Human Rights at the Internet Governance Forum

I went to the first Internet Governance Forum in Athens with a certain amount of dread. Although I was happy to be heading up the Amnesty delegation, my experience at WSIS in Tunis left me with the abiding impression that most states and commercial entities would be happy to roll back rights & freedoms in the online space unless constantly pressed. However, somewhat to my amazement, human rights were a headline theme for the whole of the IGF and were raised over and over again by civil society participants. When we intervened in the Openness Session on Day 2 it triggered a debate about Internet censorship and corporate complicity in China, which was widely covered in the media. This debate included a jaw dropping moment when the head of the Chinese delegation completely denied that there was any internet censorship in China (check out the full transcipt of the debate).

In most of the panels I attended there was a sense of confusion about how to set global standards for Internet governance when faced with various threats (security, pornography) or when states pose cultural reasons to justify censorship. Many of us pointed out that key global standards don't need to be re-invented because they are embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights , to which states are already committed. Many participants seemed unaware that there are limited exceptions to deal with genuine threats, as long as the exceptions are applied in a specific, proportionate and concrete way.

I'm hoping that the internet governance processes can use the UDHR to prevent the net from becoming a collection of censored national enclosures and instead reinstate it as a protected international space for free expression and free flow of information and ideas.

At the IGFAt the IGF

Oh yes, and I got to hand in the petition for the campaign to Nitin Desai (UN Secretary-General's Special Adviser for Internet Governance). So a big thanks to him and especially to Markus Kummer, the Executive Coordinator of the IGF, who arranged the whole thing.