Defender of your Digital Freedom

All Posts | Jan 07,2017

Summary Report: Internet Governance Forum, 2016 (6 – 9 December; Jalisco, Mexico)

The 11th annual Internet Governance Forum (IGF) was held from 6th to 9th December, 2016 in Jalisco, Mexico, with the overall theme of “Enabling Inclusive and Sustainable Growth”. The mandate for the IGF is contained in 2005′s Tunis Agenda of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), and the first IGF was convened in Athens in 2006 by the United Nations Secretary General. It is meant primarily as a facilitating forum for dialogues amongst participants, to identify emerging issues, bring them to the attention of the relevant bodies and the general public, and where appropriate, make recommendations.

IGF 2016 served as a platform for discussions on how the Internet can support and help enable sustainable growth as envisaged by the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. More than 2000 delegates from 83 countries participated over the course of four days in roughly 200 sessions addressing a broad range of themes and issues. The sessions covered, among other topics, the Internet and sustainable development; access and diversity; youth and gender challenges pertaining to the Internet; the protection and promotion of human rights online; cyber security; the need to enhance multi-stakeholder cooperation; critical Internet resources; Internet governance capacity-building; and other emerging issues that may affect the future of the open Internet. (The Chair’s Summary of IGF 2016 is available here)

SFLC.in was represented at IGF by Mishi Choudhary (Executive Director), and Arjun Jayakumar (Jr. Policy Director). We organized two sessions at the meeting and participated as speakers in five others.

Sessions organized

  • WS109 – Analyzing the Causes and Impacts of Internet Shutdowns (December 9; 12:00 PM – 1:30 PM): This session, styled as a panel discussion, sought to explore the causes and ground-level impacts of Internet shutdowns with a view to uncovering the motivations behind such measures, laws and policies that allow them to happen and ways to prevent them. The panelists for the session were Brett Solomon (Executive Director, Access Now), Nicolas Seidler (Senior Policy Advisor, ISOC), Amos Toh (Legal Advisor to the UN Special Rapporteur, David Kaye), Hibah Kamal-Grayson (Senior Policy Analyst, Google), Rajan Mathews (Director General, Cellular Operators Association of India), Nanjira Sambuli (Digital Equality Advocacy Manager, World Wide Web Foundation), Gisela Perez de Acha (Public Policy Manager, Derechos Digitales), and Jan Ryzdak (Global Network Initiative). The session was moderated by Arjun Jayakumar.

    It was said over the course of the discussion that there needed to be better common understanding on the scope of the term “Internet shutdowns”, and that it should be understood to cover both blanket and surgical shutdowns of the Internet. It was felt that there is a lot left to be done in terms of linking the rights-impact of Internet shutdowns to its economic impact i.e. it needs to be demonstrated that enabling free expression can lead to sustainable economic growth. It was also acknowledged by the panel that national security is at times a real concern and that thinking in bubbles will do little to arrive at workable solutions that are acceptable to all involved and mindful of all relevant concerns.

    A post-session report of this session is available here, and an official transcript here.

  • WS107 – Practical Challenges in Tackling Online Harassment (December 9; 2:40 PM – 3:00 PM): Arjun Jayakumar delivered a 20 minute lightning talk about the findings from SFLC.in’s conversations with 18 public figures who routinely face online harassment. These findings are contained in our report titled “Online Harassment: A Form of Censorship”, published in November 2016.

    Arjun spoke about how relentless online harassment caused some interviewees to substantially change their usage of online speech platforms like social media websites and in some cases stop using them altogether. The shortcomings of India’s law enforcement machinery when it comes to addressing grievances related to online harassment was covered, as many interviewees had pointed to how police officers are often not equipped to handle such complaints. Arjun also spoke about the interviewees’ views on existing content reporting mechanisms offered by online speech platforms i.e. how many felt the turn-around times were far too long, how the whole process seemed entirely non-personal, and how this made them not utilize reporting mechanisms to the extent intended.

    Some members of the attending crowd shared their insights into the legal responses to online harassment in other jurisdictions, and the general undesirability of emphasizing legal responses to online speech issues as this comes with the danger of restricting legitimate free speech as well.

Sessions participated in

  • Operational Responses to Online Harassment (December 5; 9:00 AM – 10:00 AM): This Day 0 session was organized by International Media Support, and examined the effects of online harassment especially on individuals with weak networks, its harmful effect on the diversity of voices when journalists, bloggers and others are targeted, community responses to online harassment, and ways to balance legal responses to online harassment with the right to freedom of expression. Mishi Choudhary spoke on SFLC.in’s behalf at this session, and presented our report on the topic along with some of its findings. She covered among other things, the report’s findings on shortcomings with social media’s content reporting mechanisms, under-preparedness of law enforcement in handling relevant grievances, and how the effect of online harassment on particular individuals was seen to be highly subjective. A post-session report of this session can be accessed here and an official transcript is available here.

  • IGF High-Level Meeting (December 5; 3:00 PM – 6:00 PM): 2016′s High-Level Meeting was held on Day 0 of IGF, and focused on the opportunities that the multi-stakeholder model offers to Internet Governance regarding social inclusion and digital abilities for the future, emphasizing the necessary skills for an environment marked by the contribution of the Internet to the development of citizens and nations in diverse aspects, including the economic one. Mishi Choudhary was a speaker at the meeting, and spoke about how multi-stakeholderism has become all the more relevant in light of the rising importance of the Internet, how the model facilitates discussion around crucial issues like surveillance, how even democratically elected governments can at times fail to reflect its people’s values, and generally on the need to focus on freedom and liberty as much as multi-stakeholderism in conversations around Internet governance. She also addressed the need to promote the widespread use of encryption and Free and Open Source Software, the need to guard against initiatives that inject discrimination and surveillance into the Internet under the garb of charity, building intelligent conversations around cyber security, and taking steps against online harassment.

