IGF 2018 WS #132 Towards a Decentralized Internet Constitution?

Format: 

Panel - 90 Min

Subtheme: 

Organizer 1: Dennis Redeker, Bremen International Graduate School of Social Sciences (BIGSSS)
Organizer 2: Mauro Santaniello, University of Salerno
Organizer 3: FRANCESCO PIRRO, AgID

Speaker 1: Lisa Garcia, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group
Speaker 2: Primavera De Filippi, Technical Community, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 3: Suzor Nicolas, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group
Speaker 4: Guy Berger, Intergovernmental Organization, Intergovernmental Organization
Speaker 5: Andrea Beccalli, Technical Community, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Relevance: 

The need to address the challenges of fundamental rights protection in the digital ecosystem is a constant theme of the policy arena which has been emerging around Internet governance, and it has been addressed from multiple perspectives within the IGF since its foundation. In the last five editions of the Forum, a number of workshops have been held around the trajectories discussed in this panel, i.e. decentralizing technologies and their impact on fundamental rights protection; and digital constitutionalism initiatives originated in an increasingly heterogeneous political setting. Although this workshop is not a direct continuation of previous IGF workshops, it aims at building on foregoing efforts and discussions in order to develop a more encompassing understanding about future opportunities and challenges for digital rights. [for more details see background paper]

Session Content: 

The workshop will discuss the issue of human rights online from the perspective of two recent decentralizing trends. The first one is a technological decentralization, enabled by new technologies - especially blockchain - allowing tech-ingrained human rights protection (“blockchain constitutionalism”) through smart contracts and the extensive use of cryptography. The second trend is a political decentralization which is transforming the landscape of digital constitutionalism, i.e. “a set of otherwise divergent initiatives; that each one seeks to engage with political rights, governance norms, and limitations on the exercise of power on the Internet in some fundamental way” (Gill, Redeker, Gasser 2015). Particularly, recent cases of digital constitutionalism originate in local authorities (such as New York City), national parliaments (as in the case of Italy and the Philippines), and regional blocs (the African Union and the European Union). The workshop aims to produce and disseminate new knowledge and ideas about the interplay between technological and political decentralization, and to foresee future trajectories in terms of convergence and fragmentation of constitutionalization processes related to the Internet. As a result the workshop will explore how decentralized technologies can be deployed to support, not undermine, ongoing efforts to protect Internet-related fundamental rights, locally and globally. The workshop involves digital rights advocates, technical and academic experts in the emerging field of technology-based human rights protection (including inter alia blockchain technologies, smart contracts), government officials concerned with this from a policy perspective, and representatives of International Organizations who facilitate processes of norm and regulatory convergence. Specifically, we have now five provisionally confirmed panelists.

The agenda is comprised of short thought-provoking presentations by the panelists and an extensive discussion between them and the audience in the room and remotely around the world. 1st Part: Introduction of the theme of the discussion and the panelists (5 minutes) 2nd Part: The panelists provide their thought-provoking insights based on their specific perspective and knowledge (25 minutes) - see “Interventions” for a description of their specific inputs. Panelists: Lisa Garcia, Nicolas Suzor, Primavera De Filippi, Guy Berger, Andrea Beccalli 3rd Part: Comments and questions to the panelists from the audience both in the room and around the world (remotely) (30 minutes) 4th Part: Panelists react to each other, the comments and questions (each 4 minutes) and react to the following question “How can technical decentralization (blockchain) and decentralized digital rights advocacy lead to better human rights protection on the Internet?” (each one minute) (total: 25 minutes) 5th Part: Summary/synthesis provided by the moderators of the discussion in the room and online (5 minutes).

Interventions: 

Interventions are provided by five speakers who have provisionally confirmed their participation.

Lisa Garcia, Foundation for Media Alternatives (Philippines) will report from a national initiative of digital constitutionalism to realize human rights in the Philippines (Philippine Declaration on Internet Rights and Principles) and transnationally by a coalition of feminist activists (Feminist Principles of the Internet). She makes the case for ensuring human rights protections on the national, regional and grassroots levels.

Nicolas Suzor, Queensland University of Technology (Australia) will discuss the conditions under which initiatives of digital constitutionalism may positively impact the realization of human rights on the Internet on a national level (Australia) and in relationship with social media platforms.

Primavera De Filippi, CNRS (France) and Harvard University (USA) will provide a short introduction into the current state of art of ingraining human rights protections into smart contracts on a blockchain. She will discuss the conflict that arises between blockchain-based smart contracts and national/other legislation as well as the legal system.

