Human rights, internet rights – it is just about rights

Author's name: 
Ritu Srivastava

About 100 people from around the world, representing different cultures and traditions, were brought together to talk about their issues and challenges at the same platform provided by the Association for Progressive Communications on 1-9 June 2014 in Barcelona, Spain. Hosted by APC member Pangea at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (BarcelonaTech UPC), this was APC’s 12th face-to-face member meeting since it was founded in 1990.

This meeting is not only for APC board members or staff, but also includes its organisational members and individual affiliates who are strengthening the network and contributing collaborative efforts within their communities.
The programme covered a wide range of topics, including internet rights and human rights, community networks, access and infrastructural issues, network security issues, issues around women’s rights and technology-related violence against women, data protection, cyber laws, and free and open source resources and tools.

On 1 June the programme started with sharing sessions on the Internet rights are human rights training modules aimed at building understanding of the relationship between human rights, ICTs and the internet. These modules are intended to help advocates and actors who work on human rights and internet/ICTs and others with an interest in the issues. Participants worked together in small groups and learned about the international human rights regime using different case studies. The sharing sessions continued on 2 and 3 June, along with discussions around the impact of the internet on human rights. They also analysed the theoretical and practical implications related to the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association and privacy.

Every year, new members join APC, and since its last member meeting in Manila, Philippines, 22 new organisational and individual members have joined in. This was the perfect time to meet face to face with new member colleagues and to learn about their work and the teams they lead in their countries. APC specially welcomed all new members and also offered them orientation on upcoming plans.

The initial three days of the programme charged the participants so much that it was the perfect time to talk about technologies and resources and look at human rights issues through the lens of technology. It was time for the Take Back the Net! (TBTN) event where human rights advocates and transformative technology providers were ready to discuss what civil society organisations and individuals can do to work together and to restore trust in communication infrastructure. TBTN was organised on 4-5 June 2014, a crucial time since it was the first anniversary of the revelations by Edward Snowden, who exposed an unprecedented level of mass surveillance of internet users.

The event was aimed at finding some answers around how civil society organisations and technologists can work to advocate for internet and human rights issues together. Part of the answer to this problem is for civil society organisations and tech activists to take measures together and into their own hands by adopting tools and technologies that are free and open source, sustainable and cost-effective.

The event concluded with an award ceremony celebrating the two winners of the APC Chris Nicol FLOSS Prize 2014. The award recognised people who are using free/libre and open source software (FLOSS). The idea behind this award was to honour Chris Nicol, a longtime FLOSS advocate and activist who for many years worked with APC and its Barcelona-based member organisation Pangea.

The LaLoLib Network, an initiative from Colombia, won the global award for solving the problem of connectivity for the inhabitants of La Vereda La Loma by constructing a local mesh network. The network uses all forms of free and open source tools from the network nodes to the servers and content. The second award, for an individual or organisation within the APC membership, went to SPACE Kerala, an APC member in India, for its initiative Insight, a FLOSS-based ICT centre for the differently abled in Trivandrum, Kerala.

After learning, sharing and debating on so many topics together, it was time for members to share their skills amongst other member colleagues and learn from each other. Using open space methodology, APC’s Share and Remix Session was organised on 6 June. Network members updated each other on the work they are doing, proposed joint campaigns and planned for new collaborations. This was a space for stories, films, posters, songs and poetry as well as a place for hands-on sessions on open source tools and other tips and tricks or for brainstorming about fundraising strategies. Participants created their own agenda for the day with what they brought to the sessions and the topics they proposed for discussion.

Six days passed by like six hours in discussions, debating, sharing and learning from fellow members. This was a collective collaborative effort to understand issues around internet and human rights. Across the globe, whether it is India, Latin America, Malaysia, South Korea or Africa, the issues are same: freedom of expression, data protection, cyber surveillance, violence against women, human rights. The only difference is that we have all adopted different methodologies to address these issues. It is time to join hands and make a collaborative effort to address these issues instead of working in isolation.

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