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UNICEF Innocenti hosts panel discussion on child online rights, privacy and freedom of expression

rights con 2 Immigrant children play with Snapchat filters on their mothers phone at home in Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island, Canada, on December 12, 2016. Their family are among some of the 250 Syrian refugees that have been settled in P.E.I.

(5 April 2017) A major conference on digital rights in Brussels has attracted over 1,500 people from 500 organisations including members of government, NGOs, policy makers, development practitioners and researchers

The annual RightsCon summit in Brussels drew participants together for consultation on issues of technology and human rights with keynote speakers including Alexander de Croo, Deputy Prime Minister of Belgium and Frank La Rue, Assistant Director General of Communications and Information at UNESCO. 

Researchers from UNICEF Innocenti attended the conference and hosted a panel discussion on Child Rights Online: Privacy and Freedom of Expression alongside major contributors including the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy, Prof. Joseph Cannataci and representatives from NGOs and the private sector including the Lego Group, GSMA and Millicom among others.

UN Special Rapporteur for the Right to Privacy, Joseph Cannataci, presents at a UNICEF Innocenti hosted panel discussion on child online rights, privacy and freedom of expression at the RightsCon summit
“The conference comes at a crucial time when one in three children are internet users and more children are going online at younger ages,” said Jasmina Byrne, lead researcher on children and digital rights at UNICEF Innocenti and panel chair.

“This has major repercussions for child online rights and privacy. It was important for us that we took an evidence based approach to the issue.”

Mr Cannataci spoke about privacy and children’s rights as a complex web recognising that privacy is essential for the development of a child’s personality and autonomy and that the violation of the right to privacy might affect other human rights, including the right to freedom of expression and to hold opinions without interference.

“Children go between offline and online environments and shift between the two. The risks, both on-line and offline do not always relate to the child’s age but to the level of their maturity and the way they approach risks. We need a more sophisticated way of understanding risks that are not only based on age,” said Mr Cannataci adding that it was important to take into account the evolving capacities of the child when understanding issues surrounding child rights and privacy. 

Mario Viola de Azevedo Cunha, Senior Research Fellow at UNICEF Innocenti and panellist presented on sharenting and emphasised the need for parents to better protect children’s privacy online.

“Privacy is not only undermined by corporations and governments but also by parents and teachers,” he said.

“Privacy laws around the world and the processing of personal data online is based on parental consent. This has consequences in terms of privacy because they [parents] monitor what their children are doing online. They also can overexpose their children by oversharing images of children online. When you protect child privacy you help develop a child’s personality and protect other rights including freedom of expression and the right to the access of information.”

Also participating in the panel were representatives from UNICEF’s Child Rights and Business Unit working on child rights and business, Patrick Geary and Amaya Gorostiaga, who presented key findings from their newly published discussion paper on privacy, protection of personal information and reputation rights, which identifies key threats to children’s rights online and also provides recommendations for the ICT sector on responsibilities and opportunities to respond to privacy risks. The paper is the first in a series of discussion papers on children's rights and business in a digital world, which will also explore freedom of expression and right to information, access and digital literacy, advertising and marketing, and further topics of interest.

Panel discussions also revolved around the newly formed UN Human Rights Council Resolution on the right to privacy in the digital age which now takes into account the right of the child, referring expressly to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“The new UN HRC Resolution that makes explicit reference to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and calls for special consideration to children is an opportunity to develop a more comprehensive international agenda on children’s privacy and data protection as critical safeguards of children’s rights both offline and online.” said Jasmina Byrne.

Find out more about UNICEF Innocenti's research on child internet use.