opaque, highly inconsistent, and continue to fail those who attempt to rely on them. Other private actors compound technology-facilitated abuse of women by actively feeding a robust commercial stalkerware market that facilitates violent and harassing conduct and allows for pervasive surveillance of women by abusive partners.

At the same time, the submission warns against the adoption of untargeted or generalized censorship and surveillance powers as a response to the evident challenges of technology-facilitated violence, harassment and abuse. It points to examples from Canada, where sweeping new powers had been proposed on successive occasions, purportedly driven by the need to address online abuse. However, in both instances, the proposed powers bore minimal relation to the actual harms sought to justify them. The submission therefore warns against allowing legitimate concerns to animate unrelated state incursions on human rights. Such attempts harm everyone, including the women and girls they are presented as seeking to protect. In particular, the submission provides salient examples where encryption tools—a frequent target for unbalanced policy initiatives aimed at increasing state surveillance capabilities—operate to protect women from abuse and help pin other ways. The Tor encryption and anonymization network and .Onion services, for example, can facilitate access to a host of provide means of igital content on women's rights and health sites in states where such content is currently filtered at the network layer. It also emphasizes the harms that have historically flown from attempts to solve content-related policy problems by imposing liability on intermediaries for content that they have not participated in generating.

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