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The 15th edition of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), the United Nations’ most significant multistakeholder platform for discussing internet governance, is taking place virtually from 9 to 17 November 2020. Pre-sessions and thematic introductory sessions, as well as the Open Forums, National and Regional IGF Initiative (NRI) and Dynamic Coalition (DC) sessions, will be hosted from 2 to 6 November. The Association for Progressive Communications (APC) values the IGF as a convening space to substantively engage in and contribute to discussions and shaping of internet policy with a broad range of stakeholders.
The overall theme for this year’s IGF is “Internet for human resilience and solidarity”. APC believes that while devastating structural inequalities across the world are being laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic, a sense of community and collective resilience are acquiring new meaning and importance – and the internet is part of this emerging resilience. Because of this, it needs to be protected as a global public resource, and human rights must be upheld online and offline in any response to the crisis.
The programme continues to develop around main thematic tracks: (1) Data, (2) Environment, (3) Inclusion and (4) Trust. Activities will be divided in two phases.
Phase 1 will include pre-session events and introductory sessions for the four thematic tracks, as well as Open Forums; National, Subregional, Regional and Youth IGF Initiative sessions; Dynamic Coalition sessions; and newcomers sessions. Phase 2 will include main sessions, workshops, high-level leader sessions and formal opening and closing sessions. More than 200 sessions will be organised in different formats (learn more about the different formats here). They will be spread in order to cover different time zones and avoid a cluttered programme.
2. Current context and trends
Amid the pandemic, APC has been especially concerned with issues pertaining to internet access and exacerbated digital divides, as well as human rights concerns regarding responses to the pandemic.
Interruptions to access to the internet or shutdowns have been registered in many countries. Such measures are in violation of international human rights law and cannot be justified under any circumstances. On the contrary, access to the internet has to be guaranteed at a time when it is critical to address the pandemic.
People who have been historically marginalised are the most adversely impacted by the pandemic. This is particularly true for people at the intersections of multiple forms of discrimination and exclusion, including those related to sexuality and gender. Inequality in terms of internet access exacerbates an already repressive, harmful and unequal context for women and people of diverse genders and sexualities.
Concerted efforts to bring the benefits of meaningful internet access to all people are necessary in the current circumstances. It is critical that attention is urgently given to affordable and appropriate internet access for under-served communities. The IGF has a crucial role to play to mobilise the political will needed to end digital exclusion.
The current pandemic has thrown challenges for human rights and, in some cases, responses by governments have revealed fault lines that challenge international human rights law. While we recognise that these are extraordinary times, this should not be the basis for human rights violations in online spaces. States’ responses to the crisis should be proportionate and avoid curtailing human rights.
APC is concerned about the increasing use by governments of surveillance and facial recognition technologies to manage COVID-19 widespread testing and contact tracing. Whether technology is used for sharing information about the pandemic, assisting with diagnosis, reporting suspected cases or keeping track of individuals who have contracted the virus, it is crucial to ensure adherence to the criteria of necessity and proportionality in the use of these technologies in order to safeguard human rights.
Attention should also be given to public-private partnerships offering technological solutions in the area of health, but also for home schooling and distance online learning strategies. Given that a large percentage of the population is forced to use commercial solutions, tools and platforms, governments should be transparent about agreements with information and communications technology (ICT) companies.
The increasing use of artificial intelligence (AI) and automated decision-making systems by platforms during the crisis could affect access to crucial information to reduce the risks of contagion, and freedom of expression could be affected through automated content moderation and takedowns. Human rights laws should be the default standards guiding companies’ content moderation policies and procedures, and principles of accountability, transparency and meaningful appeal processes, among others, should guide content moderation responses to the pandemic. In addition, practices of information verification should be promoted instead of suppressing or censoring content or criminalising disinformation.
