The Press Freedom Dimensions of Internet Governance

3 September 2014 - A Workshop on Other in Istanbul, Turkey

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

This participatory workshop emerged because of revelations about mass surveillance, about mass data collection that have underscored that fact that journalism and the circulation of information more broadly is inseparable from key dimensions of Internet governance, from the infrastructure backbone, to transmission dynamics, to encryption. Journalists represent one of the most vulnerable and engaged group of Internet users, And what happens to journalists and journalism will likely foreshadow other, broader developments.

Traditional concerns of press freedom that existed prior to the Internet remain salient. National legislation, licensing, criminalization of defamation and other types of speech, adherence to international standards by governments, source protection. But there are also new and emerging issues that will need to be grappled with in the internet governance arena because of the profound, but often not understood, impact on press freedom. These include pervasive and targeted surveillance, data retention, anonymity policies, limits on the collection and use of data, data localization, proportionality with respect to blocking, internet infrastructure, transparency of processes, domain name blocking, anonymity policies and technologies, and attempts at regulation such as the “right to be forgotten” that have negative and unintended consequences on press freedom. Some emerging threats to press freedom online come from good intentions, but unintended consequences. Furthermore, when these issues are taken together they could create a constellation of factors that could make it virtually impossible to provide anonymity or source protection. Emerging issues that need to be explored in greater depth are the nexus of surveillance, data retention and anonymity policies and the impact on press freedom, and the emerging challenges that could be posed by the movement towards the internet of things, and the potential threats to journalistic processes including source confidentiality, disclosure of user data and content data, tracking and the like.

There is a lack of clarity about whether Internet regulation, and national legal regulation more broadly, falls within Internet governance or not, although the remarks by participants and attendees made it clear that most people see this as a salient issue in the internet governance domain
intermediary liability protection, and the need for transparency in regards to what is being taken down.

The discussion by participants and the attendees made it clear that Internet regulation is related to, and often indistinct from, internet governance. Thus national legislation regarding the use of the internet, restrictions on content, licensing regimes, publishing restrictions, censorship and domain name blocking, and the like were all brought up as press freedom dimensions of internet governance.
- Non-internet specific legislation also impacts on the press freedom dimensions of internet governance, particularly in countries with more authoritarian governments or broader restrictions on freedom of expression.
- The issue of criminalizing defamation and sedition at the national level and the impacts for freedom of the press apply online, sometimes even more severely. There is a general lack of public interest in many of these legal frameworks.
- The internet itself may be open and free in a given country, but those who use it for criticism or dissent are subjected to harsh penalties
- Companies are in the position of becoming arbiters of national regulatory implementation, but do so in an inconsistent, at times detrimental, and selective way.
- the proliferation of cybercrime legislation in the Arab region is lending to recriminaliztion and hypercrimilization of speech
- there is a lack of capacity within the legal system in some countries to effectively deal with cases involving technology

Defining the appropriate legal regulatory context, and ensuring a multistakeholder approach when doing so, is therefore a significant challenge to internet governance approaches that protect press freedom.
- The Marco Civile in Brazil was mentioned as a piece of legislation that created some sort of safe haven for these platforms, but even this legislation, does not protect anonymity
- More authoritarian governments have interpreted internet governance and being synonymous with governing the internet the way they want.

Can there be governance of the Internet that produces limits on how third parties can collect and use journalists' data, especially the data that they would prefer to keep confidential. It may not be secret because it's all there and somebody has various means of keeping it, but can it be kept confidential is a critical item of concern

There appears to be a growing tendency to take to a greater extreme some of the limitations on press freedom as the new technologies emerge, and to really grapple with the press freedom dimensions of new issues like cybersecurity, anonymity policies, cybercrime legislation and the like policymakers and the broader multistakeholder community need to explicitly consider journalists and the impact on press freedom proactively even when it does not appear evident why.