Guy Berger, UNESCO will discuss the role of international organizations in supporting efforts to realizing human rights online through, among other efforts, UNESCO’s Internet Universality indicators that represent an effective international stock-taking exercise. The Internet Universality indicators point to a convergence of norms around human rights protections online.

Andrea Beccalli, ICANN will discuss the relevance of the multistakeholder approach to Internet Governance and human rights protection from the perspective of the Internet technical community, particularly the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. 

Diversity: 

Our five-speaker panel is highly diverse. Specifically, our speakers, by nationality, come from Africa (1), Oceania (1), Asia (1) and Europe (3). Two out of five are female and they represent civil society (3), the technical community (1) and an international organization (1). They represent various policy perspectives (for their perspectives see IX.)

The organizing team is made up of first-time IGF organizers.

Online Participation: 

The task of managing online participation lies with our online moderator, who is a member of the organizing committee. The online moderator and the workshop moderator are in constant contact about the state and content of the online discussion. As our agenda (see VIII.) indicates, there will be a round of audience comments and questions (i.e. interventions) after the first round of short interventions by the speakers. These comments will be sourced the on-location audience and the online audience in equal parts. We proceed to take each two comments/questions each from on-location and online audiences at a time until the maximum time of thirty minutes is reached. In general, we aim to take comments and questions from people with diverse perspectives (as far as this can be determined), according to criteria such as gender, stakeholder group, youth, and nationality.

Discussion Facilitation: 

As indicated in VIII., our agenda foresees three distinct phases for exchanges between speakers and the audience (both on-location and online). First we, will allow each speaker to make a short 5-minute introductory speech (time limit strictly enforced by the moderator). Afterwards, we hand over the active role to the audience, with comments or questions made by participants online and on-location in equal measure (see XIV.). We aim to take comments and questions from people with diverse perspectives (as far as this can be determined), according to criteria such as gender, stakeholder group, youth, and nationality. The third phase allows our speakers to answer questions and react to comments from the audience. After these three distinct phases, the moderators will provide a synthesis of the discussion including the online discussion that may have occurred at the same time.

Onsite Moderator: 

Dennis Redeker

Online Moderator: 

Mauro Santaniello

Rapporteur: 

Dennis Redeker

Agenda: 

The agenda is comprised of short thought-provoking presentations by the panelists and an extensive discussion between them and the audience in the room and remotely around the world.

1st Part: Introduction of the theme of the discussion and the panelists (5 minutes)

2nd Part: The panelists provide their thought-provoking insights based on their specific perspective and knowledge (25 minutes) - see “Interventions” for a description of their specific inputs. Panelists: Lisa Garcia, Nicolas Suzor, Primavera De Filippi, Guy Berger, Andrea Beccalli

3rd Part: Comments and questions to the panelists from the audience both in the room and around the world (remotely) (30 minutes)

4th Part: Panelists react to each other, the comments and questions (each 4 minutes) and react to the following question “How can technical decentralization (blockchain) and decentralized digital rights advocacy lead to better human rights protection on the Internet?” (each one minute) (total: 25 minutes)

5th Part: Summary/synthesis provided by the moderators of the discussion in the room and online (5 minutes)

Report: 

- Session Type (Workshop, Open Forum, etc.): Workshop

 

- Title: Towards a Decentralized Internet Constitution?

 

- Date & Time: Tuesday, 13 November, 2018 - 16:40 to 18:10

 

- Organizer(s): Dennis Redeker, Mauro Santaniello, Francesco Pirro

 

- Chair/Moderator: Dennis Redeker

 

- Rapporteur/Notetaker: Dennis Redeker

 

- List of speakers and their institutional affiliations (Indicate male/female/ transgender male/ transgender female/gender variant/prefer not to answer):

Speaker 1: Lisa Garcia, Foundation for Media Alternatives (female)
Speaker 2: Primavera De Filippi, Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School (female)
Speaker 3: Suzor Nicolas, Queensland University of Technology (male)
Speaker 4: Guy Berger, UNESCO (male)
Speaker 5: Andrea Beccalli, ICANN (male)

 

- Theme (as listed here): Human Rights, Gender & Youth

 

- Subtheme (as listed here): DEMOCRACY

 

- Please state no more than three (3) key messages of the discussion.

