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To be or not to be (connected)- The right to be (dis)connected

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From the proclaimed right to be connected to the evolving right to be disconnected, only few years have passed. However in internet sphere, prompted by the fast developing world of technologies, law has to catch up as well.

As from 1 January 2017, France has made effective the law which provides that companies with more then 50 employees should establish hours when staff should not send or answer emails. The law comes as a response to increasingly present praxis that workers, after leaving their place of work, actually stay at work, but this time, through their various electronic devices, being obliged to check on their mail, respond and eventually work from home, during the time that should be their private time dedicated to their private life and family. Health and psychology experts were very much concerned about the consequences such connectivity may have on health and personality of workers, who were thus not able to close the door of their office completely at the end of their working day.

So what happened between the right to be connected and the right to be disconnected?

Back in 2010, it was a great breakthrough into the freedom of expression in ‘online’ context when Finland, being a pioneer, provided its citizens with the legal right to access a 1 Mbps (megabit per second) broadband connection. It led to broadband access being included in basic communications servers, like telephone and postal services, and making Finland first country to provide for such a right.

Soon thereafter, in May 2011, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, in his Report, made a step further towards the protection of right to expression online, acknowledging that ‘the Internet has become a key means by which individuals can exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression, as guaranteed under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights’ . A huge step was made in the new digital era when the classic human rights instruments have spread their effects to ‘online’ sphere as well.

The above Report pointed out two segments of the right to internet which would enable individuals to exercise their right to internet:

•Access to online content, and

•Availability of the necessary infrastructure and information communication technologies

The problem of access to internet would include arbitrary blocking or filtering of content, with the exception of legitimate grounds of state interference, criminalization of legitimate expression, imposition of intermediary liability, disconnecting users from internet access, cyber attacks and inadequate protection of the right to privacy and data protection.

Countries worldwide have provided for the access to fast internet, and the technology has adequately responded with the storming of devices that provide such access.

Internet may be one of the most important instruments of the 21st century. It appears that in 2016, there were 46.1% of internet users globally. . The United Nations Human Rights Council has in 2016 passed a resolution for the promotion, protection, and enjoyment of human rights on the internet, as a logical sequence to its resolution on internet access in 2012 and 2014. It provided that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, which in particular concerned the freedom of expression, that is applicable regardless of frontiers and through any media of one’s choice. It has recognized the global and open nature of the Internet as a driving force in accelerating progress towards development in its various forms.

However, the globally prevailing access to internet raised some legal concerns of being constantly online. They concern, in particular, the work-home balance, and relying back to some long ago established principles such as work hours, absence, annual leave etc.

A year ago, the European Court of Human Rights (‘the ECtHR’), in the case of Barbulescu v. Romania, has dealt with the question of whether an employer is entitled to look into his employee’s private messages at Yahoo Messenger, written during the working time. The employer monitored and made transcript of messages made at the Yahoo Messenger account that was created at the employer’s request for the purposes of contacts with clients, but the transcript also contained five short messages that Mr. Barbulescu, the employee, exchanged with his fiancée using a personal Yahoo Messenger account. The ECtHR found no violation of the right to respect the private life by such actions of the employer, having in mind, inter alia, that the company did adopt internal rules according to which it was strictly forbidden to use computers, photocopiers, telephones, telex and fax machines for personal purposes.

This case alerted employees and employers worldwide, as to the right of the employers to monitor private messages made using the internet during work hours in certain circumstances, and employees at the same time, to abstain from it.

However the issue which exists vice-versa, and which was not addressed at that time, is the question of whether an employer has the right to request his employee to be connected, and to stay online, outside of working hours. If so, does that time count as overtime? Is it to be considered as ‘work from home’? Does that interfere with the right to leave / rest between two working days. What may be the psychological effects of being constantly ‘on call’? How that affects the health?

The first act on labour standards that International Labour Organization adopted was the Convention Limiting the Hours of Work in Industrial Undertakings to Eight in the Day and Forty-eight in the Week (Entry into force: 13 Jun 1921). The international labour standards, such as the need to protect workers’ health and safety by providing adequate periods of rest and recuperation, including weekly rest and paid annual leave, may appear affected by the overuse of internet technologies. Some companies adopted flexible working hours and flexible place of work. But one should be concerned that these temporal flexibility and spatial flexibility, does not diminish workers’ rights that took so long to be established.

So first came the right to internet, or the right to be connected. Later, followed by the development of technologies, social online interactions, came the right of employers to review employees private messages and correspondence during work hours. Then, starting in France, came finally the right not to be connected. If a person cannot communicate privately during work hours, then he should not communicate for work, during private hours.

The ratio work/private life, has its long history and was cause of many social revolutions which have resulted in decrease of working hours, right to free time between two working days, right to annual leave, and the scope of overtime. France is the best example of when we should say stop to technologies, for the preservation of basic human rights.

The new French law means a small but important victory of human rights over IT, and a victory of workers’ rights and rights to privacy over IT technologies and smart communications. How that victory will influence further developments in labour law when speaking of its online element, remains to be seen.