Journalists and bloggers have a critical role to play in the current situation by sharing health information and keeping authorities accountable. They need to be able to report freely on the unfolding pandemic, and should not be censored online. We are concerned by the fact that journalists and human rights defenders have been experiencing online harassment in the context of the COVID-19 health crisis.
The pandemic has put lives across races, classes, gender and ethnicity at risk. There has been an upsurge in racist and Islamaphobic messaging in online spaces, vilifying particular communities for the spread of the virus. Online and traditional media as well as political actors and non-state actors have resorted to violent hate mongering in some countries, resulting in loss of life and sense of security.
During this time of lockdowns and limited mobility, there has been an increase in domestic violence, since women are forced to be at home with their abusers. This also showed an impact on its online manifestations. Gender diverse, trans, lesbian, gay and queer people are more at risk when their freedom of movement is curtailed and they have to live in proximity to abusive and controlling families or communities.
The foundations of the current health, economic and social crisis are not new. The pandemic has exacerbated them, including the effects of an unprecedented climate and environmental emergency. We are undergoing an exponential growth of digital technology applications, with more and more connected devices, AI solutions, the roll-out of 5G, and other technological developments. The production, deployment and disposal of such technologies have manifold environmental impacts. On the other hand, ICTs offer myriad solutions for climate adaptation and mitigation at the local, national and regional levels, ways to monitor and predict changes in climate and environmental disasters, and to address systemic threats such as the pollution of marine life. The internet is also a powerful mobilisation tool for environmental activists, for raising public awareness on the climate crisis and environmental threats, and for pushing for policy and institutional change. The intersection of digital technology and environmental sustainability is permeated by internet governance implications.
Holding the IGF 2020 in the current challenging circumstances with the pandemic opens an opportunity to critically look at the recommendations from the UN Secretary General’s roadmap on global digital cooperation towards reinvigorating the IGF as a key piece of the UN system, the internet governance and digital cooperation ecosystems and a platform for identifying viable ways to shape, sustain and strengthen global digital cooperation not only for universalising digital inclusion but to mobilise collective intelligence and the potential of multistakeholder collaboration and action to respond to the persistent and emerging challenges in the digital age, including the environmental crisis.
3. APC’s priorities and activities at IGF 2020
3.1 Digital cooperation and internet governance architecture: Strengthening the IGF
In June 2020, the UN Secretary General launched his Roadmap for Digital Cooperation. The document is a response to increasing demands for improved coordination and acceleration of digital cooperation at the global level. The report presents a plan for engagement of different stakeholders to advance on action points resulting from the work of the High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation (HLPDC) and following consultations and working groups. The Secretary General’s report builds on the recommendations of the HLPDC and identifies eight key areas for action:
Achieving universal connectivity by 2030
Promoting digital public goods to create a more equitable world
Ensuring digital inclusion for all, including the most vulnerable
Strengthening digital capacity building
Ensuring the protection of human rights in the digital era
Supporting global cooperation on artificial intelligence
Promoting trust and security in the digital environment
Building a more effective architecture for digital cooperation.
Under this last area, the document recognises that there are gaps in digital cooperation, as well as significant fragmentation. It touches on the issues of effectiveness of and representation in existing governance spaces. Moving forward, it builds on the suggestions from the HLPDC’s report referring to three possible architectures for global digital cooperation that could “generate political will, insuring the active and meaningful participation of all stakeholders, monitoring developments and identifying trends, creating shared understanding and purpose, preventing and resolving disputes, building consensus and following up on agreements.” The Secretary General, however, points to momentum in support of the Internet Governance Forum Plus (IGF+) model.
APC was a key constituent in the follow-up roundtable on HLPDC recommendation 5A/B on Digital Cooperation Architecture. After a consultation process, an Options Paper has been prepared with results and presented to the Secretary General. Some suggestions, however, need further discussion and elaboration.
