Human Rights & Freedoms
Rights to Access and Information
Allie Funk, Research Director for Technology and Democracy, Freedom House. Non-governmental organizations, WEOG.
Elizabeth Sutterlin, Research Associate for Technology and Democracy, Freedom House. Non-governmental organizations, WEOG.
Emilie Pradichit, Executive Director, Manushya Foundation. Non-governmental organizations, Asia-Pacific States.
Guuz van Zwoll, Policy Coordinator, Task Force International Cyber Policies, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, Government, WEOG.
Olga Kyryliuk, Technical Advisor on Internet Governance and Digital Rights, Internews. Non-governmental organizations, Eastern European States
Targets: The Freedom on the Net index measures each country’s level of internet freedom based on a set of methodology questions. Freedom on the Net methodology questions particularly relevant to the SDGs include those evaluating internet infrastructure (SDG 9.c, FOTN A1); internet access and inclusion (SDG 1.4, FOTN A1 and A2); freedom of expression and access to information (SDG 16.10, FOTN A3, B1, B2, B3, B4, B5, B6, B7, B8, C1, C2, C3, C4, and C7); and privacy and data protection (SDG 16.10, FOTN C4, C5, C6, and C8). The project also evaluates to what extent a rights-enabling online environment is fostered in a particular country and within international institutions, providing tailored policy recommendations that are relevant to stakeholders involved in internet governance (SDG 17.6). The presentation of Freedom on the Net 2023 findings will describe developments of some of these indicators, and well as discussion of policy recommendations.
1. Welcome remarks, Allie Funk: 5 minutes 2. Discussion of Freedom on the 2023 findings, moderators and speakers: 35 minutes 3. Audience Q&A, moderators and speakers: 15 minutes 4. Rapporteur report and concluding remarks, Allie Funk: 5 minutes
- Will 2023 mark the thirteenth consecutive year in internet freedom’s global decline? This event will provide a first look at the answer to this question and other breaking findings from Freedom on the Net 2023: The Repressive Power of Artificial Intelligence, Freedom House’s annual assessment of internet freedom in 70 countries. A panel of experts in human rights and internet governance will discuss the year’s trends, cutting across critical issues like advances in censorship, the impact of generative AI tools, trends in internet regulation, and interventions to ensure that the internet remains free and open.
Will 2023 mark the thirteenth consecutive year in internet freedom’s global decline? This event will provide a first look at the answer to this question and other breaking findings from Freedom on the Net 2023: The Repressive Power of Artificial Intelligence, Freedom House’s annual assessment of internet freedom in 70 countries. A panel of experts in human rights and internet governance will discuss the year’s trends, cutting across critical issues like advances in censorship, the impact of generative AI tools, trends in internet regulation, and interventions to ensure that the internet remains free and open.
The session will be moderated by Allie Funk, Freedom House’s Research Director for Technology and Democracy and co-author of Freedom on the Net 2023. A multistakeholder group of panelists will then reflect on Freedom on the Net 2023’s global findings, developments from the 70 countries assessed by the report, and lessons learned for how to protect human rights online. Freedom on the Net 2023: The Repressive Power of Artificial Intelligence will launch at 12:01 am ET on October 4 and days before IGF, positioning this discussion as a cutting-edge intervention and opportunity for attendees to learn about new research and recommendations. Read the report here: https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-net/2023/repressive-power-artif…;
The moderator and panelists will invite participants to use the IGF platform’s live chat function to ask questions and comments. The online moderator will monitor the live chat, and supply the onsite moderator with interventions to incorporate participant contributions into the conversation ad hoc and during the designated open Q&A. For example, the onsite moderator will alternate between questions in the room and questions from online participations during the Q&A portion of the event. Throughout the session, the onsite and online moderators will work to bring interventions from online participants into conversation with the panelists as much as possible.
• The multistakeholder model for internet governance is a crucial part of combating cyber threats, strengthening human rights and democracy online, and maintaining a global, open, free, and secure internet.
• Laws governing the digital space that are developed in democracies can have drastically different and unintended consequences for people’s rights when imposed in less free contexts.
• The Freedom Online Coalition should be more inclusive in its efforts to engage with civil society around the world.
• Democracies should ensure that they are modeling rights-respecting legislation and regulatory approaches that will not restrict human rights online in less free spaces.
Moderator Allie Funk began the session with an overview of findings from Freedom House’s Freedom on the Net 2023 report, which examined how artificial intelligence is deepening the crisis of internet freedom. She noted that AI drives intrusive surveillance, empowers precise and subtle censorship, and amplifies disinformation campaigns as generative AI lowers the barriers to entry for the disinformation market. She shared that if AI is designed and deployed safely, it can be used to bolster internet freedom. She closed by noting that as AI augments digital repression, there is an urgent need to regulate it, drawing on the lessons learned over the past 15 years of internet governance, namely: not overly relying on companies to self-regulate, centering human rights standards in good governance of the internet from governments, and the importance of involving civil society, particularly from the global majority.