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Science & Technology

Cybersecurity depends on the user

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Businesses and pharmaceutical companies have become prime targets for cyber criminals. For many employees switching to work from home has made them more vulnerable to cyber attacks. Amid the continuing coronavirus pandemic the focus is shifting on digital hygiene and training. These are top issues outlined by the participants of a round table which  took place at TASS Press Center under the title “Cybersecurity: new threats and protection against them”.

At present, a large number of high-tech medical equipment is connected to the Internet. Given that medical institutions are not used to new threats, they often fall prey to cyber criminals. At times, hospitals have to pay ransom in order to restart the equipment vital for patients’ lives.  The participants in the round table cited yet more tragic cases when the ambulance equipment glitch forced the driver to head for other hospitals, which means that patients in critical condition may not make it there.

Cyber threats have been haunting not only the  medical industry. President of Check Point Software Technologies in Russia and CIS Vasily Diaghilev has singled out 3 key challenges in the new reality. Firstly, the decision-taking time limit has shortened considerably, — the market proved unprepared for this (unlike in the past, when months were given to elaborate decisions on cyber security, now a mere days are given to do so). Secondly, the criminal groups which had to go online as well, were provided with new financing to “work” in the cyber sphere. Thirdly, user vulnerability went up due to a wide variety of hacking methods.

Alexei Novikov, Director of Security at Positive Technologies, disagrees with such a view. The transition to online work has increased the number of vulnerabilities making it possible for the criminals to find new loops. Hence cyber security has come to depend on the competence of particular individuals. Earlier, information security was guaranteed “along the perimeter of corporate network”. Now, when practically everyone is working from home, family members have got access to the data too. In  addition, employees often connect  their  personal “smart devices” of the  Internet of  things to their corporate networks.

Experts who took part in the round table provided specific recommendations as to how to boost digital security. Founder and General Director of Zecurion Alexei Raevsky warned companies which are not supposed to store loads of data against doing so. Alexei Raevsky described all the data (for example, for electronic passes), which they collect on a regular basis in the conditions of a quarantine, as a “time bomb”. Vasily Diaghilev has urged individuals to refrain from using (and called on companies to impose restrictions on this practice on a mandatory basis) corporate passwords on external servers, in addition, he recommended coding corporate data, and in order to secure protection against destructive files, he advises to switch to the safe pdf-format in paperwork. “Info security should enter mass market as a taxi – a kind of digital security outsourcing”, — Lev Matveev, Chairman of the Board of “SearchInfoorm”, member of the Association of Software Manufacturers “Russoft”, says. Besides, he recommended including VPN-apps and services into public (free) WiFi-networks.

From our partner International Affairs

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Top 10 Emerging Technologies to Watch in 2020

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From virtual patients to pain-free needles, synthesizing whole-genomes, and digital medicine, these top 10 emerging technologies are transforming our post-COVID-19 lives. An international steering group of experts singled out these and other emerging technologies as the ones most likely to impact the world in the next three to five years.

For example, a Swiss group was able to synthesize the entire COVID-19 genome by reproducing the genetic sequence uploaded by Chinese scientists. They were essentially teleporting the virus into their laboratory for study without waiting for physical samples. The ability to write our genome will inevitably help doctors to cure genetic diseases.

As we now move to clinical trials of a COVID-19 vaccine, virtual patients, instead of living humans, could help identify successful vaccine candidates, reduce costs, and speed up research. It would also prevent the testing of imperfect vaccine candidates on living volunteers.

While the outbreak unfolded, dozens of medical apps and bots were developed, expanding the digital medicine landscape. These apps could detect depression and provided counselling. Bots answered over 200 million inquiries about COVID symptoms and treatments. COVID-19 will continue to shape our lives, and these emerging technologies could fill the gaps created by the pandemic.

The list also includes new technologies that can help combat climate change by tackling major polluting industries. These new green technologies include innovative planes, new concrete formulations and using sunlight to power refineries.

Top 10 technologies to make the list are:

Virtual Patients

Virtual patients, instead of living humans, could make vaccine trials quicker and inexpensive. This technology would significantly reduce the number of human subjects needed for experimentation.

Microneedles for Painless Injections and Tests

These tiny needles promise pain-free injections and blood testing. Microneedles do not touch nerve endings. Since the process does not need costly equipment or a lot of training, they can be used in areas that do not normally receive cutting-edge medical technologies.

Whole-Genome Synthesis

Whole-genome synthesizing will transform cell engineering. The ability to write our genome will inevitably help doctors to cure genetic diseases.

Digital Medicine

Digital medicine is a collection of apps that detect and monitor the mental and physical health of patients. These apps and bots can enhance traditional medicine and provide support to patients with limited access to healthcare.

Electric Aviation

Electric propulsion motors would eliminate direct carbon emissions. This technology could also reduce fuel costs by up to 90%, maintenance by up to 50% and noise by nearly 70%. Currently, about 170 electric airplane projects are underway.

