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The Internet Governance Forum is the mother of all fora

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Par FD pour APCNews

TOKYO, Japan, 31 October 2012

As most of you may have noticed, the acronym ‘IGF’ has started to make the headlines in a growing number of online publications. The Internet Governance Forum – the 7th to be exact – will be held in Baku, Azerbaijan, from November 6 to 9. What most people don’t know, is that the IGF comes at the end of a series of continental IGFs. One of them, APrIGF, the third Asia Pacific Internet Governance Forum, was held in Tokyo, Japan, in July. Full outcomes from the APrIGF will be presented at the IGF next week. Here is an appetizer.

Outcomes, what outcomes?

You are wondering what the main outcomes were. It’s time to dig out those conclusion papers from Tokyo. After Hong Kong in 2010 and Indonesia in 2011, the full documentation on the Tokyo regional forum was put online on an archive platform.

Most regional IGFs follow the same format and discuss the same issues. New top-level domain names, internet governance for development and the future of the internet are the bread and butter of intenret governance. The 3rd Asia IGF was no exception. But interestingly, the APrIGF insisted more strongly on cloud computing and its challenges, as well as the internet for disaster relief.

Cybersecurity and the protection of children from cybercrimes on the internet were two other themes that were discussed in workshops among online security specialists, most of them from Japan.

More directly related to APC’s focus at the upcoming IGF, which is essentially promoting human rights online – including social and economic rights – an entire workshop at APrIGF, jointly organised by the Southeast Asia Center for e-Media (SEACeM), the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), and Freedom House was devoted to the internet as a space for free expression and information. The outcomes from this round of discussions was quite telling as to the trends in Asia. Here are five:

1) Policy drafted to protect cultural and personal sensitivities – including laws against libel, hate speech and defamation – have often been used to silence alternative views and have had the consequence of causing self-censorship among those who would use public speech to question authority.
2) More and more, Asian governments are censoring online content, preventing their people from accessing and sharing information. This censorship is sometimes designed to protect vulnerable groups, but is often carried out in the name of national security or protecting cultural sensitivities.
3) In many instances, governments have outsourced policing of content to the private companies and organisations that host and transmit information, including ISPs, search engines, hosting companies, and social media sites. This poses the question of the responsibility of so-called intermediaries’.
4) Several Asian countries are confined to a limited public sphere. The internet is being used to raise the voices of traditionally marginalized segments of the population, including women, LGBT persons, and religious minorities.
5) Certain Asian countries have historically had low levels of internet penetration – often due to poverty or lack of ICT infrastructure – but have the prospect of bringing millions of people online in the coming years.

The workshop was one a few essentially composed of delegates from the civil society sector. NGOs, such as the Asia Forum on Human Rights and Development (http://www.forum-asia.org/), but also more global groups such as Freedom House, have tried to illustrate the above-mentioned trends and to find answers in how to address the most problematic areas. These solutions will in turn be recycled in the upcoming IGF.

This APrIGF workshop revealed quite blunt terms the way in which existing laws are being extended to the internet sphere with the introduction of new laws. “There are many circumstances in Asia, where limitation on rights on the net need to be limited to promote and protect the rights to free expression and information online,” the workshop summary states. The nuance made at the Tokyo forum has been heard in all other regional IGFs since then. It basically boils down to stating that defamation should not be criminalised. ““National security” or “public order” must be used to protect citizens and must not be used to criminalise their fundamental rights to free expression & information; laws must not be written ambiguously; and cyber laws should distinguish and define clearly online content and computer data,” the summary reads.” Interestingly, participants provided the examples of Thailand’s Lese Majeste law and Computer Crimes Act, Malaysia’s Computer Professionals Bill and Cambodia’s draft Cyber-Law, as worst-case legislative scenarios.

The Asia delegations from regional governments, civil society groups and the private sector will remember the Tokyo talks when they land in Baku next week. APC will be working with its member groups in Asia, such as Bytes for all, Pakistan, the Digital Empowerment Foundation, India, and JCA-Net, Japan, to defend a human rights approach to the development and governance of the net.

Photo credit: DotAsia Organisation – http://www.flickr.com/photos/dotasia_registry/7750454836/sizes/z/in/set-... – Published with permission under Creative Commons licence BY-NC-SA 2.0

(FIN/2012)

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