Dealing with Problems of Consent in the Digital Age

As ever more data are generated from online activity, there is more processing of personal data without meaningful consent being given by the affected individuals. Consent is meaningfully provided online when it is freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous (Art 4 (11) GDPR). Part of the HRBDT’s research involves looking at these features from a human rights-based perspective, specifically the right to self-determination which underpins international human rights law. With this in mind, the HRBDT’s objective is to produce a consent manifesto which establishes principles, based on a human rights analysis, for how consent might be given online.

HRBDT has been working on the challenges of consent online for the past year. Starting with an expert meeting in May 2019 that convened a range of international stakeholders, invited to the University of Essex to explore the main challenges of “Meaningful Consent Online”. The expert meeting was led by Prof Sheldon Leader and Sabrina Rau who are heading the work on consent online with the support of numerous HRBDT colleagues.

Following that successful expert meeting , HRBDT organised a panel on consent at RightsCon (11-14 June 2019) in Tunis on “Moving Beyond the Problem, Pathways to Meaningful Consent Online” which was moderated by HRBDT’s Sabrina Rau and joined by Nighat Dad from Digital Rights Foundation, Nathalie Marechal from Ranking Digital Rights, and Namita Aavriti from the Association for Progressive Communications (APC). Together they discussed the role of consent globally and how the function of consent in GDPR is affecting other countries outside of Europe and particularly those in the global south.

Both of the events contribute to a broader effort of developing a set of human rights principles on consent online. This will take the form of guiding principles and will demonstrate the added value of consulting a human rights approach in the way that consent is requested and used in the digital space.

Keep a look out this year for exciting collaborative opportunities in the form of expert meetings and public panels that will discuss the human rights consent manifesto and other research papers that will be published by HRBDT on this topic.