Lower-Carbon Cement

Concrete, the most widely used human-made material, shapes much of our built world. If cement production were a country, it would be the third-largest emitter after China and the US. Researchers are working on lower-carbon approaches by changing the recipe, using different materials, and using carbon capture and storage technologies.

Sun-Powered Chemistry

This approach uses sunlight to convert carbon dioxide waste into needed chemicals manufactured from fossil fuel. This approach could reduce emissions in two ways – by using unwanted gas as raw material and using sunlight as the source of energy instead of fossil fuels.

Green Hydrogen

Current methods of producing hydrogen are not environmentally efficient. Green hydrogen, produced through electrolysis, has no by-product, unlike current processes. Green hydrogen could transform industries that require high-energy fuel.

Spatial Computing

“Spatial computing” will bring together raise reality apps and sensors to facilitate human-machine and machine-machine interactions to a new level. It combines these capabilities and controls objects’ movements and interactions, allowing a person to navigate the digital and physical world.

Quantum Sensing

Quantum sensors enable autonomous vehicles that can “see” around corners, underwater navigation systems, early-warning systems for volcanic activity and earthquakes, and portable scanners that monitor a person’s brain activity during daily life.

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Can ‘Open Science’ speed up the search for a COVID-19 vaccine? 5 things you need to know

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The UN is calling for authoritative scientific information and research to be made freely available, to accelerate research into an effective vaccine against the COVID-19 virus, help counter misinformation, and “unlock the full potential of science”.

Arguing that no-one is safe until everyone is safe, the World Health Organization (WHO) has, for several months, been urging countries and scientists to collaborate, in a bid to bring the pandemic under control. This has involved the creation, alongside governments, scientists, foundations, the private sector and other partners, of a groundbreaking platform to accelerate the development of tests, treatments and vaccines.

In October, the head of the agency, Tedros Ghebreyesus Adhanom, alongside human rights chief Michelle Bachelet, and Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of science, culture and education agency UNESCO, issued a call for “Open Science”, describing it as a “fundamental matter of human rights”, and arguing for cutting-edge technologies and discoveries to be available for those who need them most.

But what exactly does Open Science mean, and why does the UN insist on making it more widespread?

1) What is ‘Open Science’?

Open Science has been described as a growing movement aimed at making the scientific process more transparent and inclusive by making scientific knowledge, methods, data and evidence freely available and accessible for everyone.

The Open Science movement has emerged from the scientific community and has rapidly spread across nations. Investors, entrepreneurs, policy makers and citizens are joining this call.

However, the agency also warns that, in the fragmented scientific and policy environment, a global understanding of the meaning, opportunities and challenges of Open Science is still missing.

2) Why is Open Science important?

Open Science facilitates scientific collaboration and the sharing of information for the benefit of science and society, creating more and better scientific knowledge, and spreading it to the wider population.

UNESCO has described Open Science as a “true game changer”: by making information widely available, more people can benefit from scientific and technological innovation.

3) Why is it needed now?

Because, in a world that is more inter-connected than ever before, many of today’s challenges do not respect political or geographic borders, and strong international scientific collaboration is essential to overcome the problems. The COVID-19 pandemic is a prime example.

We also have the tools to make it happen: with digitalization becoming ever more widespread, it is far easier than ever before to share scientific knowledge and data, which are needed to enable decisions that can lead to overcoming global challenges to be based on reliable evidence.

4) What is the impact of Open Science on the pandemic?

In this global health emergency, thanks to international collaboration, scientists have improved their understanding of the coronavirus with unprecedented speed and openness, embracing the principles of Open Science. Journals, universities, private labs, and data repositories have joined the movement, allowing open access to data and information: some 115,000 publications have released information related to the virus and the pandemic, and more than 80 per cent of them can be viewed, for free, by the general public.

Early in the pandemic, for example, Chinese scientists readily shared the genome of the virus, jumpstarting all following research into the virus, and the diagnostic testing, treatments, and vaccines that have since been developed.

Finally, the crisis has underlined the urgent need to bring science closer to decision making and to society as a whole. Fighting misinformation and promoting evidence-based decision-making, supported by well-informed citizens, has proven to be of vital importance in the fight against COVID 19.

5) What is the UN doing to promote Open Science?

To ensure that Open Science truly meets its potential, and benefits both developed and developing countries, UNESCO is taking the lead in building a global consensus on values and principles for Open Science that are relevant for every scientists and every person independently of their place of origin, gender, age or economic and social background.

The future UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science is expected to be the international instrument to set the right and just standards for Open Science globally, which fulfil the human right to science and leave no one behind.  

In a statement released on World Science Day for Peace and Development, celebrated on 10 November, Ms. Azoulay said that widening the scope of Open Science will help science to “unlock its full potential”, making it more effective and diverse by “enabling anyone to contribute, but also to bring its objectives in line with the needs of society, by developing scientific literacy in an informed citizenry who take responsibility and are involved in collective decision-making”.

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