APC strongly supports IGF+ as the preferred model and will seek to engage in discussions concerning the clarification of this model and the continuous strengthening of the IGF. We believe that IGF+ is the model with the best conditions to establish truly accountable, inclusive, participatory and effective global digital cooperation among all stakeholders, building on key strengths consolidated after 15 editions of the IGF and extensive intersessional work.
We believe that a more empowered IGF should be at the centre of digital cooperation in the UN system and more widely. The IGF was never just an event but a process. Celebrating and acknowledging the IGF’s achievements is important, but it is actually essential to acknowledge that change is needed to build on those achievements. Clearly, change is needed at the level of leadership based on evolving and improved capacity of the IGF, as a means to ensure there is truly effective collaboration between the IGF and the other different dimensions and layers in which decisions are made.
After years of facilitating multistakeholder dialogue, the IGF is best placed to facilitate further work on internet policies and norms. However, we feel there are fundamental issues that are not sufficiently addressed by the proposed IGF+ model, such as how this model will be financed and how it can attract greater participation from governments and the private sector, among others. This proposed model has to be further developed to better contemplate the role of the national, regional and youth IGF initiatives, which APC members engage in actively, sometimes as co-organisers, and which are key to strengthen and democratise internet governance at national and regional level. It should also further address the connection of the IGF+ model with other UN discussions. Furthermore, to strengthen the IGF and its role, far more diverse voices should be at the table to ensure these discussions are inclusive and reflect the needs of groups facing digital exclusion. In particular, there is a need for enabling more meaningful participation from the global South and traditionally excluded people such as women, queer, trans and gender-diverse people, sex workers, youth, indigenous people, religious and ethnic minorities, rural populations and elderly people.
At the 15th IGF, Chat Garcia Ramilo, APC’s executive director, will address the issue of digital cooperation in her remarks at the opening session. APC will also participate in the pre-event Civil Society Coordination Meeting: A Public Interest Internet discussion.
3.2 The intersections between environmental sustainability and technology
APC’s vision is for people to use and shape the internet and digital technologies to create a just and sustainable world, leading to greater care for ourselves, each other and the earth.
Some argue that ICTs are among the most important tools for addressing climate change. At the same time, increased consumption and production of ICTs contribute to harmful emissions and waste, impact on land from mining, and violations of human rights, including labour-related rights violations. APC seeks to consider some of the potential contradictions in its efforts to rapidly expand ICT infrastructure in developing countries.
Information systems are a means of enabling communication and exchange where no such infrastructure existed before, and that in turn creates many new opportunities, from education to economic development. But the development of the global communications network, and the equipment attached to it, has come at a cost. The reality is that these services are not “free”; quite apart from the financial cost, the production and use of these systems is affecting the global ecosystem which supports life on earth.
If we are going to have access to these technologies in the future, without harming the planet or depleting the resources from which they are manufactured, we must learn to plan our use of information systems to maximise material efficiency while minimising their environmental impact.
APC’s commitment to environmental justice and sustainability has roots in the foundations of our network. APC was the official provider of ICT services to civil society at the UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992, and APC worked with the UN for two years prior to the event to disseminate official information, which enabled participation and advocacy by environmental activists and NGOs in the Earth Summit process.
In 2020, given a renewed commitment from members to address environmental sustainability concerns, APC has carried out a series of activities to identify new priorities for work in this area and coordinate efforts with members and partners. As part of these efforts it will co-host the workshop Imagining an internet that serves environmental justice with Intervozes - Coletivo Brasil de Comunicação Social and BlueLink. This “birds of a feather” session aims to map key policy "crossroads" between internet governance and environmental justice, and pursue further policy advocacy action. The primary goal of this workshop is to advance the understanding among key actors of how environmental rights can be incorporated into internet governance processes.
Together with Pangea and the Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD), APC will co-host the workshop The circular economy of ICT. This session will present circular digital economy models and stories that are environmentally, economically and socially sustainable. In particular, the session will discuss initiatives that promote local production and use, local renewable energy sources, and adoption of circular and participatory practices for circularity in digital devices, software, internet access and services.
