LAC IGF pre event: Working on internet rights in Latin America

Below is a presentation by APC’s Shawna Finnegan during a pre-event session leading up to the Sixth Regional Preparatory Meeting of the LAC Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Córdoba, Argentina on 26 August 2013.

“As the internet becomes ubiquitous, it is having a growing impact on the well-being of individuals around the world, with new human rights issues and tensions emerging that are specific to the internet. APC’s Internet Rights sub-programme addresses a broad range of human rights impacted by the internet in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as globally.

It is imperative that internet policy be framed in terms of human rights; that the same rights which apply offline, also apply online. Ongoing violations of human rights online, including violations of privacy, free expression and association and freedom from violence and intolerance, are having an immense impact on individual rights to life and liberty offline.

Internet Governance Forums and preparatory regional meetings are important spaces for advocacy and multi-stakeholder discussion on the topic of respect for, promotion and protection of human rights and freedoms on the internet.

Internet access is an important component to rights-based discussion of internet governance. At the global IGF last year in Azerbaijan, Access hosted a discussion on whether access to the internet was a human right. Under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone has the right of equal access to public service in their country (1). In his 2011 annual report, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Mr Frank La Rue, wrote that access is already an obligation of States and that no particular right of access applies to the internet: rather States must have national plans for access.

At the IGF workshop participants were divided, however there was general consensus that the internet is an enabler of rights. It enables access to public services like education, healthcare information, and participation in the cultural life of a community. It enables the rights to work, free choice of employment (Art 23) and social security (Art 22).

The internet can also be space where rights are violated and restricted. Online surveillance and insufficient data protection violate users right to privacy and restrict their free expression. Surveillance also undermines the freedom to associate and assemble, especially as more grassroots political organising is done online. Individuals and groups can also use the internet to threaten and abuse others online, thereby violating their rights to security (Art 3), and to freedom from attacks on their correspondence, honour and reputation (Art 12).

A key strategy for APC is to broaden the scope of internet rights advocacy by choosing diverse entry points for advocacy across the range of human rights mechanisms. Recent cases in LAC demonstrate the complexity of protecting and promoting human rights online, and the importance of discussion on how to balance these rights. State actors within the LAC region are also impacting global internet governance, through not only their engagement in processes such as the IGF, but also in raising internet-related human rights issues in spaces such as the United Nations Human Rights Council and UN Security Council.

As part of our work with members and partners in Latin America and the Caribbean, APC supports engagement in the Human Rights Council and related mechanisms, including the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The UPR is a mechanism started in 2008 to review the human rights records of all UN member states every four to five years. The objective is to improve human rights performance in-country, under the gaze or scrutiny of international review. Civil society can participate by submitting written statements and lobbying the Geneva missions of the other States to make recommendations. States under review are strongly encouraged to hold national multi-stakeholder consultations.

To date, APC has supported advocacy for the Universal Periodic Reviews of Ecuador, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico, covering a range of human rights issues, including freedom of expression, privacy, protection of journalists and bloggers, violence against women, and sexual rights. Following the review of Ecuador last May, the government offered to work with local partners, including developing a set of indicators to monitor internet-related human rights issues. However these offers have not materialised, and this June Ecuador has passed the Organic Communications Law (2), which threatens online anonymity and freedom of expression.

LAC countries are also raising internet-related human rights concerns posed by other countries through the Universal Periodic Review. This past April, at the review of Germany, Uruguay noted continued reports of incidents of right-wing extremism on the internet, and made a recommendation that Germany strengthen measures to effectively prohibit and prevent incitement to hatred and racist propaganda, particularly on the internet.

Uruguay joins a number of other countries, which have made similar recommendations at the UPR, including China, Iran, Egypt and Malaysia. Increasingly, hate speech online has been used as the basis for recommendations to draft new cybercrime legislation. In May 2012, at the review of Finland, both Iran and China, recommended that Finland draft cybercrime legislation to combat incitement to hatred online.

At the same time, States have made recommendations to ensure that cybercrime legislation is based on clearly defined criteria drawing on international human rights standards (3). During the same session in May 2012, Estonia recommended that Brazil give more consideration to freedom of expression when developing national cybercrime legislation, to ensure the protection of this fundamental right. (4)

As States increasingly turn to legislation as a response to combat hatred and abuse online, it is vital to have multi-stakeholder discussion on effective responses which do not violate fundamental human rights. Civil society has an important role to play in moving beyond a crime and punishment approach, to encourage stakeholders to work together in contributing to a safe and open internet. This includes developing principles and frameworks for protecting human rights online.

APC takes the perspective that these frameworks should be based on existing human rights obligations and recommendations. In his 2011 annual report, Mr Frank La Rue developed a broad framework for assessing freedom of expression on the internet. Using this framework APC has developed a draft Internet Freedom Checklist for civil society groups to monitor legislation, raise awareness, defend internet rights, and influence policy. The checklist includes indicators on arbitrary blocking and filtering, criminalizing legitimate expression, intermediary liability, and data protection.

As part of our advocacy work, APC is also working to build bridges between internet rights groups and mainstream human rights organisations in order to build capacity for stronger and more effective internet rights advocacy. One of the ways we are doing this is through the development of an Internet Rights are Human Rights curriculum. Currently we have developed four modules, looking broadly at the international human rights regime and various mechanisms, with specific modules on Freedom of Expression and Information, Freedom of Association, and Privacy. Currently we are working to expand and adapt the curriculum for use in LAC across a variety of stakeholder groups. If you are interested in testing and adapting the curriculum, please come speak with me after this session. In Colombia, our local member, Colnodo, is adapting portions of the curriculum to develop an online course on gender-based violence in digital spaces, internet rights and online security.

Online security is an important component to APC’s work in digital rights, and we conduct regular training with human rights defenders, journalists, and internet rights advocates. Women human rights defenders in particular face unique threats, which translate in the online environment as public or private sexualised threats, tracking via mobile phones, restrictions on access to content related to women’s sexuality, computer confiscation, and censorship, which can prevent women human rights defenders from effectively carrying out their advocacy. APC has also developed a digital first-aid kit for human rights defenders, which suggest concrete steps, further resources and references to support groups to whom activists can turn to for further assistance.

I look forward to working with you all over the next few days in multi-stakeholder discussions on issues of online security, freedom of expression, privacy and the range of human rights impacted by the internet.”

(1) For people in some places, internet access is offered as a public service. Wifi is free in many cities, for those who have devices.
(3) Sweden: India, Estonia: Brazil
(4) Eg. A/HRC/WG.6/13/L.9 Brazil Report of Working Group 119.130. Consider freedom of expression concerns when drafting cybercrime legislation (Estonia).

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