  1. Digital rights declarations and other documents written to advocate for human rights protection in a digital age ("digital constitutionalism") are proliferating locally and on the level of the nation-state. This moves agency and discourse in this field away from international and global fora of Internet governance (like IGF) toward more peripheral arenas of public policy. Across this fragmented constellation of initiatives, a common set of universal principles and rights can be identified, and further research and discussion should be encouraged on the topic.
  2. Another decentralizing tendency (that seems at first unrelated) is the development of a decentralised cryptographically organized infrastructure (e.g. blockchain technology). However, with its self-enforcing smart contracts, the technology may be a crucial location for contestations over which and how digital rights should be protected online (e.g. automated fines if data is leaked by a data collector). The discussion's outcome emphasized the need of a multistakeholder approach able to inform the design, the scope and the kind of authority embedded in design choices.
  3. These two developments, if taken together, create tensions: Advocacy for digital rights on the local level produces momentum for local realization of human rights on the Internet, while blockchain-based smart contracts have the potential to permeate (national) borders and entrench certain norms transnationally, ignoring whatever political communities have decided locally/nationally.

 

- Please elaborate on the discussion held, specifically on areas of agreement and divergence.

The discussion on digital constitutionalism and blockchain technology dealt with the role of the nation state, civil society and of multistakeholder governance bodies. While some contributions on blockchain stressed that a reliable central authority is important in a well-functioning governance system on blockchain, others said it is important to move on in a multistakeholder mode in order to include more and broader interests at the intersection of human rights and the development of emergent technologies like blockchain. It can be considered agreed broadly, that blockchain technology per se will not solve the challenges regarding human rights on the Internet.

 

Concerning digital constitutionalism, it has been highlighted that the variety of initiatives, with their own different perspectives and drafting processes, are social processes reflecting the tensions between, on the one hand, contingent and specific needs of power limitation and, on the other, the protection of a universal set of fundamental rights within a transnational network (cfr. UNESCO's Internet Universality Indicators).

 

A common issue underlying both the reasoning about blockchain technology and digital constitutionalism was represented by the kind of authority required to enforce human rights, while the issue of decentralisation - enabled by the blockchain or represented by recent initiatives of digital constitutionalism- was treated as an enabling, not a determinant, factor.

 

- Please describe any policy recommendations or suggestions regarding the way forward/potential next steps.

While no concrete policy recommendations were agreed among the participants, there is this strong conviction that further discussion needs to be promoted around this topic. There was a comprehensive and inclusive discussion, but no specific human rights digressions were discussed in detail with regard to blockchain technologies. Consequently, more policy-oriented discussions should follow, e.g. focusing on one particular application or one particular human right.

A useful platform from which to start discussion about policy recommendations is represented by the 2017 UNESCO's work on multistakeholderism (van der Spuy, “What if we all governed the Internet? Advancing multistakeholder participation in Internet governance, UNESCO Series on Internet Freedom), which was briefly presented and distributed by one of the speakers. The work presents a useful framework to conceptualise a set of basic values for multistakeholder initiatives – including inclusion, diversity, transparency, equality, flexibility and relevance, privacy and security, accountability and legitimacy, responsiveness - and to operationalise them into meaningful indicators. It identifies eleven policy recommendations, which are broadly shared by workshop's participants.

- What ideas surfaced in the discussion with respect to how the IGF ecosystem might make progress on this issue?

Since the IGF is a forum for policy debate, it will be the proper institutional setting in order to discuss human rights and new technologies both at a conceptual and a concrete level. The IGF ecosystem may provide room for the ongoing discussion, whose relevance is expected to dramatically increase in the next few years. The network of knowledge, interests and competencies the IGF is able to produce and feed, also beyond the annual meeting, represents a fundamental resource in order to develop a human rights-based approach to Internet governance and to the design of emerging technologies. The challenge faced by the IGF community with reference to the topics addressed by participants, is to rapidly elaborate clear and comprehensive recommendations and to gather around them political consensus.

- Please estimate the total number of participants.

60 (onsite)

15 (remote)

 

- Please estimate the total number of women and gender-variant individuals present.

About half the participants were women; the audience showed great diverse across a number of factors.

- To what extent did the session discuss gender issues, and if to any extent, what was the discussion?

The discussion included one contribution that dealt with the Feminist Principles for the Internet, a specific initiative to include critical gender-issues into the debate on human rights and governing principles online.

 

 

Session Time: 
Tuesday, 13 November, 2018 - 16:40 to 18:10
Room: 
Salle IV

Contact Information

United Nations
Secretariat of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF)

Villa Le Bocage
Palais des Nations,
CH-1211 Geneva 10
Switzerland

igf [at] un [dot] org
+41 (0) 229 173 678