IGF 2023 WS #363 Unfreedom Monitor: How countries legislate digital spaces


Human Rights & Freedoms
Internet Shutdowns
Rights to Access and Information

Organizer 1: Ameya Nagarajan, Global Voices Advox
Organizer 2: Ivan Sigal, Global Voices
Organizer 3: Georgia Popplewell, Global Voices

Speaker 1: Laís Ferreira Martins, Civil Society, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)
Speaker 2: Kudzai Chimhangwa , Civil Society, African Group
Speaker 3: Ameya Nagarajan, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Ameya Nagarajan, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Online Moderator

Ivan Sigal, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Georgia Popplewell, Civil Society, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)


Panel - 90 Min

Policy Question(s)

How are national and international laws that ostensibly govern public safety and national security used to restrict key rights that enable online expression, opinion, and access to information?

What will participants gain from attending this session? Participants will gain insight into the spread of insidious and common rights-restricting laws and regulations. We will introduce participants to our public database of qualitative analysis, which they can use in their work. We will also highlight strategies of resistance and advocacy arising out of a range of national contexts.


The legislature is in the heart of most democratic political systems. Aspriationally, the legal system and the lawmaking process exist to protect the citizens of democracies and their human rights. Democratic legislatures have proven no guarantee of the creation of laws that protect citizen’s rights, however, and rubber-stamp legislatures in authoritarian regimes rarely support citizen rights over the interests of ruling governments. In our research in the Unfreedom Monitor, we have seen how states use laws enacted ostensibly to protect citizens as to facilitate the surveillance of citizens, gather personal data, and leverage people’s actions, words and presence in digital spaces to harass, detain and prosecute dissenters, curtailing their right to free expression and violating their right to privacy.

In Turkey, each amendment of laws around the Presidency of Telecommunication and Communication (TIB) gives it more power to act unilaterally against citizens. In Zimbabwe, the Data Protection Act infringes on citizens’ digital rights and also allows the state to legally infiltrate online spaces. The 2015 Cybercrimes Act in Tanzania allows the government to intercept data and seek specific personal data from internet providers. In India, a range of laws are wielded against vocal critics of the state. In Brazil, the PL 2630 is on the verge of approval in Congress and could limit data privacy in the country as well as give immunity to politicians to publish misinformation without any legal consequences.

In this discussion we will share the findings of the Unfreedom Monitor, exploring the transnational phenomenon of how laws and regulations on internet governance also serve to deny citizens their human rights.
What will participants gain from attending your session? Please provide a short description of what participants and attendees of your session might take away in terms of new knowledge, insight, understanding, or tools.

Expected Outcomes

The session and responses to it are part of the advocacy and outreach efforts of the Unfreedom Monitor, which is a Global Voices initiative to understand and document technologically enabled authoritarian practices. We aim to deepen knowledge of the transnational nature of the issue, and support country-level advocates to build counter-narratives, and offer alternative policy approaches that also support fundamental universal freedoms. We are building a roadmap to identify shared challenges that citizens face in rights restrictions through technological augmentation of authoritarian practices, even in democracies. Local advocates, especially when operating in languages other than English, may not have access to levers of influence with transnational actors. We aim to identify those commonalities, and highlight how collective action might influence their choices.

Hybrid Format: The moderator will ensure that they keep the airtime balanced between in person and online speakers and attendees, with short and tightly scripted presentations from all speakers and with strong facilitation of the speakers interacting with each other online and in person. The discussion will be structured, discussed and planned beforehand to ensure smooth transitions and make it easier for both audiences to follow along. We expect to use a limited number of slides for presentation purposes, which will be managed by a producer in the background with good internet access to ensure a smooth flow of discussion.