Free Software and Human Rights on the Internet

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

Internet Governance Forum 2013

Workshop # 230 Report

Free Software and Human Rights on the Internet

Organizer Name 

Shcherbovich Andrey

Organizer Entity 

National Research University Higher School of Economics

Workshop Theme 

Human Rights / Freedom of Expression on the Internet

Consise description 

This workshop is planned to be second in a number of workshops on human rights on the Internet, organized by the academic community of the Higher School of Economics (Moscow, Russia). Free software is a very important issue in sphere of human rights protection online. This topic could potentially affect all the 3 levels of Internet Governance: supranational, national, and community level. Now the Internet could act as a major base of distribution of the free software. In this workshop we would like to consider different human rights related issues arising in sphere of free software distribution. Among others, they are: copyright issues, dangers and threats, i.e. viruses, spyware and malware and combatting them. Also, ethical and legal issues, questions of the regulation and policymaking on the national and supranational jurisdictions. The next question is multilingual software, software for inclusive environment and for persons with disabilities, soft-based accessibility rights.
Generally, the workshop could be addressed the Emerging Issues general theme, among other human rights-related topics of the IGF. Among more specific issues we could introduce themes like 1) changing copyright and licensing policies, 2) creating software for free distribution worldwide, 3) software and issue of filtering and blocking policies, 4) link between software and hardware regulation, 4) and other related issues.


Dr. Svetlana Maltseva. Introductory word. Presentations by panelists. Andrey Shcherbovich and Dr. Anna Zharova. Legal and human rights issues caused by distribution of the free software on the Internet. Dr. Fouad Bajwa. FOSS and Public Policy - The Role of FOSS in Developing Countries. Dr. Norbert Bollow. FOSS, FreedomHTML, and the Right to Development. Roxana Radu. Human rights and community empowerment: a social justice lens to FOSS. Dr. Tracy F. Hackshaw. The potential opportunities, challenges & implications of OSS for Small Island Developing States. Presentations will be followed by the open and interactive discussion with onsite and remote participants.


Dr. Svetlana Maltseva

Remote Moderator 

Dr. Mikhail Komarov

Have you organized workshops at previous IGFs?


Workshop format 


Workshop Transcript 


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


Now the Internet could act as a major base of distribution of the free software. It is also necessary to remind that it is not just “free” software, but also software which is called – “open-source” software, when the basic version is developed and open for improvements or changes to others free of charge. In terms of free software there are several dangers which should be considered: there is no malware protection which could possible lead to personal data thefts and quite often free software includes viruses deep inside the source code which leads to the PC being integrated into global virus networks without user’s permissions and notifications. There were many incidents with the free software stealing personal data and forming special data bases for the further activities like spam and illegal actions. It is important to mention open-source software as quite irresponsible mechanism for the free software distribution. Typically there is always first basic version of the software which might follow some Internet Governance rules, and after that software is open for editing by others all around the world. However anyone can make changes in the software, it is easy to find the malware in the source code. But there is also absence of any rules which guarantee that second and other further versions of that software will follow the Internet Governance rules and will not break laws within the pornographic data implementation or distribution etc. Open-source software is a great mechanism for the further development of the software but at the same time there are no policies and regulations against inappropriate content included etc. Usually users of the software agree to use it as it is and authors do not responsible for the software they only follow the rules of free distribution of the further developed version (which is included into the open-source licenses).

There are also no rules for the open-source software and free software to provide functionality for persons with disabilities and this topic is quite important for the development of universal rules for software distribution.

Dr. Norbert Bollow believes that trustworthy privacy protection is possible only when there is a strong community that is empowered to check and fix any security related bugs in the software that you're using for processing your private data including communications. That is a very key benefit of using Free Software.


The Panel was consisting of the following presenters and reports:

Dr. Norbert Bollow. FOSS (Free and Open Source Software), Switzerland, Civil Society. “FreedomHTML, and the Right to Development”

Dr. Mikhail Komarov. HSE, Department of business informatics, Russia, Academia. “Open Data approach”

Dr. Andrey Shcherbovich. HSE, Law Department. Russia, Academia. Legal and human rights issues caused by distribution of the free software on the Internet.

Roxana Radu. Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies. (Geneva) Switzerland, Academia. “Human rights and community empowerment: a social justice lens to FOSS”.

Dr. Tracy F. Hackshaw. DiploFoundation, Trinidad &Tobago, Civil Society.  “The potential opportunities, challenges & implications of OSS for Small Island Developing States”.


Conclusions drawn from the workshop and further comments 


  1. 1.      Outlined distinction between free and open source software, use of term “libre” (from French).
  2. 2.      Legal regulation of human rights issues must be divided into 3 levels: intergovernmental, national, and community level.
  3. 3.      Need to streamline regulations on national level to provide a legal and judicial defense for producers and users of the free software.
  4. 4.      Key point is protection of the free software as a factor of development, especially in the small island developing states.
  5. 5.      Strong need for increasing legal and information culture of free software activists.
  6. 6.      We should continue dialogue on the issue within framework of the multistakeholder environment of the Internet Governance Forum.
  7. 7.      Open data approach appears as a key point of dealing with the issue on governmental level.
  8. 8.      Private sector and other stakeholder group approaching close points of view on the issue in multistakeholder dialogue.
  9. 9.      Free software could help in realization of all basic human rights, as in the Internet freedom of expression and right to access information could be recognized as a basic human rights.
  10. 10.  We still in need of the basic instrument of international protection of human rights on the Internet with specific relation of the issue of the free and open source software.


Reported by 

Andrey A. Shcherbovich

Estimate the overall number of women participants present at the session 

About half of the 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 


This is not a topic of discussion.


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
12 18 8 16 6 0 30