3.3 A feminist internet
Despite global recognition that the gender gap is widening, it is surprising that gender is not a more prominent topic in this year’s IGF. APC works towards a feminist internet that empowers women and people of diverse sexualities and gender expressions, to fully enjoy our rights, engage in pleasure and play, and dismantle patriarchy. The IGF is an important space to allow feminist researchers, advocates and activists to engage in internet policy discussions and to challenge the current internet governance system.
APC will host the pre-event Environmental justice and an anti-extractive internet: Impacting policy through developing a feminist principle. This interactive workshop will explore and consult on ways to create a feminist principle for an anti-extractive internet and what this means for policy advocacy in internet governance spaces. Building on the collaborative work of the 17 existing Feminist Principles of the Internet (FPIs) and the HackFeminist convening on the FPIs, extractivism and environmental justice held in Mexico, July 2019, we will present the background and the draft principle on the environment and invite participants to share their wisdom and experience to craft an 18th principle.
Amid COVID-19-related chaos, what we are looking for is to hold a space that forges possibilities of retrospective and forward-looking collective thinking on how the feminist imagination of the digital can re-signify and expand the core feminist principles of the ethics of care into the conversations that focus on the environment.
APC has continuously taken part in the IGF Best Practice Forum (BPF) on Gender and Access. In 2020, the BPF will conduct an assessment of internet-related policy processes and spaces through a feminist approach, to determine whether and how they protect and foster participation of women and gender-diverse people, particularly young ones. The focus will be placed on internet-related policy processes and spaces that address issues related to violence, harm, pleasure and consent online.
As such, we will look in particular at global, regional and/or national internet-related policy processes and spaces that (may) foster discussions or develop policies, recommendations, guidelines, etc., focused on limiting violence and harm in the online space, and fostering the use of the internet for self-expression and pleasure with consent as a guiding principle.
For these processes and spaces, we will assess two main questions:
Whether and how the policies, recommendations, guidelines, etc. they develop approach the focus issues from a gender diversity perspective.
Whether and how they include women and gender-diverse people in their policy discussions and decision-making processes – in other words, are women and gender-diverse people able to participate and have their concerns articulated on the focus topics?
We will use the findings of these assessments to compile examples of good practices on the issues explored. And we will then develop recommendations on ensuring representation of women and gender-diverse people in internet-related policy spaces and decision-making processes.
As part of this work, we intend to conduct a series of interviews with people who could provide valuable insights into the questions below in an effort to assess the pace and level of gender-related engagement at the BPF:
Increasingly, the IGF has put more effort into strengthening the inclusion of women and gender-diverse people in its annual meetings (for instance, through encouraging session organisers to have gender diversity in their sessions, introducing gender report cards, etc.). How effective and efficient have these efforts been? What were the challenges and opportunities in widening these efforts?
How can we describe the level and quality of engagement when it comes to women’s and gender-diverse people’s engagement within the IGF?
What can the IGF still do to foster greater participation of women and gender-diverse people in its activities?
Over the past years, the IGF has featured some discussions on gender-related issues. What were the main challenges and opportunities in integrating gender issues into the IGF programme? Does the IGF need to put more effort into fostering in-depth discussions around gender issues (beyond, for instance, the dedicated BPF and DC), or are current activities sufficient?
Is the IGF best placed for discussions on violence, harm, pleasure and consent online (from a gender-diversity perspective)?
3.4 Access and digital inclusion
Access to the internet is vital for an informed, cooperative and people-centred global response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It plays a crucial role in enabling a flow of information and sustaining communities in times of crisis, and is integral to any disaster management plan.
