G7 leaders decry internet shutdowns, but leave personal data up for grabs

A flurry of statements from G7 leaders pledged cooperation in support of democratic values online, and notably highlighted the growing risks of internet shutdowns, and the need for greater efforts against gender-based discrimination online. Access Now, however, denounces the serious gap in commitments towards safeguarding individuals’ personal data.

“We applaud the attention that G7 leaders paid to the growing threat of internet shutdowns,” said Peter Micek, General Counsel and U.N. Policy Manager at Access Now. “Even amidst the pandemic, many governments disconnect the internet and block access to social media. If G7 governments don’t act against this threat to free expression and democratic participation online, no one will.”

Global recognition of the violence that individuals and communities suffer based on gender is a step forward. As everyday activities continue to move online, there is a clear need for incentives and policies that enable safer online spaces. Transparency in content recommendation, access to remedy, and design that is focused on inclusion are important tools to make this happen. 

When it comes to data protection, the G7 reaffirms the principles of “data free flow with trust.” Yet, the Carbis Bay Communiqué presents the exploitation of data as an opportunity for businesses while portraying the protection of personal data as a challenge — Access Now encourages G7 leaders to invest the time to re-evaluate priorities, and place human rights at the core of any and all decisions moving forward.

“Data exploitative business models and indiscriminate surveillance beg for immediate action to protect people online,” said Estelle Massé, Global Data Protection Lead at Access Now. “G7 leaders must prioritize protecting the right to privacy and data protection rights.”

“Connectivity is foundational for human rights,” said Willmary Escoto, U.S. Policy Analyst. “It’s also a key civil rights issue, as low-income communities and communities of color often lack broadband entirely, or it is so expensive or unreliable to render it useless. Government leaders should recognize the importance of connectivity, particularly during and after the COVID pandemic, and prioritize getting their entire populations online.”

G7 leaders have committed to “preserve an open, interoperable, reliable and secure internet, one that is unfragmented, supports freedom, innovation and trust which empowers people.” Access Now is monitoring the fulfillment of this pledge, and urges governments meeting in Rome this October to further advance these recommendations in the context of the G20.