Deborah Brown joins APC's policy programme

Publisher: APCNews     MONTREAL, 21 July 2014

Video by FF for APCNews

In June 2014, Deborah Brown joined APC as a senior project coordinator focusing on internet rights advocacy and fostering good internet governance. In this interview, she shares her views on why she joined APC and what she hopes to achieve.

APC: How can internet governance make a difference in the lives of human rights defenders?

Internet governance – often understood as the shared principles, norms, rules and decisions about the evolution of the internet – can have a huge impact on the way we exercise our human rights online, as well as how we use the internet in human rights advocacy. While internet governance processes, at the national, regional or global level, can often seem quite abstract and removed from human rights advocacy, the outcomes of those processes can have a direct impact on human rights defenders.

To provide a few examples:

  • The Internet Engineering Task Force can adopt standards on encryption that better protect privacy online, enabling human rights defenders to carry out their advocacy securely.
  • A particular government can pass legislation banning all content (videos, tweets, Facebook posts, etc.) that it deems to be insulting to the government or a religion, or decide to revoke internet access for a person who has illegally shared copyrighted material. These actions affect the ability of human rights defenders to express themselves, organise, and share information.
  • At the global level, through the WSIS review for example, governments and other stakeholders can reaffirm that the same rights that people enjoy offline, also apply online. This can be a tool for human rights defenders who are trying to hold their governments accountable for curtailing human rights online.

It is important for human rights defenders to engage in internet governance processes because it is easier to push for implementation of good policy than to work in an environment hostile to internet rights.

APC: What is the biggest contribution you are hoping to make at APC?

I’m hoping to work with the APC community to better use the international system for advocacy. I see advocacy and campaigning as multi-layered, with many available tools. International advocacy is not always the appropriate measure, and part of what drew me to APC is the grassroots nature of the community. I see lots of potential for connecting grassroots strategies with global advocacy, especially since we are working on and through a medium that is both local and global in nature.

APC: Is there anything unusual that you would like to share with the APC community?

Until I was around 20 years old, I was pursuing a career as a ballet dancer. I trained with the School of American Ballet in New York (barely attending high school) and spent a year dancing with a ballet company in Pennsylvania. At some point that year, something clicked for me. I realised I would never have the career or lifestyle I wanted with ballet and I decided to attend university and change course. Ballet is something that is still in my life (I try to take classes regularly wherever I am) and I’m always looking for ways to combine the two things I’m passionate about: human rights and dance (or more broadly, the arts). I would love to collaborate with anyone in the APC community who shares this interest.

APC: How did you get involved in the area of internet rights advocacy work and what drives your motivation?

I first became interested in this area of work when I was getting ready to head to Syria for a summer and started learning about proxies and TOR in order to access websites that I had come to rely on. A few years later, I began a human rights fellowship with the UN Foundation/UN Association of the USA and had the opportunity to research on a human rights issue of my choice. I chose to focus on human rights online and have continued to work in different capacities on internet rights since then.

I very much view the relationship between technology and human rights as a cat and mouse game, between users who feel empowered with technology and authorities who use it for greater control. My motivation to work in this field is to help the user get a step or two ahead. Since I’m not a techie, I aim to contribute at the policy level, to work towards policies that are guided by human rights and in favour of the user.

Deborah Brown is a senior project coordinator for the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) where she focuses on internet rights advocacy and fostering good internet governance. She is on the steering committee of Best Bits, a civil society network on internet governance and internet rights. Previously as a senior policy analyst for Access, she led the organisation’s engagement in the World Summit on the Information Society review process (WSIS+10), the Internet Governance Forum, NETmundial, the International Telecommunication Union, and the UN Human Rights Council. Deborah received her master’s degree from Georgetown University in Democracy and Governance and Arab Studies, and her bachelor’s degree from Barnard College, Columbia University in Political Science and Human Rights.

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