Meeting Report from the IGF 2010 of the Freedom of Expression and Freedom of the Media on the Internet Dynamic Coalition

[Many thanks to Dixie Hawtin from Global Partners from Drafting this Document.]

The annual face-to-face meeting of the Freedom of Expression and Freedom of the Media on the Internet Dynamic Coalition took place from 2:15 to 4:15 pm on Thursday 16 September at the 2010 Internet Governance Forum in Vilnius, Lithuania.

The meeting was well attended by broad range of stakeholders representing both long term members of the coalition, together with many new faces. The meeting provided a valuable space for people with similar interests to gather, network and get up-to-date information about the most pressing issues relating to freedom of expression and freedom of the media on the internet. We designed the workshop as a fairly informal and flexible space where everyone was encouraged to shape the discussion to meet current concerns.

A number of important substantive issues were discussed during the meeting:

New Top Level Domains: Alexander Schubert presented his initiative at ICANN to introduce a new Top Level Domain name: .gay. The group discussed the merits and demerits of a new TLD (beinging up considerations about resources, strategy, and terminology). This case study led in to a discussion about the process involved in setting up a new TLD, and to what extent considerations of “morality” and “public order“ constitute an illegitimate restriction on freedom of expression.

Intermediary Liability: Karmen Turk from the University of Tartu presented her research looking at intermediary liability in Estonia and the implications for freedom of expression. Her work is based on a recent Supreme Court ruling concerning user comments on a media outlet website which found that where an intermediary has any direct or indirect economic interest, or any kind of control over, user content that intermediary will be held strictly liable for that content. The discussion centred around whether this ruling is compatible with EU law, analysis of the notice and takedown system, and in particular the limits of when an economic interest should result in liability for user content. Some consensus seemed to be emerging that there is a need for graduated liability depending on the relationship between the intermediary and the content.

Youth Empowerment: Gry Hasselbalch Presented a recent study she had carried out which surveyed 4000 youths for their opinions on internet governance issues. The findings indicated that privacy was their top priority and that when they talked about privacy they were by-and-large objecting to parents and teachers monitoring their internet usage rather than about commercial collection of data. She argued that child protection was only one aspect of guaranteeing children’s rights on the internet, and more effort was needed to empower young people through human rights,

Online Activism: Brett Solomon of Access Now spoke about his work with human rights organisations from around the world. He argued that denial of service attacks are an increasingly serious threat to online freedom of expression. He explained that many of the organisations that work with AccessNow are increasingly under technical attack, and by taking a site down the attackers are engaging in social engineering as the communities associated with that site are then lost. A discussion ensued about the type of assistance which such organisations need ranging from technical training, to access to more secure online services and proxies etc.

Library filtering programmes: Many members were concerned about library filtering systems and wanted to know more about what systems and safeguards which are in place. Tapani Tarvainen from EFF Finland presented a study that they conducted in cooperation with the Finnish Library Association. The results found that there were no consistent processes followed for identifying content for filtering, and that there was a serious lack of understanding amongst librarians about what is and is not legitimate expression, and that most librarians were not comfortable with the responsibility of blocking content.

Deep Packet Inspection (DPI): Ben Wagner presented the newest trends in DPI and the implications for freedom of expression and the internet architecture more broadly. He explained possible uses of new capabilities both those which are positive (to combat viruses) and those which are negative (behavioural advertising, and surveillance). He presented promotion and development of encryption technologies as a key tool for protecting freedoms.

Filtering: Yaman Akdeniz, founder of cyberrights.org, informed the Coalition about the extensive filtering and blocking regime in Turkey. She stated that a key argument used by the Turkish authorities to justify their blocking regimes is the fact that Australia, Germany, the UK and other countries block content too. Many participants noted that this was the case in their countries also. The Coalition agreed that it is vital that freedom of expression issues are advocated in both local and international contexts.