  • WS14 – Asia and the Next Billion: Challenges in Digital Inclusion (December 6; 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM): This session was organized by the Internet Society, Trivandrum, and sought to take stock of the challenges in enabling digital inclusion in a cross-section of countries in the Asia-Pacific, including Pacific Islands, China, India, Pakistan, New Zealand, Armenia and China, and propose a set of strategies to address the issue of Digital Inclusion in the region, with the intention of strengthening community action towards equitable inclusion. Arjun Jayakumar spoke on SFLC.in’s behalf at the session.

    An official transcript is available here.

  • WS21 – Open Source: A Key Enabler on the Path to the Next Billion (December 7; 3:00 PM – 4:00 PM): This session was also organized by the Internet Society, Trivandrum, and focused on ways in which communities can deploy Free and Open Source Software and build capacity within the community to meet the challenges arising out of joining the Internet. SFLC.in was represented by Arjun Jayakumar at the session. A post-session report is available here, and an official transcript here.

  • WS267 – Surveillance and International Human Rights Law (December 8, 3:00 PM – 4:00 PM): This session was organized by Red en Defensa de los Derechos Digitales. It provided an overview of how electronic surveillance has been approached by international human rights bodies, through a discussion on the trends, challenges and opportunities for the development of standards in international human rights law. Arjun Jayakumar spoke on SFLC.in’s behalf at this session. A post-session report is available here, and an official transcript here.

All Posts | Nov 19,2016

Online Harassment: A Form of Censorship – Release of Report and Panel Discussion

SFLC.in is pleased to announce the release our report titled “Online Harassment: A Form of Censorship” on November 22, 2016 from 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM at Lecture Hall 1, India International Centre (Annexe), New Delhi, at an event we are organizing in association with the Digital Empowerment Foundation, Internet Democracy Project, IT for Change, and the Foundation for Media Professionals.

We have grown increasingly concerned of late by the appreciable spike in instances of online harassment across platforms. Whereas online speech platforms like social media websites, blogs, and discussion forums set the stage for unprecedented levels of public engagement in relevant policy discourses, the widespread prevalence of abusive, threatening, and otherwise hostile content threatens to seriously hinder the efficient utilization of these critical speech platforms. Our report is a compilation of findings from a year of research, and attempts to provide an insight into relevant national and socio-political factors influencing exploitative uses of the Internet.

To mark the occasion, the release of the report will be followed by a panel discussion featuring legislators, law enforcement agents, industry representatives, civil society actors and other stakeholders in the field. The panel will discuss the issue of online harassment in context of the report, and will address such topics as trends in online speech, self-regulation vs. state-regulation as a means to curb online harassment, potential areas of stakeholder engagement, and awareness generation and capacity building initiatives among others.

An agenda for the evening is available here. If you would like to participate, kindly send in an email to mamta@sflc.in no later than 3:00 PM this Monday (November 21).

All Posts | Jul 23,2016

Roundtable: Identifying and Limiting Hate Speech and Harassment Online

The advances made possible by the advent of the Internet have impacted the notion of free speech in a great many ways. Online intermediary platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Google enable individuals to be active publishers of information in addition to passive recipients. The possibility for anonymity that comes with the Internet adds further value by enabling open discourse and criticism in even the most repressive of regimes. More generally, the Internet has allowed access to information and knowledge that was previously unattainable, thereby contributing to the discovery of truth and the progress of society as a whole.

While the Internet constituted a significant leap forward in terms of enabling borderless free speech, it also raised several complex challenges that called for nuanced approaches to identifying and limiting them. One such challenge is “online hate speech” – a surprisingly broad and contested term that calls into question some of the most fundamental principles on which societies are built. India has witnessed increasing instances of hate-fueled violence of late, with the murder of multiple citizens over conflicting ideals during a spate of strengthened cattle-slaughter laws being the gravest and most recent of the lot. The Internet played a prominent role in propagating hateful sentiments during these periods of tension as it set the stage for aggressive campaigning for and against divisive causes. Moreover, there has been a growing atmosphere of intolerance towards opinions and convictions that stand at odds with those of certain political factions. Online expressions of such opinions are often met with a flurry of hateful, abusive and harassing responses seemingly aimed at intimidating the speakers into silence.

Against this backdrop, we are organizing a roundtable discussion on Thursday, 28th July, 2016, from 2:00 PM to 3:30 PM at the Constitution Club of India, New Delhi, bringing together relevant stakeholders from the user community, industry, civil society, academia and Government to initiate a discussion around online hate speech and harassment, with special focus on prevalent challenges in limiting such speech online and potential remedies. The roundtable will explore the prevalence of abusive, intimidating and harassing expressions online, existing state and non-state responses, shortcomings of these responses, and potential solutions to these shortcomings. We will also explore the adoption of a Code of Conduct for online speech platforms to effectively tackle hate speech, drawing from a similar set of guidelines that were recently drafted and adopted in the European Union.