Blog #4: Updated: Introducing a People-Centred Standard for Online Transparency — What Does Adequate Government and Corporate Transparency Look Like?

Blog #6: The Human Rights Context for Transparency


In this instalment of its blog series, Liz Woolery, member of  Working Group 3 and the Open Tech Institute,  illustrates how transparency is incorporated into various sources outlining the human rights commitments, expectations, or aspirations of governments and companies. The group describes how its work is grounded in the FOC’s Tallinn Agenda for Freedom Online and cites some other sources that highlight the importance of transparency. These sources and others can help governments, companies, and civil society situate transparency efforts within a greater framework of protecting and respecting human rights.


Corporate and government transparency promote respect for human rights. Multiple sources outlining human rights commitments, expectations, or aspirations of governments and companies articulate the importance of transparency.

For the Freedom Online Coalition (FOC) Working Group 3, a key source is the Tallinn Agenda for Freedom Online, adopted by FOC member governments in April 2014. The FOC was founded on a commitment to respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms online. The Tallinn Agenda detailed various approaches and commitments to promoting the FOC’s mission. The preamble to the Tallinn Agenda “recogniz[ed] transparency of government processes and open government data initiatives as important elements in protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, and participation in a democratic society.” The Tallinn Agenda included the following recommendations, in which the FOC member governments:

Dedicate ourselves, in conducting our own activities, to respect our human rights obligations as well as the principles of the rule of law, legitimate purpose, non-arbitrariness, effective oversight, and transparency, and call upon others to do the same;

Call upon governments worldwide to promote transparency and independent, effective domestic oversight related to electronic surveillance, use of content take-down notices, limitations or restrictions on online content or user access and other similar measures, while committing ourselves to do the same.

The Tallinn Agenda also called on other stakeholders – non-member governments, the private sector, international organizations and civil society worldwide – “to endorse these recommendations to guarantee a free and secure internet for all.”

Other sources also emphasize the role of transparency in efforts to protect and respect human rights. These include (but are not limited to):

  • The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights articulated certain expectations of transparency for both governments and business enterprises. As set out in the Principles, states have the duty to protect and promote the rule of law, including by taking measures to ensure “procedural and legal transparency,” among other important aims. The Principles also explain that business enterprises, when addressing their human rights impacts, should show that they respect human rights by providing “a measure of transparency and accountability to individuals or groups who may be impacted,” as well as to other stakeholders.
  • For European state parties, the European Convention on Human Rights enumerated protections for privacy and freedom of expression, including respect for private and family life, home, and correspondence and the freedom “to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.” On multiple occasions the European Court of Human Rights has held that transparency of government actions is necessary for the protection of these rights. For example, the Court has found a basic right of the public to be “properly informed” about matters of public concern and has also explained that “acts or omissions of government must be subject to the close scrutiny not only of the legislative and judicial authorities but also of the media and public opinion.”
  • For companies, the Global Network Initiative, a non-governmental multi-stakeholder organization that brings together companies, NGOs, responsible investors and academics to foster protection of freedom of expression and privacy, has also found that transparency and respect for human rights go hand-in-hand. GNI members commit to uphold the GNI Principles on Freedom of Expression and Privacy, which emphasize the need for companies to act on their commitment to human rights in a transparent and accountable manner, including participation in accountability assessments.

These sources and others can help governments, companies, and civil society situate transparency efforts within a greater framework of protecting and respecting human rights.

The views expressed in this blog represent the views of individual authors, informed by the Working Group’s goals, themes, and recommendations. They do not represent the views of the Freedom Online Coalition or its members.