Franco-Dutch initiative: Bertrand De La Chapelle, the French Special Envoy to the Information Society, presented the Franco-Dutch Initiative. The Initiative is an attempt to look at how these countries can protect online freedom of expression, especially through foreign policy and trade. This provoked a very lively debate over inconsistencies among French ministries in terms of freedom of expression, the challenges of regulating trade (particularly when dealing with dual use technologies), and the implications of distributing encryption technologies to human rights defenders.

International waterways: Bertrand also presented an ongoing initiative to explore analogies between the internet and the international regime of canals, waterways and international straits, particularly in terms of harm-free passage, and relationships of upstream actors towards downstream actors regarding information flows.

An Update on the Freedom of Expression and Freedom of the Media on the Internet Dynamic Coalition

Lisa Horner, Global Partners and Associates, has stepped down as co-coordinator of the Coalition, and a number of people have expressed interest in taking on the roll. A coordination team has been set

up to guide future work of the Coalition. It consists of Karmen Turk, Roman Woznik, Kim Pham, Dixie Hawtin, Gry Hasselbalch, Walid Al-Saqaf and is organised by Ben Wagner.

There is a lot of energy and momentum around the Coalition at the moment and the Coalition plan to undertake many concrete activities over the next year including responding to consultations, developing common position papers, carrying out research on issues of interest to our members, as well as feeding into other relevant initiatives such as the Internet Rights and Principles Dynamic Coalition’s Charter on Human Rights and Principles on the Internet.

The coalition would like to invite all interested stakeholders to participate in these discussions via the coalition mailing list at the group’s new networking site, http://dcexpression.ning.com, and via the coalition mailing list which can be joined at http://mailman.ipjustice.org/listinfo/expression.

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Dynamic Coalition Meeting at the Internet Governance Forum 2010 on Thursday 16th September in Vilnius

The coalition meeting will be take place at the IGF 2010 in Vilnius in room 9 from 14:15 – 16:15.

Among other coalition members we look forward to hearing from to:

  • Alexander Schubert, DotGay
  • Karmen Turk, University of Tartu
  • Gry Hasselbalch, Danish Media Council
  • Bret Solomon, Access Now

If you have any further points or issues that you would like to bring to the table please let us know. Look forward to seeing you there.

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Dynamic Coalition Meeting at the Internet Governance Forum on November 17th, 2009 in Sharm El Sheikh

The Freedom of Expression and Freedom of the Media on the Internet Dynamic Coalition meeting was attended by a broad range of stakeholders from the civil society, governmental and business sectors.  The discussion opened with short contributions from four discussants:

  • Frank La Rue, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
  • Sami Ben Gharbia, Advocacy Director for Global Voices Online.
  • Johan Hallenborg, Special Advisor at the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
  • Mogens Schmidt, Deputy Assistant Director-General for the Communication and Information Sector, UNESCO.

Each contributor reflected on the main challenges and opportunities for freedom of expression in the internet age, outlined the work being done by their respective institutions and provided suggestions for the future direction and work of the dynamic coalition.  Their presentations were followed by open discussion from the floor.

A number of key themes and points of agreement emerged during the course of the presentations and discussion, outlined below.

The centrality of the human right to freedom of expression

All workshop participants stressed the importance of freedom of expression for the realisation of the humanity of all people across the world.  One participant commented that, whilst freedom of expression used to be seen as the passive responsibility of states, the importance of realising the positive dimensions of the right is increasingly recognised.  These positive dimensions include providing access to the means of communication, ensuring that people have the ability to both receive and document information, and ensuring diversity and pluralism in communications content.  This point was echoed by other participants who stressed the importance of all three dimensions of the right to freedom of expression as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: the ability to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media, regardless of frontiers.

The internet has unleashed new opportunities for realising freedom of expression.
Workshop participants agreed that the internet presents new opportunities to protect freedom of expression and to realise and enhance its positive dimensions. One discussant highlighted the rise of citizen journalism and activism, with the internet allowing people to document news and views on an everyday basis and to reach out to global audiences.  Another commented that in the past, it took decades for crimes against humanity to come to public attention, whereas now the mobile internet has opened windows through which awareness can be raised about human rights violations in real time.  The internet has made the human right to be able to seek, receive and impart information a tangible possibility for increasing numbers of people across the world.

