Citizen Lab Submission to UN SR on Online Violence Against Women

In March 1994, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights appointed a “Special Rapporteur on violence against women, including its causes and consequences”.  The current Special Rapporteur is Dr. Dubravka Šimonović.

Recently,  Dr. Šimonović issued a call for submissions on the topic of “online violence against women” and Citizen Lab decided to make such a submission.

Over the years, Citizen Lab research has touched on many subjects that are relevant to the topic of online violence against women and girls, and we are committed to integrating a gender and diversity based analysis into our work.  As our submission notes, “Citizen Lab research has exposed efforts to target women in digital espionage campaigns, revealed the use of surveillance tools against those seeking justice for slain women’s rights advocates, mapped Internet censorship systems that filter out information related to women’s rights and sexuality, and supported partners in the Global South who study online threats faced by women human rights defenders”.

Based on these experiences, we have become concerned about the ways in which the very real vulnerabilities of women and girls in online and offline spaces are exploited to justify new, expansive, and sometimes unaccountable censorship and surveillance powers.  We see little evidence that these powers will mitigate the problems affecting women and other at-risk communities.  In fact, sometimes they can actually make matters worse, as in the case of the massive security vulnerabilities we discovered in South Korean child monitoring applications that actually put parents and their minor children at greater risk had they not used the application in the first place.

In order to assist the UN Special Rapporteur, we make several recommendations which we hope will inform the report she is preparing on the topic, to be presented at the next Human Rights Council in June 2018.  These recommendations stress the importance of robust digital security to protect women and girls online; the importance of proper oversight, transparency, and public accountability with respect to sharing of user data and removal of content undertaken by social media and other companies when requested by governments or otherwise; the need for better regulation of the commercial spyware market, the abuses around which include so-called “stalkerware” used by spouses to track their partners; and finally the importance of education, training, and capacity- building so that all stakeholders are more literate in all of the areas above.

The authors of the submission include researchers from the Citizen Lab (Ron Deibert, Lex Gill, Irene Poetranto, Amitpal Singh), Chelsey Legge from the International Human Rights Program at the University of Toronto, and Tamir Israel from the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic.

The full report can be found here.