Human rights issues raised by the use of social media

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Technologies and unlimited information flow are affecting our lives in ways that indicate we are in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a new era that builds and extends the impact of digitization in new and unanticipated ways. People are creating their own spaces on social media, freely expressing their opinions and exchanging information. As this “world” becomes richer with every new platform, people are becoming more reliant on the help of electronic systems to avoid the hassle. Shopping, visiting museums, ordering goods and products, attending trainings and seminars, researching and consulting have become minimal tasks that can be done behind the screen. Basically, social networks have a positive impact on our lives in many ways and lead to development. But it has been causing new types of problems and difficulties for a long time.

The number of crimes and violations committed in the digital environment is increasing every year. According to a report by the Communications Regulatory Commission of Mongolia, every second in the world, 18 people become victims of cybercrime and 25 people’s rights are violated. In other words, the issue of preventing crimes and violations, especially protecting human rights, has become a big topic in the online environment.

In 2013, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a consensus resolution strongly backing the right to privacy, which has now become an international standard specifically guaranteeing the right and freedom of expression in social networks. In 2016, the United Nations Human Rights Committee unanimously agreed that the guarantee of human rights should also apply to the online environment. In addition, member states were urged to implement measures to prevent arbitrary and illegal action and use of personal data in the online environment to recognize personal data and privacy protection on the internet and adopt and improve relevant laws and regulations in this area. Some countries pay great attention to the creation and improvement of the legal framework for the protection of human rights online. For instance, in 2017, Germany passed the Act to Improve the Enforcement of Rights on Social Networks. Italy also passed a law against online harassment the same year. Australia has amended the Children's Television Standards and Online Safety Act to regulate this relationship. South Korea, which is the leader in the development of the information technology sector in Asia and adopted the world’s first law on internet control, amended and refined the Information and Communications Network Act and Telecommunications Business Act. The standardization committee monitors their implementation.

In the case of Mongolia, some related regulations have been included in the related law and the problems have been solved accordingly. In addition, the Communications Regulatory Commission of Mongolia is monitoring within the framework mandated by law. However, the Ministry of Foreign Relations started raising the issue of adopting a special law on the protection of human rights in the online environment at the end of last year. In December 2021, the National Human Rights Forum was held at the State Palace. On this occasion, the president pointed out that violations of human rights are occurring in the online environment in addition to risking national security and negatively affecting the minds of the public. After that, the Ministry of Foreign Relations started drafting a law on the protection of human rights in the electronic environment. The work is still going on.

Minister of Justice and Internal Affairs Kh.Nyambaatar recently announced that a joint working group has been established with the information security team of Meta Platforms that is responsible for Central Asia, Mongolia and China. So, it is only a matter of time to submit the new law to Parliament to regulate relations related to human rights in the electronic environment. To find out what the main focus of this law is and what human rights issues are to be regulated, I contacted the Ministry of Justice and Internal but to no avail.

Lawyers and researchers expressed different positions on the issue of adopting a law on the protection of human rights in the electronic environment. One side says that it can be solved by improving the existing laws and regulations and incorporating some new regulations. On the other hand, there are many people who say, “It is necessary to pass a special law with detailed regulations according to international standards.” This is the case for our country, which ranks first in the region in terms of electronic use (78 percent of the total population uses social media) despite having a poor understanding of information security and social networks and lacking legal knowledge. In addition, the electronic environment or social network is characterized by constant evolution and development. Along with this, people’s attitudes and relationships in social media are constantly changing. Therefore, it is not advisable to “touch” the old laws and regulations and amend them. However, it seems more appropriate to pass an independent law with specific regulations based on the needs and requirements of society and the modern age. By passing a new law, it is possible to improve citizens’ understanding and knowledge about social networks and improve their responsibilities.

In fact, the public does not know very well how human rights issues occur online and how they are regulated under the law. That’s why insulting, slandering and spreading personal information and secrets have gone out of control in the online environment. There are citizens who are aware of what kinds of acts are considered violations of human rights and avoid doing them and there are those who aren’t even aware that their rights are being violated, while others don’t care about it.

Some people think that protecting human rights online only refers to discrimination and harassment of teenagers. But this is a very broad concept. The use of hate speech, obscene words, images, videos and audio, and defamation or insulting someone on social networks is strictly prohibited in countries that have adopted independent laws for the protection of human rights in the electronic environment.

In connection with this topic, the National Human Rights Commission of Mongolia pointed out that privacy rights are most often violated online in Mongolia. It also said that with the increase in the number of internet users, the number of such complaints and suggestions from citizens has increased. When I asked for information about recent studies and cases in this field, I was advised to look at the annual “Human Rights Report”. In the report up to 2013, only one related research work appeared, which was an article written by lawyer and researcher L.Galbaatar, entitled “Protection of human rights against the restriction of internet access, brainwashing through social networks and disclosure of personal data”. He recognized that the issue of protecting personal information and secrets is more pressing in the digital environment.

Our country is already paying a great deal of attention to digitalization efforts. The Ministry of Digital Development and Communications was established earlier this year. More than a month before that, laws on public information transparency, protection of personal information, electronic signature and cyber security were passed. Now, there is a need to pass a law on the protection of human rights in the digital environment and protect people’s rights.

Enkhnaranjav Tumurbaatar