Freedom of expression is under threat in old and new ways

Whilst the internet has given rise to new opportunities for freedom of expression, both workshop discussants and people participating from the floor stressed that significant challenges remain.  Many of these challenges are not new, with legal systems, regulation and activities continuing to restrict and undermine freedom of expression across the world in both online and offline media.  A number of participants raised the issue of defamation law all too often being used across the world to restrict legitimate speech, arguing that defamation should not be a criminal offence and should never be used to limit criticism of public policy or officials.  One participant stressed the danger of the notion that ideologies and ideas can be defamed.  Other long-standing violations of freedom of expression that were discussed include the direct censorship of communications content, violence against, or intimidation of, journalists and other forms of indirect censorship.  One discussant described censorship practices as a form of terror, and expressed shock at its continued extensiveness and pervasiveness across the world.

With the emergence of the internet, these threats to expression remain, and in many instances have been exacerbated.  For example, increasingly sophisticated censorship and surveillance mechanisms are being used, often unbeknown to internet users.  Enhanced access to materials via the internet regardless of geographical location increases opportunities for “libel tourism”  in which cases from all over the world are taken to court in countries whose laws have insufficient protections for free expression.  Thus, whilst longstanding challenges to freedom of expression persist, the nature of these challenges often shifts in online environments, requiring new approaches amongst freedom of expression defenders.  It was stressed that new human rights standards are not required, and that the limited circumstances in which freedom of expression can be limited legitimately are already clearly defined in international law.  Rather, how human rights standards apply in different online scenarios needs to be clarified, for example with one participant asking whether online journalists should receive the same protections as offline journalists.  New tools and strategies are also needed.  One participant highlighted initiatives that are being led by citizen activists, including for example the building, translating and sharing of censorship circumvention tools that can be plugged into everyday internet applications.

Freedom of expression should be a central issue at the IGF

The workshop also discussed levels of awareness about freedom of expression at the IGF and the role that the Forum can play in ensuring that internet governance processes protect rather than undermine freedom of expression.  One discussant noted that there appears to be increasing consensus amongst stakeholders at the Forum that freedom of expression is a universal principle that should both underpin and be a goal of internet governance.  In the opening sessions of the Forum, a large number of diverse stakeholders made comments along these lines, committing themselves to supporting the openness of the internet and expressing recognition of the universality of human rights.  However, workshop participants generally felt that much work remains to be done in terms of raising awareness, finding practical solutions to issues and pressurising actors who violate freedom of expression to comply with human rights standards.  Worrying statements are being made within IGF workshops and plenary sessions which betray a widespread misunderstanding of, and/or disregard for, human rights.  For example, one participant reported that in one IGF workshop, “propagating rumours” was classed as a cybercrime of the same level of seriousness as child pornography.  They argued that freedom of expression defenders have to be more proactive and maintain a more reflexive analysis of wider events at the IGF outside of workshops that are explicitly focused on human rights.

The dynamic coalition has an important role to play.

All participants agreed that the Freedom of Expression Dynamic Coalition has an important role to play in protecting and advancing freedom of expression in and through internet governance.  However, the precise nature of this role has yet to be defined.  The workshop highlighted the difficulties that the coalition has experienced in maintaining momentum between annual IGF meetings, and discussed potential ways of addressing this problem.  One participant stressed that, whilst the IGF as a whole is not mandated to produce outputs, the dynamic coalitions can and should be making practical recommendations, demonstrating how multi-stakeholder collaboration can work in practice.  However, it was felt that the coalition should not be too ambitious, and that it also has to find ways to be proactive whilst at the same time respecting the different mandate of all member organisations.  There was general agreement that the coalition could be a more valuable space for networking and sharing information amongst free expression advocates, acting as a clearing house for information and an early warning system for new expression threats.  However, this would require committed participation by key human rights organisations and individual activists, coupled with outreach to new constituencies, especially in developing countries.  Coalition members have committed to continuing discussion on these issues in the coming weeks, developing a strategy for effective working and enhanced impact.

