IGF 2019 WS #259 Navigating Freedom of Expression Online

Organizer 1: Michael Moss, Media Legal Defence Initiative
Organizer 2: Alinda Vermeer , Media Legal Defence Initiative
Organizer 3: Lucy Freeman, Media Legal Defence Intiiative

Speaker 1: Marchant Eleanor, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 2: Sheetal Kumar, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 3: Padraig Hughes, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Policy Question(s): 

How do we foster an Internet conducive to freedom of expression online, on which journalism in particular is not stifled by internet-specific content restrictions in national law, filtering of online content, or network disruption?

How can free speech and safety and security on the Internet (i.e. combating cyber crime, false news, and hate speech) be balanced in national legislation? How can government and civil society stakeholders improve their collaborations for developing norms and standards that protect all of these principles at a national, regional, and international level?

How can stakeholders, individually and collectively, mitigate filtering of content and Internet shutdowns so as to ensure network stability and resilience - a precursor for the protection of freedom of expression online?

Relevance to Theme: Security and safety on the Internet is an imperative but so too are the rights of individual citizens, bloggers, and media to publish public interest content free from undue restrictions in national law. In numerous jurisdictions, speech rights oftentimes conflict with provisions in laws aimed at combating cyber crime and other Internet-related security and safety concerns. i.e. Cyber crime laws that contain overly broad content provisions vulnerable to overreach and abuse.

Relevance to Internet Governance: Navigating a balance between freedom of expression and security online necessitates the input and involvement of multiple stakeholders with a role in internet governance. It requires the forging of collaboration between civil society and state stakeholders in particular - both at a national and global level to develop and institutionalise standards that protect freedom of expression on the Internet while also guaranteeing the safety and security of its users.


Round Table - Circle - 60 Min

Description: This round table will discuss instances where the right to freedom of expression online has been threatened by provisions in cyber crime legislation as well as blocked or partially restricted access to the Internet. It will address civil society strategies to address these challenges through advocacy and litigation at national and regional levels as well as developing an understanding of state responses and responsibilities.

In many jurisdictions Cyber crime laws in particular have been passed with overly broad content restrictions on false news and hate speech which can be used to impinge upon the rights of citizens, bloggers, and media to report freely in the public interest.

The proliferation of filtering of online content as well as network disruption and Internet shutdowns poses similar challenges to expression rights on the Internet, often justified by national security arguments posited by state actors.

Drawing upon a diverse range of legal, civil society, academic, and state stakeholders, the contours of balancing freedom of expression and security online will be outlined from each of these perspectives. Interaction between speakers, walk-in, and online participants will be encouraged. This with a view to developing an in-depth understanding of the challenge at hand and how to it can be addressed through litigation at a national level and regional level, as well as by collaboratively developing norms and standards by leveraging regional and international human rights instruments and mechanisms.

The workshop structure structure, subject to revision, will include:
1) Moderator's welcome, introduction to speakers and topic (10 minutes)
2) Opening remarks by each speaker (4 x 5 minutes = 20)
3) Moderated discussion between speakers, online and walk-in participants (25 minutes)
4) Closing remarks by moderator (5 minutes)

Expected Outcomes: (1) The development of an in-depth understanding of the challenge balancing expression and security online from the perspective of state and civil society stakeholders.
(2) Recommendations developed for the development, institutionalisation and use of regional and international standards that address this balance.

Onsite Moderator: 

Lucy Freeman, Civil Society, African Group

Online Moderator: 

Alinda Vermeer , Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Michael Moss, Civil Society, African Group

Discussion Facilitation: 

Speakers will be asked to provide their input as concisely as possible and for it to run no longer than five minutes each, thus allowing the session to maximise time for engagement and interaction between speakers, walk-in, and online participates.

Online Participation: 

Online participants will able to submit questions and comments through the online participation tool throughout the round table. This opportunity will be promoted through the Media Legal Defence Initiative's (MLDI) facebook page, twitter account, and the live stream that will be available for this workshops. Comments, questions and other forms of engagement will be solicited and then posed to the room by the online moderator at regular, prearranged intervals.

Proposed Additional Tools: The online participation plan for this workshop integrates the use of the organising organisation's social media accounts and the official participation tool. As stated above, MLDI's significant reach on twitter and facebook will be used to direct off-site participants to the online participation tool through which they will be able to pose questions or make comments.


GOAL 10: Reduced Inequalities
GOAL 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
GOAL 17: Partnerships for the Goals