Connecting our rights to #takebackthenet in Barcelona

Author's name: 
Shawna Finnegan
Winnipeg, Canada

Last week in Barcelona, APC brought together activists, transformative techies, human rights defenders and academics from across the globe for our 12th tri-annual member meeting at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (BarcelonaTech UPC).

Hosted by our member in Spain, Pangea, this week-long event included training on human rights and the internet, strategy meetings on protection from DDoS attacks, open space discussions to #takebackthenet from surveillance, censorship and violence, as well as member sharing events and the election of a new APC Board of Directors.

The meeting started with a 2-day Human Rights and the Internet training, based on the Internet Rights are Human Rights curriculum. Discussing the impact of technology on human rights through presentations, plenary and group discussions, APC members, partners and staff connected our rights to privacy, freedom of expression and information, association and assembly to the diverse lived experiences of individuals living and working online around the world.

Using a spectrogram to open and close the training, participants explored their own perspectives on difficult issues such as the right to anonymity, balances between freedom of expression and privacy, and the question of access to the internet as a fundamental human right. The diversity of perspectives in the room gave weight to the challenges that all stakeholders in the internet face: how to develop policies and practices that protect not only a free and open internet, but also promote and defend our fundamental human rights online.

As multi-stakeholder internet governance processes such as NetMundial and the IGF grapple with many of the same issues discussed in this training, APC’s community reflected on the need for creativity and diversity in raising awareness about the issues our interconnected global networks face. Framing privacy as a community issue, participants from across regions expressed concern at the apathy in their communities’ responses to last years’ Snowden revelations: ‘I have nothing to hide’ now a mantra for trusting and disengaged social media users.

Connecting to metaphors of innoculation against influenza and protection of the environmental commons, participants in the training and #takebackthenet sessions emphasized the impact that our individual online actions have on the global internet commons, now and in the future. You can be the most secure email user in the world, but if people in your networks are connecting through vulnerable services like Gmail, you are exposed. While many of us may currently have the privilege of feeling safe to disclose personal data in unprotected online spaces, that safety could evaporate in a moment, and in our disclosure we may be putting someone else at risk.

As discussions progressed over the week, participants made resolutions to take individual and collective action to #takebackthenet and protect our rights online. Installing TAILS, using encrypted chat and migrating to Linux, many participants began to implement their commitments before the week was over. Inspired by commitments to ‘get off Facebook in 30 days’, I now have 3 weeks to say goodbye to the social network and rediscover tools that don’t trade my privacy for connection.

As a group of people who live and work online, the commitments we made are not easy, but they are necessary. And we cannot make them alone. Join our APC community and make your own commitments to #takebackthenet.

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