The coalition would like to invite all interested stakeholders to participate in these discussions via the coalition mailing list at the group’s new networking site,  http://dcexpression.ning.com, and via the coalition mailing list which can be joined at http://mailman.ipjustice.org/listinfo/expression.

This report was compiled for the dynamic coalition by Lisa Horner, Global Partners and Associates. 16th December, 2009.

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Dynamic Coalition Progress Report: August 2009

The Freedom of Expression and the Media Online Dynamic Coalition (FoE DC) meeting at the 2008 IGF in Hyderabad was well attended by a range of stakeholders.  All expressed commitment to building an internet that supports open communication and to battling against violations of the human right to freedom of expression online.  The workshop report can be found here: http://www.intgovforum.org/cms/index.php/2008-igf-hyderabad/event-reports/74-dynamic-coalitions/327-freedom-of-expression-and-the-media-online-dynamic-coalition-meeting

Current progress

Throughout the year, several interesting projects addressing challenges of freedom of expression online have been pursued by various members of the dynamic coalition. These projects include:

The continued expansion of the Open Net Initiative’s research into internet filtering and censorship.

  • The continued expansion of the Open Net Initiative’s research into internet filtering and censorship.
  • The ARTICLE 19  Camden Principles on Freedom of Expression and Equality
  • The ongoing Freedom of Expression Project, coordinated by Global Partners and Associates.
  • Consumers International (CI) are in the early stages of a project on communications rights including FoE
  • Monitoring, policy and advocacy work by IP Justice and the Internet Governance Project.
  • The Global Network Initiative’s principles to uphold freedom of expression and privacy online.
  • Academic publications and papers.

It is reasonable to suggest that greater involvement from these individual members could reinvigorate the coalition as a whole, as it was noticeable that there are many more ‘passive’ than ‘active’ members in the coalition. The goal should then be to broaden the base of the coalition while activating the individual members.

In regards to broadening the base of the coalition, there are ongoing discussions with various civil society groups that been contacted, including Global Voices Online, GetUP! and Index on Censorship. However considering the scope and purpose of the IGF, both state and corporate actors should also be engaged. There have been several preliminary discussions to this effect, however these discussions are still at a very early stage.

The leadership issue is still one of the key questions for the coalition. Lisa Horner (Global Partners) and Ben Wagner (Universities of Munich and Leiden) have agreed to coordinate the coalition in the near future. However much work remains to be done in order to allow the coalition to regain momentum and value for its members.


The FoE DC at the 2009 IGF, Sharm El Sheikh

The coalition requests confirmation of a slot in the programme for the dynamic coalition meeting at the 2009 IGF in meet in Sharm El Sheikh.  In 2008 the coalition was granted a slot that was quite late in the programme, resulting in lower levels of attendance.  To avoid this happening again, we would like to request a slot on the first or second day of the IGF.  This will allow more participants to attend the meeting, and will help to give the critical issue of freedom of expression the attention that it deserves within the IGF.

We have started planning for the meeting and, whilst the exact agenda is yet to be confirmed, there are several important goals that will be pursued:

  1. Building and rebuilding the FoE coalition: getting more stakeholders involved in the activity of the coalition is key in ensuring its future success
  2. Integrating concrete tangible examples which speak to stakeholders: There have been several suggestions to give the meeting in Egypt a strong Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA) slant, in order to be able to better discuss tangible FoE issues relevant to the region in which the IGF is hosted.
  3. Making the outcomes relevant at an international level: At the same time it is not sufficient to have discussions at a purely MENA level. The lessons and ideas from these discussions need to be integrated into an international discourse which goes beyond the MENA region.

