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Indeed, there are many benefits to being online, and yet there are also risks that people experience, especially people from marginalised groups, including women. While freedom of expression is magnified online, the right to privacy can be compromised. As more and more people are getting connected, is it possible to realise a free and secure internet for all? This was the question that the workshop organised by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) tried to answer at the Freedom Online Coalition (FOC) conference held in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia on 4-5 May 2015.

Four workshop speakers helped frame the discussion from the perspective of marginalised voices. Estonian Ambassador Toomas Lukk talked about his country’s ID cards, which are used for health care, paying taxes, electronic banking, shopping, contracts, and even voting. Although this involves the capturing of citizens’ data, citizens have the right to know what data are held on them by the government, and individuals can check who has accessed their records, thus creating a sense of agency and control over one’s data.

Lisa Garcia of the Foundation for Media Alternatives (FMA), an APC member organisation based in the Philippines, and Ritu Srivastava of the Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF), an APC member organisation in India, talked about the findings of research projects they were involved with that dealt with the voices of marginalised groups on the internet.

Lisa discussed the findings of the seven-country research project conducted by APC on technology-related violence against women (VAW), and cited examples of women’s experiences of online violence in the Philippines. What is common among these are the harms that women experience, which include emotional anxiety, tarnished reputations, financial insecurity, restriction of one’s freedom of mobility, online vilification and re-victimisation, among others.

The research mapped existing domestic legal remedies in the seven countries as well as the policies and terms of service of private companies, including social media platforms, ISPs and telecoms providers, and analysed if these are able to address the issue of technology-related VAW. She also shared some of the research recommendations, which include improving national legislation to address technology-related violence cases, engaging with private companies, allocation of resources to train and empower women, strengthening women’s networks to transform the unequal ICT structure, and addressing the root causes of violence against women.

Ritu talked about online freedom of expression research in India and focused on women’s access to the internet as a basic human right. DEF works towards providing connectivity to all of India. However, the challenge is a lack of government support, in terms of partnering with and supporting projects undertaken by communities. Seventy percent of India is not connected, and apart from regulatory or policy challenges, communities are often prevented from accessing the internet due to social and cultural issues, norms and traditions, religious beliefs, and cost issues.

Ben Blink, a Google senior policy analyst, said that private companies like Google have their own policies on what is and what is not allowed. He also underscored the importance of education for youth and for women. He cited the company’s Helping Women Get Online initiative in India, which supports and partners with groups to host digital literacy training for women.

To conclude the session, Osama Manzar of DEF, who served as moderator of the workshop, asked each of the presenters to share what they think can be done to achieve a secure and free internet for all. Some of the strategies that were mentioned included education for all, especially for the young so that they know how to use technology; responsibility on the part of the users, in terms of how they should use technology without hurting others, as well as responsibility on the part of service providers, making sure that they have guidelines in place should there be cases of rights violations online; transparency and intermediary liability; and working together so that we can all contribute to a safe, secure and free internet for all.