Digital communications technologies, such as the Internet, mobile smartphones and WiFi-enabled devices, have become part of everyday life. By dramatically improving access to information and real-time communication, innovations in communications technology have boosted freedom of expression, facilitated global debate and fostered democratic participation. By amplifying the voices of human rights defenders and providing them with new tools to document and expose abuses, these powerful technologies offer the promise of improved enjoyment of human rights. As contemporary life is played out ever more online, the Internet has become both ubiquitous and increasingly intimate.
In the digital era, communications technologies also have enhanced the capacity of Governments, enterprises and individuals to conduct surveillance, interception and data collection. As noted by the Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of expression and opinion, technological advancements mean that the State's effectiveness in conducting surveillance is no longer limited by scale or duration. Declining costs of technology and data storage have eradicated financial or practical disincentives to conducting surveillance. The State now has a greater capability to conduct simultaneous, invasive, targeted and broad-scale surveillance than ever before. In other words, the technological platforms upon which global political, economic and social life are increasingly reliant are not only vulnerable to mass surveillance, they may actually facilitate it.