From these points we have developed a tentative working title for the meeting:

Obstacles for Freedom of Expression: the MENA region and beyond

We are currently reaching out and engaging with stakeholders so that the meeting can take a more precise shape. However this will still take a certain amount of time and we will be happy to pass further information on as soon as it is available.

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Freedom of Expression and the Media Online Dynamic Coalition Meeting – 6th December 2008, Room 6 – IGF Hyderabad

The Freedom of Expression and the Media Online Dynamic Coalition (FoE DC) was relatively quiet between the 2007 and 2008 IGF meetings.  Members of the coalition have been working on their own projects relating to freedom of expression, and sharing outcomes and news items where appropriate.

Taking note of the relatively low level of activity of the coalition in 2008, the initial question asked at the coalition meeting in Hyderabad was whether the coalition should continue to exist, or whether it should merge with the Internet Bill of Rights dynamic coalition.  The overwhelming response from meeting participants was that the coalition should continue to operate in its own right.  There was general consensus that freedom of expression is a critical internet governance issue and that more needs to be done to address it in the context of the IGF.

Meeting participants agreed to join the coalition mailing list and contribute to discussions regarding how to move the work of the coalition forwards.  The mailing list is open for all stakeholders to join at http://mailman.ipjustice.org/listinfo/expression.

Leadership

It was agreed that stronger leadership of the coalition is needed.  Most of the original coalition founders have either left their posts or shifted the focus of their work away from the IGF, leaving a leadership gap.  It was suggested that leadership of the coalition should be multi-stakeholder and doesn’t necessarily need to fall on one person.  Freedom of expression organisations are notably absent at the moment, and the coalition needs to work on recruiting them to participate.

Role of the coalition and mode of working

The meeting addressed the issue of what role the FoE dynamic coalition should play.  One participant suggested that people working on freedom of expression issues had found other platforms to continue their work, leading to low levels of activity within the coalition itself.  It was noted that the organisers of the workshop on freedom of expression earlier in the day were absent from the coalition meeting.  In order to be successful and attract participation, dynamic coalitions need to be seen as relevant.

It was agreed that the coalition would use the existing mailing list as the primary means of communication for the time being. However, many participants felt that other means of communication should be explored, including blogs.  Ongoing coalition activity could take the form of focused discussion around specific issues with a facilitator to guide the process. Participants agreed to further discuss what the precise role of the coalition should be in relation to other FoE initiatives and projects, and how it should work in the future.

Activities at the IGF

It was agreed that the FoE DC should try to secure a meeting slot early on the agenda of the 2009 IGF.  Coalition members should plan a structured meeting, and should focus on bringing media and human rights organisations into the discussion. UN human rights bodies also need to be involved.

Issues to work on over the next year

Suggestions made by workshop participants included:

  • The coalition should focus on people’s real life experiences of violations of free expression.  We should look at how we can support those who face direct limitations on FoE.
  • The coalition should examine whether there are certain issues that are unique to freedom of expression online and should focus on these.  How is content delivery different? What are the technical aspects that we need to concentrate on? Who are the gatekeepers?
  • Other participants argued that we should look at both online and offline issues, and the intersection between them.
  • The coalition could look at what freedom of expression means in the context of the internet.  Should it examine definitions and explore what the limits to free expression are?
  • The coalition should look at the issue of linguistic diversity. How can we connect people working on similar issues or facing similar problems who speak different languages?
  • Other issues to consider are media concentration, blogging, pro-poor issues, positive dimensions of expression and the public sphere, filtering, security, the role of media entities and user generated content.
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IGF 3 – Hyderabad

December 3, 2008 – Today, Internet Governance activists and officials gathered for the IGF in Hyderabad which is the 3rd of the events in a row. Starting from the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) this event gained more and more importance across the continents and across different sectors.

The official homepage is to find at IGF 2008. More information -as always – is to find between the lines.

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IGF Wrap Up

IP Justice is providing a nice wrap up of the November 2007 UN Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Rio de Janeiro with pictures, videos, texts…

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