Respective Roles: Towards an International Treaty for Internet Freedom?

While the idea to have a “Magna Carta” for the Internet, protecting online freedoms such as freedom of expression, online assembly, or privacy, isn’t new, the question remains on how the UN Internet Governance Forum (IGF) could adopt binding documents – and whether it should at all. This article offers food for thought on how all IGF stakeholders could collaborate in an attempt to develop an international legal framework without expanding the scope of the mandate of the IGF. Instead, this nascent idea makes use of existing structures involving a range of stakeholders, including the Dynamic Coalitions, the Freedom Online Coalition and the Council of Europe.

Internet Governance & International Treaties

At the Opening Session of the last IGF Meeting in November 2015 in Joao Pessao, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression David Kaye argued for an international treaty on human rights on the Internet. He said he saw a lack of legal certainty -substantive, jurisdictional, and procedural- that allows many around the world to perceive gaps in the application of human rights law online. He stressed that Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) guarantees the right to freedom of expression regardless of frontiers as a transboundary right. Kaye stated, “It is a challenge to traditional notions of Government control of territorial space, but it is a provision to be celebrated and put at the very center of Internet Governance.”

Joe Cannataci, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy, said that there was a need to improve existing legal instruments: “In international law, justiceable agreements are those that are included in conventions, legally binding international treaties. Thus, if Internet Governance is to be obtained, it must be treaty based.”

“Ultimately, nothing can substitute international agreement between governments acting on the advice and in the spirit of multistakeholder agreements”, Cannataci added.

Other participants, however, especially among civil society, voiced reservations that an international treaty would endanger a free Internet rather than provide for its protection, especially if such a treaty is ratified by governments that engage in mass surveillance, implement overreaching copyright laws, have poor privacy protection, limit access to an open Internet, or violate other human rights in their jurisdiction.

The multi-stakeholder model of internet governance at “worst may be a front for corporate self-regulation or government policy whitewashing”, warns for example Jeremy Malcolm of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

And indeed, countries such as China or Russia and many from the Middle East are openly in favor for more government control in Internet governance, lobbying for multilateral or intergovernmental arrangements, where states are the primary actors, administered by the ITU. In a Joint Communiqué dating from April 2016, the Foreign Ministers of the Russian Federation, the Republic of India and the People’s Republic of China emphasized “the need to internationalize Internet governance and to enhance in this regard the role of International Telecommunication Union”.

So, with these debates as a backdrop, how could a human rights-centered and multi stakeholder-based international treaty on basic human rights on the Internet be formed and what would it look like?…

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“THE ISSUE OF INTERNET FREEDOM AND NATIONAL SECURITY IS NOT ONLY AN ETHIOPIAN PROBLEM”

//In an interview with 2016 CGCS visiting scholar Till Waescher, 2016 Annenberg-Oxford Media Policy Summer Institute participant Halefom Hailu Abraha, deputy director of legal and policy affairs at the Information Network Security Agency (INSA) Ethiopia, discusses the thin line between regulating online content and freedom of expression in a transitional country, the effects of old anti-blasphemy laws for the online realm, and the role of national Internet Service Provider Ethio Telecom.

Ethiopia has the second largest population of all African countries, yet its internet penetration rate is only 12 percent. Still, the country has arguably one of the most sophisticated internet regulatory regimes in the region. 2016 Annenberg-Oxford Media Policy Summer Institute participant Halefom Hailu Abraha is a cyber law and policy researcher, and deputy director of legal and policy affairs at the Information Network Security Agency (INSA), Ethiopia. In an interview with fellow participant and 2016 CGCS visiting scholar Till Waescher, Halefom discusses the thin line between regulating online content and freedom of expression in a transitional country, the effects of old anti-blasphemy laws for the online realm, and the role of national Internet Service Provider Ethio Telecom.

 

With over 80 ethnic groups and more than 90 languages Ethiopia is the most diversified country on the African continent. What are the biggest challenges when it comes to internet content regulation in your country?

The internet is the greatest tool for advancing causes of democracy and civil liberties. However, it is not without challenges and problems. When it comes to content, the internet provides unlimited access to useful resources, while at the same time, it also serves as a platform for harmful or illegal content such as hate speech, sexually explicit content especially child pornography, defamatory statements, terrorist propaganda, extremist, radicalizing, and racist materials. While recognizing that the benefits of the internet far outweigh its negative…

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Myanmar Connected? Internet Governance Capacity Building in Post-Authoritarian Contexts

//IPO Affiliate Andrea Calderaro explains the implications of Myanmar’s massive Internet expansion by looking at both infrastructure and legislation

Almost 3 years have passed since the government of Myanmar initiated its connectivity building plan, in the context of an unprecedented period of political reforms. As detailed in the recently published paper, Digitalizing Myanmar: Connectivity Developments in Political Transitions, Myanmar is currently witnessing an extremely rapid process of constructing connectivity – both from an infrastructural and policy perspective. Just before the launch of this ambitious process, only 0.98% of the population was connected to the Internet, and 2.3% had a mobile phone, usable only via weak mobile infrastructure limited to the main urban areas (2011 figures).

Moreover, in a country that has until recently demonstrated continued lack of respect for the freedom of expression, the construction of connectivity infrastructure has raised concerns about the respect for human rights, notably the freedom of expression and right to privacy. In this context, it is of particular interest to scrutinize the development of the regulatory and policy framework aimed at securing basic digital rights in the connectivity sector.

Today, a network of mobile towers is widely spread over the country, and newly established international operators have launched new services, counting more than 20 million mobile subscribers and securing mobile internet connectivity to 30% of the population. This tremendous growth within such a limited time frame suggests that Myanmar is the country with the fastest connectivity building process ever seen worldwide. However, a lot of work has yet to be done from a regulatory and policy perspective.

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Internet Governance 2015: Brazil and Beyond

Brazil 2014: Marco Civil and NETmundial

In April 2014, a Global Multistakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance, also known asNETmundial, was hosted by the Brazilian government in São Paulo. NETmundial brought together over nine hundred attendees from governments, international organizations, the private sector, and civil society and resulted in the adoption of a (non-binding) Internet Governance Roadmap. Following the meeting, a number of pieces reviewed and commented on NETmundial’s outcome and final documents. The Center for Global Communication’s Internet Policy Observatory, for example, published Beyond NETmundial: The Roadmap for Institutional Improvements to the Global Internet Governance Ecosystem to explore how sections of “NETmundial Multistakeholder Statement” could be implemented. The meeting also played host to a seriesdiverging narratives not only between governments, States, and civil society, but also among various civil society actors.

Symbolically, on the first day of NETmundial, President Rousseff signed into law the Marco Civil da Internet – a law which many see as a benchmark for a modern, freedom-oriented approach to internet regulation. The Marco Civil was developed through a consultation process which included the participation of civil society, and discussions and debates over online platforms. The legislation provides general safeguards for the rights to freedom of expression and privacy, as well as a guarantee of net neutrality. One much applauded provision of the law is that service providers do not hold liability for content. Providers have no responsibility for users’ actions, and there are only sanctions against providers if they do not fulfill court orders to remove content. The law also contains an obligation to adopt a multistakeholder model of internet governance at all levels.

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