Watch: Access Now’s Joseph Steele addresses 75th United Nations General Assembly

We all have a stake in our digital future.

Today, as part of the United Nations 75th anniversary events, Access Now Acting Executive Director Joseph Steele is addressing a high-level group of stakeholders from across the globe that are meeting to identify concrete actions world leaders, businesses, and civil society should take to ensure the technological era protects future generations. The gathering, Digital Cooperation: Action Today for Future Generations, which takes place from 2:00 pm-6:00 pm UTC, is part of a process to map out and coordinate global efforts to ensure all societies connect, respect, and protect all people in the digital age. 

You can register for the event here and watch it live here.

Steele was asked to speak for Access Now on the theme of respect, and in his video presentation below, he calls upon decision-makers to:

  • Cease non-consensual data collection, usage, storage, and sale;
  • Invest in a renewed global pledge to bring everybody online meaningfully; and
  • End internet shutdowns and unlawful censorship.

Below is a full transcript of Steele’s presentation, and details about next steps for carrying out the objectives laid out by U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres in his Roadmap for Digital Cooperation.

My name is Joe Steele, the Director at Access Now. Our mission is to defend and extend the digital rights of users at risk around the world. We support the call for change from Hong Kong to Portland that’s been driven by young people demanding justice and respect for human rights on and offline. But we can’t rely upon the next generation to fix the problems that we created. That responsibility lies with the generation that created the problems, in the institutions that failed us, especially the most marginalized and vulnerable around the world. 

I would like to put forward three challenges that we must address to fully respect human rights: datafication, disconnection, and silencing. 

First, there is more data collected on us than any generation before. That data is collected from birth — from the first Instagram photo all the way to increasingly surveilled schools. 

Second is disconnection. Young people, particularly girls, remain disproportionately disconnected. This digital segregation has a dire impact on education, on employment, and on identity. Try being offline for a few hours in the era of COVID, if not a lifetime. 

And the silencing. We’re witnessing new internet shutdowns in Ethiopia, in Belarus. Speech is being censored, content criminalized, entire platforms taken offline.

So amongst those three issues we’re calling for three concrete actions to safeguard and respect digital rights for future generations.

  • The first is an end to non-consensual data collection, usage, storage, and sale. 
  • The second is an investment in a renewed global pledge to bring everybody online meaningfully.
  • And thirdly, an ending of internet shutdowns and unlawful censorship. It’s on us to accelerate digital cooperation with human rights across those three issues at the center. 

Thank you very much. 

Next steps for global digital cooperation to defend digital rights

Today’s meeting was convened by UNICEF/Generation Unlimited, the International Telecommunications Union, UNDP, and the Office of the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Digital Cooperation, working with other U.N. partners. Among those participating in the event are heads of state and government leaders, CEOs of technology companies, thought leaders in the technology space, civil society representatives such as Access Now, and most importantly, those representing youth voices

As we continue to work together in this process toward a future that can safeguard and respect the digital rights of future generations, Access Now underscores the urgent necessity of centering the voices of youth and civil society organizations. Digital rights are human rights, and those making decisions on laws, policy, and technology must put people and their rights first to keep us safe in the technological era. 

Stay tuned

Access Now is participating in a number of upcoming online events to strengthen the global movement for digital rights, and you can be a part of it. From #DigitalCooperation, to deep diving into government efforts to regulate online content in Africa and beyond, to fighting internet shutdowns through strategic advocacy, this post gives you all the details for tuning in.