Olga Kyryliuk discussed how the internet freedom space has changed in the last ten years. She described how initial hopes were that the multi-stakeholder model would make it easy to reach consensus on a way to regulate technology, and that ten years ago, many also felt that legal regulation would be able to catch up with technological advancement. She noted that, looking back, regulation has still lagged behind, but there is now a greater recognition of the importance of digital rights. She shared that innovations in AI and other technologies have brought new risks and opportunities, particularly when it comes to governments balancing their safety and security interests with protecting rights online. She closed by noting that continued multistakeholder collaboration is positive, but many people want more than just venues for discussion, but actionable results such as initiatives or partnerships that will lead to change.
Guus Van Zwoll discussed walking the tightrope of the “Brussels effect” and trying to ensure that regulations adapted by other countries with lower rule of law standards will not have adverse human rights impacts. He touched on the difficulty of balancing between fighting censorship and fighting disinformation. He described work done in the Netherlands to ensure that regulation incorporates strong requirements for transparency and references to the guiding principles on business and human rights, so that if other countries copy EU regulations, these considerations that were reached through a long multistakeholder process will already be baked into the laws. He noted that when the Netherlands has bilateral discussions, Dutch policymakers urge other government to adapt human rights and democratic clauses in their regulations.
Emilie Pradichit discussed the proliferation of harmful cyber laws throughout Southeast Asia that target dissenting voices in the name of security, and cases in which people in Thailand and Laos have been imprisoned for speaking the truth or sharing criticism on Facebook. She identified the lack of clear definitions for terms like national security as a problematic part of such regulation, and that voluntary commitments from tech companies do not do enough to counter such problems. She expressed that companies should have meaningful engagement with other stakeholders, both on how to prevent harm and to provide remediation after the fact, not just to tick the box of consulting civil society with no follow-up. She noted that digital rights organizations are small and cannot combat the misuse of platforms by governments on their own, but end up being told that companies cannot do anything either. She called for decisions about how tech companies and AI should be regulated to come from those who have been most impacted, through meaningful engagement that holds the powerful to account.
On multistakeholder engagement, Guus discussed efforts through the Freedom Online Coalition (FOC) and other initiatives, to incorporate and mainstream the Dutch Cyber Strategy among civil society groups, to ensure that while digital security remains high, there are principles for governments seeking to balance this with human rights, developing the governance structures to protect against a surveillance and censorship apparatus.
Olga commented on the desire among many in civil society for greater clarity about engaging in the FOC and other initiatives. She called for greater opportunities, in addition to the FOC advisory network, such as bringing back the Freedom Online Conference, as a venue for civil society to consult with FOC member governments on issues including AI.
Emilie emphasized that the FOC has not yet made itself accessible among civil society groups in Southeast Asia or other contexts across the majority world, where rights defenders are most under threat from digital authoritarianism and struggling under repressive governments. She pointed out the role that FOC governments could play in pressuring less democratic governments or companies that are operating in repressive contexts, particularly in cases where those still in-country are unable to speak out safely.
Olga added that getting access to government stakeholders at regional level IGFs and other meetings can be a challenge for civil society. She suggested that FOC governments should work to incentivize governments to engage with local and regional communities outside the global IGF, in order to develop partnerships and work together in a meaningful multistakeholder way.
Throughout the Q&A, panelists discussed the challenges for civil society in engaging with other global efforts, including the UN’s Global Digital Compact. Panelists also discussed the difficulty of ensuring that laws that are built on models from the EU, whether it be the DSA, DMA, or EU AI Act, still include the positive protections for human rights defenders without being imposing regulations that are overly burdensome and not responsive to local needs and realities.
Olga highlighted the importance of dialogue and conversations happening early on, before a law is drafted and adopted, to ensure that it is responsive to the local context, which sometimes requires advance capacity building as well. Emilie shared the frustration that civil society in Southeast Asia often feels with government-led regulation efforts, as there are few to no opportunities to engage. She noted that governments will say they are adopting global standards as a way to receive diplomatic applause, while still refusing to engage with human rights defenders or other stakeholders.
Guus noted that the Brussels effect was not always intended, and that although EU governments developed these laws, the way they have had global impacts was not something that was planned, which makes civil society feedback a crucial part of the learning process to improve the implementation of future regulations.
No feedback was received from remote participants during or after the session.