Balancing Freedom of Expression And Privacy

Striking a balance between freedom of expression and privacy on the internet was the focus of a panel discussion at a review of one decade after the World Summit of the Information Society (WSIS). The WSIS+10 Review meeting took place at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, France, February 25-27, 2013.
What convergences and tensions exist between freedom of expression and privacy online? What are the implications of approaching the balance between free expression and privacy from a freedom of expression–centric point of view? What actions can governments, civil society, media and the private sector take to balance privacy with freedom of expression online? And what is the best way to empower users? These are some of the questions addressed at the session on ‘Promoting of Freedom of Expression and Privacy Online’. CIPESA’s Lillian Nalwoga was the remote moderator for the session.
The session built on earlier discussions held at the 7th Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Baku, Azerbaijan on promoting both freedom of expression and privacy on the internet. It also drew from the Global Survey of Internet Privacy and Freedom of Expression – a UNESCO 2012 publication – which highlights a diverse international regulatory landscape, and the challenges posed by discrepancies in laws pertaining to the online and off-line spheres, and between national and international jurisdictions.
During the session, Pranesh Prakash from the India-based Center for Internet Society stressed the need for more relaxed regulations to govern the conduct of the private sector. He noted that “one must give the private sector enough leeway to safeguard them from responsibility for users’ actions and the requirement of taking down reasonable speech.” However, he added that the commercial sector has divergent interests and they do not necessarily align with public interests.
According to him, differing public and private sector interests coupled with unenforceability of self-regulation mechanisms and the jurisdictional issues of the internet mean that the conflict between freedom of expression and privacy cannot be easily resolved through public policy options that are only aimed at the private sector.
Patrick Ryan, a Policy Counsel from Google who was also a panelist, argued that the move to the “cloud” brings with it both enhanced privacy and security benefits, while at the same time putting data  potentially at risk. Noting that government surveillance remained one of the biggest threats to privacy, he stressed that the private sector needs to share more information on government take down requests that violate individuals’ privacy and free speech.
Meanwhile, William Dutton, a professor of Internet Studies at Oxford Internet Institute, stressed the importance of recognising the power of the internet in empowering networked individuals and enabling freedom of expression, like never before. He cautioned that if nations do not approach the issue of striking a balance between freedom of expression and privacy appropriately, some of the key benefits of the internet may be lost. He noted that whilst some nations have taken progressive steps, many others are moving in the wrong direction and various global policy choices are increasingly restricting freedom of expression.
Indeed, this has been illustrated by worldwide trends towards more content filtering and censorship. Dutton said adopting inappropriate models for internet governance and regulation, such as disproportionate levels of surveillance in the name of security, reliance on intermediaries to regulate content, and assertion of national sovereignty and jurisdiction in the online world are threatening privacy and freedom of expression.
Key recommendations from this session were: avoiding a moral panic over privacy; creating widespread awareness of issues concerning privacy and data protection among users especially the young generation; updating policy and regulatory frameworks that address freedom of expression and privacy online; and having a clear definition on national security interests.
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Promoting of Freedom of Expression and Privacy Online
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GISWatch 2012 Reports Published

The 2012 Global Information Society Watch (GISWatch) reports have been published. GISWatch is a collaborative community committed to building an open, inclusive and sustainable information society, through collaborative monitoring of implementation of international (and national) commitments made by governments towards the creation of an inclusive information society.
It focuses on monitoring progress made towards implementing the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) action agenda and other international and national commitments related to information and communications. It also provides analytical overviews of institutions involved in implementation. GISWatch aims to make governments and international organisations accountable for meeting the commitments they make through contributing to building a strong and sustainable global civil society policy advocacy network.
The GISWatch Reports are a series of yearly reports covering the state of the information society from the perspectives of civil society.
GISWatch is not only a publication, it is a process. The long term goal of the project is to build policy analysis skills and ‘habits’ into the work of civil society organisations that work in the areas of ICT for development, democracy and social justice.
ICT4Democracy in East Africa network partners CIPESA and WOUGNET are contributors to the 2012 edition.
Download the reports here.
This article was published by the ICT4Democracy in East Africa Network on February 18, 2013.

Should Africans Care About ICANN?

During the last few years the relationship of African stakeholders with ICANN has received greater attention. Driven by a few key individuals within African governments, the technical community, and civil society organizations, the increased scrutiny has highlighted the importance of Internet governance issues for Africa. But the question hangs in the air: “Why should Africans care about ICANN?”
The number of Africans using the Internet is increasing every year, but there is debate as to whether ICANN and Internet names and numbers management should be a priority issue for the continent. Many commentators argue that Africa should care about ICANN. Internet infrastructure offers Africa unprecedented access to information, participation, communication, and trade, and Africans are major stakeholders in the information society today and, perhaps more importantly, in the future. The argument follows that, therefore, Africa should have decision-making responsibility to control its own Internet resources, such as domain names and IP addresses. And this view holds that the continent’s participation in ICANN is essential if it is to accelerate the development of its technical communications infrastructure -– something that promises to benefit the poor every bit as much as the wealthy.
Many others disagree. They point out that only a limited number of local technical experts and civil society organizations need to be involved in ICANN and Internet architecture development in order to look after Africa’s Internet development. Bolstering their efforts may be useful. But taking the ICANN debate to the general public and getting governments more involved may not only be a distraction from more pressing issues facing Africa, it could backfire and lead to government control of the Internet that is not in the best long-term interests of Africa’s development efforts.
These commentators point out that people in poor countries need to learn how to use the Internet and to use it to run businesses, share information, support healthcare and education and other important activities. Instead, many of their best-educated, wealthiest citizens are spending time in Geneva and other nice places, glad to have a seat at the table. But what is being accomplished at that table? The creation of additional bodies and working groups and advisory councils to give people a say is not the best use of scarce resources. Africa would do better spending its valuable time discussing issues related to the rampant disease, poverty and food security issues, among other pressing needs.
To help Africans decide for themselves, the Collaboration for International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa, or CIPESA, recently published “ICANN, Internet governance and Africa”, a public briefing on the current status and key points of the debate that provides essential background for the second phase of the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS).
While the issues at stake have the potential to affect all current and future Internet users, the Internet governance field tends to be dominated by a handful of experts and interested parties, many of whom have dedicated their careers to understanding the political and technical minutiae involved. In Africa, only a few are in the position to dedicate fulltime attention to the dialogue, which occurs both online and in numerous face-to-face meetings around the world.
For those who are interested in the issues but do not have the resources to follow the details, this brief explains the current status and key points of the discussion on ICANN and Internet governance as relevant to Africa.
If African stakeholders are to have a real say in the discussion — whether in the short term through the WSIS process, or in the longer term through ICANN and/or whatever new structures emerge — they need a basic understanding of ICANN’s role and functions and how it fits within the Internet governance area more broadly. Being generally informed on the issues may be as relevant to a ground-level NGO as it is to a government official — even if the inclusion is that governments should leave Internet technical management to the technical community.
CIPESA director Vincent Waiswa Bagiire said, “Before now there was no single place where all the basic facts about Africa’s participation in ICANN could be found. So learning about the issues required a lot of Internet research, and some savvy to find the best online sources — which isn’t simple because connectivity is so costly in Africa. This document brings it all together, and tells you where to find out more.”
The brief sets out basic facts and describes opinions about the main issues for African stakeholders. It provides an overview of ICANN, noting what it does and does not do. And it describes the main points of the WGIG report, considering what the findings could mean for ICANN’s future role in the management of Internet resources, and where the debate will play out leading up to, and beyond, the second phase of WSIS. Finally, it looks at views on why Africa should care about ICANN — and why not.