Press release

Global campaign to advance digital rights targets 100 cities in 100 days

28 March 2019

The internet and other digital technologies can drive sustained and inclusive economic growth, social and cultural development, and environmental protection and promote sustainable accelerated achievement of SDG 11 – making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

UN-Habitat, OHCHR, UCLG, and EUROCITIES have partnered with the cities of Amsterdam, Barcelona and New York to launch a campaign to rally 100 cities in 100 days to join the Cities Coalition for Digital Rights.

The coalition, which was formed by Amsterdam, Barcelona and New York in November 2018 with the support of UN-Habitat, is committed to ensuring universal and equal access to the internet, and improving digital literacy; protecting privacy, data protection and security; promoting transparency, accountability, and non-discrimination of data, content and algorithm; encouraging participatory democracy, diversity and inclusion, as well as open and ethical digital service standards. In addition to the founding cities, an additional 22 cities have joined the coalition, marking the first time that cities have come together to protect and promote digital rights on a global level. The new cities are Athens, Bratislava, Cary, Chicago, Grenoble, Helsinki, Kansas City, London, Los Angeles, Lyon, Milan, Moscow, Philadelphia, Portland, San Jose, Tirana, Torino, Vienna and Zaragoza.

With increasing reliance on the internet comes the need to protect and respect basic human rights for all in the digital realm. Globally, six out of ten people are not connected to the internet, and violation of human rights including shutdowns, targeting of activists and journalists for their online activities, collection of personal data without consent, and digital surveillance persist. The Cities Coalition for Digital Rights is committed to harnessing technology, to improve the lives of people and support communities in cities by providing trustworthy and secure digital services and infrastructure.

National and local governments, non-governmental and civil society organizations, and the private sector all have a role to play in development of proactive and holistic policies to ensure that technology is used to increase both freedom and security, and that the benefits of digital technology are experienced by all. Local governments especially have a responsibility to ensure digital rights trickle down to every citizen.

The campaign to mobilize 100 new cities to join the Coalition for Digital Rights in 100 days will enhance the ability of cities to promote legal frameworks and programmes that advance digital rights and prevent their abuse.

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The Secretary General of EUROCITIES, Ms. Anna Lisa Boni says “We want to ensure that access to digital services enables people to lead better lives, while leaving no one behind. The Digital Rights Coalition includes many EUROCITIES member cities with whom we are working to translate these principles into further actions at the local level designed and developed for and with the people.”

“The City of Athens is implementing an ambitious digital transformation strategy which is making it a better place to live, work and visit,” said Mayor Kaminis. “Upholding and advancing the digital rights of our residents is a central focus of this effort and we are proud to become part of this coalition in the first wave of cities.”

“In line with the New Urban Agenda, it is important that local and national governments make appropriate use of digital platforms and tools to improve participatory processes. This enables the provision of ample options for inhabitants to make more environmentally friendly choices, boost sustainable economic growth and enable cities to improve their service delivery. This consequently contributes to promoting equality for all in the enjoyment of the benefits of the digital era” said the Executive Director of UN-Habitat, Ms. Maimunah Mohd Sharif

“Through digital technologies we can connect to everything and everyone across the world. However, simultaneously, we are discriminated by algorithms and locked into digital bubbles. The city of Amsterdam feels the responsibility to lead this global movement of cities and to demonstrate that cities lead the way in human centered innovation, said Deputy Mayor Touria Meliani of Amsterdam.

“Now more than ever with the growing threats to human rights around the world, cities must work together to be more inclusive, safe resilient and sustainable,” said Deputy Mayor Laura Anglin of New York City. “The Cities Coalition for Digital Rights is demonstrating a growing unity in our ability to come together to serve people fairly and equally and ensure digital access and safety for all,” she added.

“I’m proud that New York, Amsterdam and Barcelona are demonstrating leadership in protecting human rights in the virtual world and that cities around the world are joining us. Together, we can protect the fundamental rights of all people to feel protected while harnessing the benefits of technology.” said Alby Bocanegra, interim Chief Technology Officer, City of New York.

“In cities we are the first to experience the impact of digitization”, says Ger Baron, Chief Technology Officer of Amsterdam. “This gives us the unique possibility to provide feedback towards national, European and global governments on policy-making and regulation needs. With the digital rights coalition, we unite to protect our residents’ personal rights and our position to make city policies in a global digital marketplace.”

“The Internet Rights and Principles Coalition is proud to see the cities coalition for digital rights putting the Charter of Human Rights and Principles for the Internet at the heart of digital cities agendas,” said the chair of Internet Rights Principles Coalition and Professor at Goldsmith University London Ms. Marianne Franklin. “They are leading the way in showing how internet futures for our cities can be not only human rights-centred and digitally smart but also environmentally responsible.”

“Technology reflects values and decisions and is therefore never neutral,” said Martin Brynskov, Chairman Open & Agile Smart Cities Network. “As cities we have a responsibility towards our future generations to reflect on the direction we are heading and what implications our choices have. Ethical considerations should be at the heart of the design process of a digital society. As Open & Agile Smart Cities we support models where governments, private sector, academia, and residents cooperate to shape cities in which people have control over technologies. We welcome the Coalition of Digital Rights and will further engage with the cities in our network to endorse the statement.”

“The internet is becoming increasingly entwined with urban life. We rely on it for everything from transportation to accessing essential public services. The Cities Coalition for Digital Rights is crafting localized policies that reflect unified principles of privacy, inclusion, equal access and accountability. Together, they are building on the internet’s intended nature –a decentralized resource, open and accessible to all said Mark Surman, Executive Director of the Mozilla Foundation.

“The Internet should be a force that enhances the digital ‘public squares’ of our cities, empowering residents to better access information, to express their opinions more widely, and to seek opportunities free of discrimination,” said Peggy Hicks, Director at the UN Human Rights Office. “But for that to be a reality, it is crucial that cities shape policies based on the human rights reflected in the five founding principles of the Cities Coalition for Digital Rights.”

“Our world is evolving. Our communities are no longer solely comprised of those who are physically close to us and therefore our norms, values and rights also need to evolve. Digital rights will not only mean translating OFFLINE rights into the ONLINE world; they should in fact be a tool to expand the scope of our citizenship. They should support the transformation of our societies into safe and sustainable environments.” Said the General Secretary of UCLG, Emilia Saiz


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Alex Godson Eurocities Writer