Amid growing consensus among international organisations that the rate at which mobile networks are extending coverage is slowing down and even plateauing, and increased awareness that the widely hyped 5G will only benefit wealthy urban sectors of the population, a growing number of voices are recognising the need for innovative models to connect the unconnected. APC works towards affordable and meaningful access to the internet for all people and all the time, irrespective of class, identity, gender or disability, or where they live. The IGF remains a dynamic platform for convening, exchanging knowledge and strategising around this critical issue.
Since current strategies struggle to address the needs of the billions who still suffer from ineffective communication services due to coverage and affordability limitations, communities are increasingly building and managing their own access solutions. Together with our members, as well as the Internet Society (ISOC) and other partners, APC has continued to work intensively on community networks as a means for empowering people to build and manage their own access. As part of this work, we support alternatives to business models that rely on people’s purchasing power. There has been growing acknowledgement of the value of community networks beyond the simple extension of connectivity, but also in tackling other barriers of the so-called usage gap, such as affordability, digital skills, and relevant content.
At the IGF, APC will participate as a speaker in the workshop Community Networks, Electricity and Digital Inclusion, organised by the Africa Open Data and Internet Research Foundation, Pasifika Nexus and Ghyrate Ghana. The objective of the session is to bring together key stakeholders to discuss this important topic within the COVID-19 context and how we can fully develop and improve community networks and showcase best practices and innovative solutions within the global digital frameworks.
As part of the work of the Dynamic Coalition on Community Connectivity, APC will participate in the launching of the book Beyond Connectivity: Networks of Care, with member Rhizomatica.
3.5 Human rights
In the current political climate, in which technology is frequently the site through which struggles for social justice are carried out, the centrality of human rights to internet governance debates is undeniable. APC will continue to use the IGF as a platform to raise human rights concerns, including issues that are overlooked and not given their due consideration at the IGF, such as the radical economic effects of the internet and platforms on working people throughout the world and the impact of targeted surveillance on labour union activity.
Measuring a free, open, rights-based and inclusive internet: APC worked with UNESCO in the past to facilitate the development of the R.O.A.M.-X Indicators. In 2020, APC contributed to their application at the national level and, at the IGF, will participate in UNESCO’s launch of IGF Dynamic Coalition on Internet Universality ROAM-X Indicators and presentation of national assessments, scheduled to take place as part of the Day Zero events.
APC has been actively advocating for a human rights-based and a gender approach to cybersecurity. This means putting people and human security at the centre of these discussions, acknowledging the differentiated impacts of cyberthreats on people or groups in positions of marginalisation or vulnerability because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, ethnicity, race, and other social and cultural hierarchies.
Despite the challenges brought by the COVID-19 crisis, APC continued engaging with the UN Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) on developments in the field of information and telecommunications in the context of international security, a process that presents an opportunity to advance global agreement on the rules that apply to state behaviour in cyberspace regarding international security, and ways to increase trust, capacity, accountability and transparency and help build patterns of responsible behaviour. Together with partners, APC called for an inclusive approach to maintaining peace and stability in cyberspace and for meaningful engagement of civil society in this process. The IGF comes between the informal meetings of the OEWG, and as such, it will be an important opportunity for stakeholders to exchange information and strategise.
4. APC’s activities at the IGF
A full list of events that APC and its members are participating in during the IGF is available here.
5. Follow APC online at IGF 2020
5.1 APC booth at the IGF 2020 Village
APC will have a digital booth (number 15) at the online IGF 2020 Village, where we will be organising online events three days a week: Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
APC staff and members will be organising online activities through the booth that will encourage discussion and knowledge sharing around our priorities at the IGF.
5.2 Other ways to follow APC’s work
On Twitter: @APC_News and @GenderITorg
On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/APCNews/
On Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/apc_network/
Media contacts: firstname.lastname@example.org in English, Spanish or Portuguese
Find in-depth resources on our publications page.
For updates on gender and ICT policy, visit GenderIT.org, and contact Mariana Fossatti at email@example.com
For queries or additional information regarding APC's strategy and participation in the IGF, contact Valeria Betancourt at firstname.lastname@example.org