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The mobile internet from a human rights perspective: Collected policy briefs

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By APC (APC)
, May 2011

The dramatic increase in the number of people using mobile phones worldwide constitutes an enormous opportunity for the enforcement of human rights and for using information and communication technologies for social development.

As recognised by APC on its strategic priorities for the period 2009-2012, particularly significant are two related factors: the convergence between the internet and mobile networks and the extent to which the spread of mobile phones has made it possible for people to participate in the creation and sharing of information in multiple ways, overcoming social and geographical barriers.

The convergence between the internet and mobile networks has enabled some of the most innovative uses of mobile telephony, such as monitoring human rights, early warning systems, election monitoring, financial transactions, sharing public health information and reporting of domestic violence. But the same process also poses new challenges in terms of policy, regulation, development of applications and building capacity, among others.

In order to explore these issues APC commissioned a series of three policy briefs. These policy briefs are part of the Network of networks project,supported by the Ford Foundation. They are aimed at providing advocacy tools to support more directed and effective interventions in internet governance policy spaces and to strengthen civil society positions at key internet governance fora.

A human rights approach to the mobile internet
Lisa Horner

This paper examines the implications of the ongoing evolution and spread of the mobile internet from a human rights perspective. It considers the dimensions of a human rights approach to communications, providing an outline of what policy and regulation of the mobile internet should aim to achieve. It examines some of the ways in which the mobile internet is helping to fulfil our human rights and freedoms, using examples from citizen journalism and crowdsourcing applications to illustrate the new potential that the mobile internet brings for empowering citizens. It then explores some of the challenges that need to be addressed in order to harness the full potential of the mobile internet for universal human rights and empowerment. This paper proposes that internet policy in this area should have two inter-related objectives. Firstly, it should ensure that the internet is as empowering as possible for people who can currently only access it via mobile phones. Secondly, it should spur the universal roll out of high-speed and quality connections via both computers and mobile phones. The overarching goal is to foster an inter-connected, global internet environment in which all people can create, access and share information and ideas via any device they choose.

Twitter revolutions and cyber crackdowns: User-generated content and social networking in the Arab spring and beyond
Alex Comninos

This paper investigates the role of user-generated content and social networking websites in the recent protests and uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa region, and the extent to which these protests and uprisings can be called “Twitter revolutions” or “Facebook revolutions”.
These platforms are found to be areas of contestation between protesters and governments, not necessarily balanced in favour of protesters. Social networking and user-generated content can serve as instruments of surveillance and have been used in crackdowns against protesters and content creators. Lessons learned from the Arab spring and related events in 2011 about social networking and user-generated content are extrapolated from the overview. These include issues of privacy and surveillance, issues regarding the reliability and veracity of user-generated content, the strengths and weaknesses of Twitter and Facebook for advocacy and the implications of their terms of service. Suggestions on safe and informed use of social networking by protesters and activists facing repressive regimes are offered.

Policy and regulatory issues in the mobile internet
Russell Southwood

This paper argues that mobile is both media and a media delivery platform. Changes in handset devices and levels of literacy will affect who has access to what content and there are key equity issues to be addressed. The paper also raises key questions about the possibility of mobile communications as a diverse media, based on its underlying business model. It also analyses how access to mobile as media can be affected in a number of different ways including: governments’ power to shut down SMS and the internet, commercial companies exercising control over access to content, the terms under which users get access to services, privacy issues and issues governing what types of content can be published. The author argues that the internet represents a “gold standard” for freedom of expression and that law-makers and regulators should seek to emulate its success when looking at mobile media.

Photo by antjeverena. Used with permission under Creative Commons license 2.0

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