Human Rights Online: Emerging Threats and Opportunities

23 October 2013 - A Workshop on Human Rights in Bali, Indonesia

Internet Governance Forum 2013

Workshop # 220 Report

Human Rights Online: Emerging Threats and Opportunities

Organizer Name 

Kelly Sanja

Organizer Entity 

Freedom House

Workshop Theme 

Human Rights / Freedom of Expression on the Internet

Consise description 

 

In an environment of growing internet penetration, an increasing number of states are introducing laws and practices that have a profound impact on the ability of citizens to exercise their rights online. From recently passed (and now suspended) cybersecurity legislation in the Phillipiness to  re-introduced CISPA in the United States to new itermediarly liability laws in Malaysia, legislators in democratic and non-democratic countries have passed or at least considered laws that could have a negative effect on internet freedom. This workshop will bring together various stakeholders to take stock of the most serious threats to human rights online and review the best practices—both nationally and internationally—that have emerged on these issues over the past year.

The conversation will be framed around the key findings identified in Freedom House’s annual report “Freedom on the Net ,” which utilizes detailed methodology to evaluate developments in 60 countries globally on the issues concerning blocking and filtering of political content, surveillance, internet access, legal framework, arrests of internet users, extralegal harassment and attacks on bloggers, and other methods used by governments  to limit free speech online. The report's 2013 edition was published on October 3.

The questions under consideration will include: What are the most common threats to human rights online around the globe? What new threats to human rights online have emerged in 2012 and 2013 that were not evident previously? What role have courts, private sector, and citizen-led campaigns played globally as bulwarks against abuses? In cases where a threat to freedom of expression has been repelled or reversed, what were the key factors that enabled this change? What factors should be considered when seeking to replicate such successes?

 

 

Agenda 

The questions under consideration will include: What are the most common threats to human rights online around the globe? What new threats to human rights online have emerged in 2012 and 2013 that were not evident previously? What role have courts, private sector, and citizen-led campaigns played globally as bulwarks against abuses? In cases where a threat to freedom of expression has been repelled or reversed, what were the key factors that enabled this change? What factors should be considered when seeking to replicate such successes?

Moderator 

Sanja Kelly, Freedom House

Remote Moderator 

Danilo Bakovic, Freedom House

Have you organized workshops at previous IGFs?

Yes

Workshop format 

Others

Workshop Transcript 

Transcript

Brief substantive summary of the workshop and presentation of the main issues that were raised during the discussions 

 

This workshop was a discussion about human rights online as framed by the findings from Freedom House’s Freedom on the Net 2013report. Until several years ago, few countries had laws dealing specifically with ICTs, but that has been changing precipitously. Many governments are introducing new legislation and practices—often disguised under the umbrella of cybercrime or protection of children—which contain broad provisions that restrict political and social content online.

An increasing number of people have also been arrested for things they’re writing online – not only activists, but also everyday internet users who use various social media platforms. This is the third year straight the report has noted a decline in internet freedom. Over half of countries surveyed displayed signs of growing surveillance over the past year, and in around half of countries surveyed, a user was arrested or imprisoned for posting political, social, or religious content online.

There were positive trends as well – in 11 countries, a negative law was deterred or positive law was passed as a result of civic mobilization and pressure.

 

We’re seeing these threats becoming stronger and stronger, but at the same time, there’s a growing movement of activists who are trying to push back. It’s very important to support this growing movement now, since in a few years from now it might be too late, if these negative laws are already passed and being implemented. Right now, while they’re still being considered, is a critical time and space to have these discussions and bring about positive change.

 

With that in mind, this workshop was focused on two main questions:

 

  • What is the best way to respond to these threats on a global level?
  • What are success stories from individual countries that others can learn from?

 

 

In Morocco, there is a growing trend of arresting online activists during street demonstrations and jailing them for offenses such as disrupting public order. This prevents them from gaining the attention of the international community that would ordinarily occur under laws traditionally aimed at stifling free expression.

 

In Pakistan, YouTube has been blocked for over a year, but civil society organizations and internet activists have found new ways for how to reach out to the government, raise awareness, and educate authorities. They have challenged the ban in court, which requested an amicus curiae to submit a brief and educate the judiciary on how to tackle the issue. This was highlighted as a positive example that could be duplicated in countries with independent judiciaries and respect for rule of law. There were also examples cited from Mexico and the Philippines of initiatives to introduce legislation that promotes internet freedom, which received positive public support and input.

In Indonesia, ordinary internet users have faced jail time and fines for content transmitted through ICTs. Issues of defamation, particularly as they relate to the online sphere, are of particular concern in Indonesia. The legal precedence used in these cases may not be appropriate, as internet legal issues are new. NGOs can work hand-in-hand with users to fight back against these allegations.

 

The representative from Google argued that the private sector should play a larger role than it is in promoting internet freedom. Google approaches open access to information as an economic development argument – you need a free and open web for economic development to happen. Issues like restrictive regulation of content, overly broad intermediary liability, widespread censorship, and data localization, not only impact internet users, but also tech companies, who might be reluctant to invest significant resources in a country where such restrictions are widespread.

 

Conclusions drawn from the workshop and further comments 

 

One focal point of the discussion was of who protects bloggers and ordinary internet users. Professional journalists have unions or media outlets supporting them when they are under threat, but bloggers and everyday internet users do not. Participants recommended that NGOs work to better include and defend these stakeholders.

 

In the private sector, when dealing with issues of filtering, censorship, and other restrictions, companies that aren’t “typical” internet companies should do more to push back against these restrictions. Since every business relies on the internet in one way or another, these issues really do affect everyone. Trade agreements should also do more to advance a free and open internet.

Civil society groups should make a greater effort to share information and collaborate with each other, not only internationally, but also within their respective countries, in order to fight attempts by governments to increase censorship and surveillance.

 

Governments frequently want to ban things because they might offend someone – they should look closely at policies and make sure they’re in line with international human rights – only then can we have a free and open internet.

 

Reported by 

Ilana Ullman

Estimate the overall number of women participants present at the session 

The majority of participants were women

To what extent did the session discuss gender equality and/or women's empowerment? 


It was not seen as related to the session theme and was not raised

Discussion affecting gender equality and women's empowerment 

 

Workshops Staticals 
Number of FEMALE participantsNumber of MALE participantsNumber of Young participantsNumber of Developing Countries ParticipantsNumber of Developed Countries ParticipantsNumber of LDCs participantsNumber of TOTAL Participants
0 0 0 0 0 0 0