Press freedom according to UNESCO is a component of freedom of expression (which is a broader category) but wider than media freedom.
- UNESCO perceives issues like permissions, innovations, anonymity, “right to be forgotten”, anonymity and licensing as governance issues

Protection of the platform: this is essential to freedom of the press

Data localization: mandatory provisions in national level legislation that would oblige the data to be stored locally. Several panelists raised the concern that this could put journalists and dissenting voices in some countries in danger. Not many people are thinking of the impact of data localization on press freedom and the integrity of the journalistic process, but they should be.

The need to address proportionality in blocking platforms, and take down requests that often result in overbroad application without specific guidelines or processes in place (also due to concerns by the intermediary about its potential liability), further threat because of lack of transparency on many take down requests, meaning journalists, bloggers, media etc. may not know why content was removed or have any recourse to action.

“Right to be forgotten”: This in not a recognized “right” and acquiescing to attempts by government to legislate away or “balance” fundamental rights is a threat to freedom, of expression and press freedom. The so-called “Right to be forgotten” represents a fundamental break from how traditional and established perspectives on defamation and privacy, particular because it doesn’t require the requested information to be taken down be either untruthful, unlawful or that any harm resulted to the complainant, meaning that it is a standardless standard.

Furthermore, the so-called right to be forgotten is having ripple effects around the world and impacts the entire industry involved in the archiving information, with the media being one of the primary institutions that archives information. The archiving community should be brought into these discussions as well, and think about issues like paywalls and other restrictions on open information.

Multistakeholder dimension: Multisakholderism is not a panacea, and it has become a buzzword that lets stakeholders off the hook, particularly governments. There is a lack of mechanisms in terms of holding governments responsible. Similarly, private companies that sell surveillance tools or other technologies to governments that do not uphold their commitments to ensuring freedom of expression regardless of platform are not held accountable. There is also a resource issue, because civil society as a stakeholder group is less organized and resourced than other stakeholder groups, and the barriers to effective participation are higher for this group. Overall there is no dimension of responsibility when we discuss multistakeholder participation. Finally, there is a lack of meaningful engagement in countries where controls online, on media and on citizens are the most prominent.
- There was no consensus on the idea of whether media actors should seek to be involved with the IGF and other internet governance forums. Again an issue of resources.
- Media, however, could try to become part of the oversight mechanisms to hold governments accountable to the commitments made in various fora, such as the UNGA resolution in which governments agreed to review their surveillance legislation.

Transparency is a must for content take down requests, and any kind of removal, and thus companies are beholden to publish detailed transparency reports with explanations for why certain pieces of content were removed, and governments must permit them to do so. This is the only way that journalists and society can scrutinize and understand what has happened.

Conclusions drawn from the workshop and possible follow up actions

Both policy changes and technological efforts are necessary to address the protection of journalists and their sources and the protection of communication and information exchange in order to ensure that all actors, both governmental and those in the private sector, respect the rule of law, privacy and free expression and ensure that press freedom is not undermined.

1) Emerging issues that need to be explored in greater depth are the nexus of surveillance, data retention and anonymity policies and the impact on press freedom, and the emerging challenges that could be posed by the movement towards the internet of things, and the potential threats to journalistic processes including source confidentiality, disclosure of user data and content data, tracking and the like. Suggestion for this panel to take place again next year and include discussion of these issues and how various stakeholder groups are grappling with them.

2) There appears to be a growing tendency to take to a greater extreme some of the limitations on press freedom as the new technologies emerge, and thus Internet governance discussions need to grapple with the press freedom dimensions of other internet governance issues like cybersecurity, cybercrime legislation, data retention policies. Policymakers and the broader multistakeholder community need to explicitly consider journalists and the impact on press freedom proactively even when it does not appear evident why.

3) Transparency must be the standard for take-down requests, surveillance activities and other processes that impact internet governance and an open internet.

4) National legal systems (judiciary, lawyers, etc) need capacity building to help them better understand and grapple with increasingly complex issues related to technology and rights.

Estimation of the overall number of participants present at the workshop

60

Estimation of the overall number of women present at the workshop

about half of the participants were women

Extent to that the workshop discuss gender equality and/or women’s empowerment

it was not seen as related to the workshop’s theme and was not raised

A brief summary of the discussions in case that the workshop addressed issues related to gender equality and/or women’s empowerment

No information provided

Reported by

No information provided