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Defending Digital Rights: Manushya joins Freedom House at IGF 2023

Defending Digital Rights: Manushya joins Freedom House

to expose the 13th Year of Global Internet Freedom Decline at IGF 2023

On Monday, October 9, 2023, as part of the United Nations Internet Governance Forum (IGF 2023), Manushya Foundation played a vital role in ‘The State of Global Internet Freedom, Thirteen Years On’ session, held in Kyoto, Japan. Hosted by Freedom House, this session brought together a panel of experts in human rights and internet governance for a dynamic discussion. The aim was to unveil the evolving landscape of censorship, explore the significant impact of generative Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools, discuss emerging trends in internet regulation, and ultimately formulate recommendations for safeguarding an open, free, and human rights-respecting internet.

We wish to express our profound appreciation to Allie Funk, Research Director for Technology and Democracy at Freedom House, Co-author of #FreedomOnTheNet (FOTN) 2023, for her exceptional moderation! Our deepest gratitude also goes to the amazing speakers:

  • Olga Kyryliuk - Technical Advisor on Internet Governance and Digital Rights, Internews.

  • Emilie Palamy Pradichit - Founder & Executive Director, the Manushya Foundation, Co-author of FOTN 2023 - Thailand Country Report.

  • Guus van Zwoll - Policy Coordinator, Task Force International Cyber Policies (DVB-TFC), Ministry of Foreign Affairs of The Netherlands.

Now, let's get a glimpse into a compelling question: “Will 2023 mark the thirteenth consecutive year of global internet freedom decline?”

🎤 Allie Funk delved into the findings of the FOTN 2023 Report, illustrating how the use of generative AI by certain countries provides solid evidence of the global decline in internet freedom. Consequently, the report emphasizes the need for human rights-based AI standards to protect internet freedom against the mounting menace of digital repression.

"The fact that global internet freedom has seen its 13th consecutive year of decline marked by a surge in legal repercussions and physical attacks targeting online expression is an unfortunate reality. Especially when it comes to generative artificial intelligence which has become a potent tool employed by 47 governments to manipulate online discourse and intensify global online censorship. Therefore, the FOTN 2023 report underscores the pressing need for human rights-based AI standards to shield internet freedom from the amplified threat of digital repression." - Allie Funk

🌍 Olga Kyryliuk pointed out that while technological advancement offers opportunities, there is also a challenge, especially for governments, in striking a balance between online security and individual freedom. The overemphasis on security made by governments can inadvertently lead to strict government. To overcome these challenges, she stressed the need for concrete partnerships and implementing proactive initiatives.

"Ten years ago, the importance of internet freedom and digital rights probably didn’t make much sense but now, everyone understands about it. As technology develops, it indeed brings new opportunities but also brings a lot of risks and challenges. For example, there are a lot of challenges that governments walk on in finding the right balance between ensuring security and safety on the internet. Sometimes, governments lean too much towards emphasizing security, and in doing so, they end up restricting internet freedom and leading to "digital authoritarianism," where governments exert strict control over the internet. People are now calling for concrete actions, not just discussions as they want to see concrete partnerships and initiatives. It's not enough to keep discussing issues when we have the potential to make a real difference and bring about meaningful change." - Olga Kyryliuk

🌟 Emilie Palamy Pradichit shed light on the growing concerns surrounding the weaponization of cyber laws in Southeast Asia. These regulations are mainly presented as tools to protect ‘national security’ but are often used to label government critics and human right defenders as potential threats. Emilie also stressed the need for regulations that compel tech companies to conduct mandatory Human Rights Due Diligence in line with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), rather than leaving it as a voluntary endeavor.

We have seen a growing number of harmful regulations in Southeast Asia that are framed as safeguards for ‘national security’. However, in practice, anyone who dares to attack or criticize the government becomes a supposed threat to national security. It’s because our authoritarian governments are weaponizing laws to suppress dissenting voices and silence human rights defenders. I also think that we need to regulate Tech Companies to not only conduct a voluntary Human Rights Impact Assessment but to urge them to conduct Mandatory Human Rights Due Diligence as stipulated in the UNGPs. Why? Because what we’ve seen so far is tech companies merely identifying the most salient human rights issues and then presenting them to us, civil society, during their stakeholder engagements, almost as if we weren’t already acutely aware of these concerns. Yet, they often fail to take sufficient action to prevent or mitigate these issues. The call for mandatory human rights due diligence is therefore an absolute imperative! Meaningful stakeholder engagement, particularly involving groups directly affected by tech companies, as exemplified by the hate speech targeted at the Rohingya people on Facebook in Myanmar, is essential. Furthermore, there’s an urgent need to hold companies accountable, both in terms of civil and criminal liability for grave human rights violations. Mandatory human rights due diligence represents a critical step toward ensuring effective access to remedies for those affected by tech companies..”- Emilie Palamy Pradichit

🇪🇺 Guus van Zwoll shared the complex challenges of combating censorship and disinformation simultaneously. He highlighted the pivotal role of the EU’s legal framework, specifically the Digital Services Act (DSA) and the EU’s AI Act in regulating large tech companies. Additionally, he underscored the Netherlands' commitment to advancing transparency, protecting human rights, fostering international collaboration, and supporting local civil society and human rights defenders in the context of digital governance.

"It’s difficult to fight censorship and to fight disinformation at the same time, because we have to find a balance. But, we take pride in the fact that EU laws provide us with a framework for regulating Big Tech that would be beyond our reach otherwise. We also appreciate the extensive stakeholder engagement process that has allowed for valuable inputs from both civil society and industry. For The Netherlands, our commitment lies in championing the principles outlined in the EU’s DSA and EU's AI Act. These principles emphasize transparency, protecting human rights, international collaboration, and our support for local civil society and human rights defenders. We strongly advocate for a multi-stakeholder approach, highlighting the essential role of civil society voices in shaping discussions on digital governance." - Guus van Zwoll

Fostering Inclusivity: Strengthening Civil Society from the Global Majority

As we explore the digital rights landscape, we must remember the power of dialogue between civil society and governments. It's the catalyst for meaningful change and a brighter digital future. Accessibility is key to engaging with the global majority, and ensuring the financial support of civil society from the global majority fuels the battle against digital dictatorship.

But we can't stop there. Representation and visibility are game-changers. The call for the Freedom Online Coalition (FOC) to connect with digital rights defenders in restricted countries is our rallying cry for a more inclusive and accessible digital world. These insights create a roadmap to champion digital rights globally.

Fostering Inclusivity: Applying Feminist Principles to the Digital Space

At Manushya Foundation, we believe in intersectional feminism, and we endorsed the Feminist Principles for including gender in the Global Digital Compact at IGF 2023. These Feminist Principles call on the adoption of a human rights-based approach and acknowledge the differentiated impact of information and communications technologies on women, girls and people with diverse genders and sexualities.

We don’t want IGF 2024 in a digital dictatorship!

Did you know that the next IGF is planned in Saudi Arabia? Shocking right, considering the poor state of digital rights there! Manushya joined a campaign for #TheIGFWeWant and signed on a Joint Statement to reserve the decision to designate Saudi Arabia as the host for the next event.

Let's work together to make this vision a reality!

#WeAreManushyan ♾ Equal Human Beings


🔥 While you’re here, discover our pivotal work on democracy and digital rights, shaping our digital future. ⤵️


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