UK: Cyber Security Guidelines to Promote Human Rights?

Whenever there is any kind of crisis or uprising in the world technology gets a mention. It’s normally Twitter, Facebook or WhatsApp to be fair, but this tends to spark off a scattergun of debate covering freedom of speech, propaganda, human rights… and what role tech companies should play in curbing all this nefarious activity.

And as time progresses things are complicating themselves further. Because as technology gets absolutely everywhere its manipulation by ne’er-do-wells is becoming an inevitability and so cyber security itself is getting implicated. Throw into the mix any number of different laws and approaches to government and you have a vastly complex global situation.

With this in mind - and with the backing of the UK government – techUK has released a new set of guidelines which aim to help tech companies negotiate this thorny issue. As the press release proudly proclaims: “This is the first tech sector guidance of its kind in the world.”

While Ruth Davis, Head of Cyber, Justice and Emergency Services, techUK adds: “We need to prevent them [cyber security technologies] falling into the wrong hands, leading to human rights abuses or the undermining of UK national security. Businesses have a responsibility to protect human rights and uphold national security.”

It is certainly a nice publicity push for the security sector in the UK and has a raft of extremely high profile spokespeople like Ed Vaizey, the Minister for Culture and Digital Industries. However, what makes it really useful is that this actually attempts to break this problem up step-by-step.

Naturally enough a lot of this is startlingly obvious. But what is impressive is it presents a top-level fully systematic approach. This is precisely what is lacking from a lot of all the internet shouting out there, and it is this type of document that is likely to emerge everywhere as cyberspace becomes regulated.

So, in one PDF, this seeks to present everything UK cyber security companies need to keep on top of the vast grey-area of security companies’ potential infringement on human rights. But what does that actually mean? Human rights get bandied around quite a lot these days and often fairly spuriously. Is the internet a human right for example? That’s debatable.

Sensibly enough this breaks down what human rights are, shows how they can be inadvertently infringed, and demonstrates how it is possible to take proactive steps to counteract the problem. After all, around the world there are a lot of companies running round like headless chickens. And they’re increasingly getting more than a slap on the wrist for getting it wrong.

One case study reminds us how the Syrian government used internet filtering technology from Blue Coat to track opponents of its regime. On investigation, Blue Coat itself was was cleared of involvement but its distribution partner Computerlinks FZCO was fined £2.8 million ($4.4 million).

I won’t go into the moral arguments here. But on the practical side you get a list of product uses that aren’t intended by the seller, a break down of companies’ responsibilities based on existing legislation and an explanation of how to do due diligence at each stage of the product lifecycle. It is not rocket science but it could be exactly what is needed.

As I sat down to write this, I wondered about providing core takeaways from the report. However, on this occasion, I don’t think yet another bullet point list is necessary. This is worth talking about because it provides strategic guidance. But if you need that guidance, I’m afraid I think you need to consult the actual report. It is 36-pages, nicely structured and you can skip to the bits you need.


Kathryn Cave is Editor at IDG Connect


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