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Thursday, December 21 • 12:20 - 13:20
A Net of Rights: Human Rights Impact Assessments for the Future of the Internet (WS69)

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Proposer's Name: Ms. Mehwish Ansari
Proposer's Organization: ARTICLE 19
Co-Proposer's Name: Ms. Corinne Cath
Co-Proposer's Organization: ARTICLE 19
Ms.,Mehwish,ANSARI,Civil Society,ARTICLE 19
Ms.,Corinne,CATH,Civil Society,ARTICLE 19

Session Format: Panel - 60 Min

Country: United States
Stakeholder Group: Civil Society

Country: United Kingdom
Stakeholder Group: Civil Society

Speaker: David Kaye
Speaker: Cathrine Bloch Veiberg
Speaker: Maarten Simon

Content of the Session:
A range of cornerstone Internet governance documents, including the outcome document of the WSIS+10 Review, the NETmundial Multistakeholder Statement, and the latest reports of UN Special Rapporteur (UNSR) on freedom of expression David Kaye, conclude that the infrastructure of the Internet must be managed such that it enables the exercise of human rights. In recent years, proponents including the UNSR have responded by calling for human rights impact assessments (HRIAs) of the technical work done by the actors responsible for setting Internet standards and managing crucial Internet resources. Various technical actors, including the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), and several large Internet registries, are already considering or even implementing HRIAs. They believe that the future of the net fundamentally includes human rights.

And yet, the debate over the impact of the Internet on human rights continues to primarily take place at the political, regulatory, and commercial levels, seemingly ignoring the responsibilities of the technical community and sidelining a robust discussion of HRIAs. This workshop aims to redress this dynamic.

The international human rights legal framework remains a strong tool to protect Internet users, facilitating robust considerations for ensuring freedom of expression, freedom of association, privacy, and other human rights online. However, there arises a clear issue: within the international legal framework, there are no binding obligations for non-state actors. There is therefore a critical accountability gap in ensuring human rights within the policies and activities of technical actors. The 2011 UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) present an opportunity to bridge this gap. However, there remains the need to adopt effective methodologies that will operationalize these Principles to identify, prevent, mitigate, and account for any adverse impacts of actors’ policies or practices—specifically, there remains the need to adopt HRIAs.

This session will explore the need for HRIAs and cover the benefits and challenges various technical actors encounter when developing and implementing HRIA models. We will also explore future avenues for technical actors interested in conducting these assessments and how civil society can get involved to facilitate more widespread adoption and implementation. More specifically, we will discuss the following issues: Why are technical actors turning to HRIAs? How can technical actors address certain roadblocks that they may expect to face when implementing HRIA models? Why do HRIAs and the UNGPs matter for the future of the Internet? Expert panelists will foster discussion on how the impact of Internet governance on human rights can be understood and balanced, so that that technical actors can maintain the stability of the Internet’s technical architecture while also enabling human rights.

Relevance of the Session:
The protection of the right to freedom of expression, access to information, and freedom of assembly on the Internet are crucial to the future of the digital civic space. The majority of the Internet’s central infrastructure—as well as the applications running over it—are developed, operated, and maintained by private actors within the Internet governance community. The policies and protocols that define how Internet users interact with this infrastructure are determined within Internet governance bodies themselves, including ICANN and the IETF. Thus, these technical Internet governance actors are key facilitators of the exercise of human rights online; however, most of them have not yet fully engaged with the human rights implications of their actions and decisions.

This workshop is important to include in the IGF program because it speaks to the very heart of the Internet. Without the technical community, there would be no open, interoperable Internet. But as technical actors are increasingly considered to be its gatekeepers, governments have increasingly enlisted and even compelled these intermediaries to filter or block individuals’ access to content online. At the same time, these actors may independently engage in practices that censor or otherwise subvert the rights of Internet users, without transparency, clear guidelines to which users can refer, or appropriate mechanisms for appeal. Incidents of Internet shutdowns and network disruptions are on the rise; Freedom House concludes that Internet censorship has increased for the sixth consecutive year worldwide. If technical actors do not meaningfully take on the responsibility to respect human rights, the trend towards a more restricted Internet will continue. The future of the Internet as a digital civic space for discourse, economic development, and social change is at stake.

HRIAs provide a clear path forward for technical actors to resist these threats to our digital future. However, as of yet there is limited uptake of HRIAs. This panel will get to the root of this reality and present a discussion with the aim of developing clear goals for ensuring that HRIAs gain wider acceptance among the very actors that develop, operate, and manage the infrastructure of the Internet.

Tag 1: Critical Internet Resources
Tag 2: Human Rights Online
Tag 3: Internet Governance

Each speaker will be given approximately 10 minutes for opening remarks, in which they will present a concrete case study of how human rights impact assessments are viewed or undertaken in their organization. These case studies will be the basis for a moderated panel discussion between the various experts, that will bring out their perspectives.

After the initial panel discussion, the floor will be opened for a Q&A with the audience. Remote participants will be given the opportunity to ask questions through online forums such as WebX and Twitter. We will promote a dedicated hashtag (#HRIAGF) so that the panelists, audience members, and online participants can discuss the issues raised in real time.

To ensure the sustainability of this discussion, the various statements and interventions of the panelists and the audience will be collected and condensed into a short paper that will outline the main challenges and benefits and present actionable policy recommendations for other organizations interested in undertaking HRIAs.

The dais will have a 50/50 gender divide including the moderator, who will be a woman. The panel members each represent a different stakeholder type (i.e. civil society, technical community, private sector, international organization), and so will represent differing policy perspectives. Of the panelists, one-third will be 30 years old or younger. Mehwish, the organizer of this panel, is a first-time IGF organizer.

Onsite Moderator: Mehwish Ansari
Online Moderator: Deborah Brown
Rapporteur: Paulina Gutiérrez

Online Participation:
We intend to utilize the IGF’s WebX system and Twitter to include remote participants in the Q&A portion of the discussion. The remote participants will be afforded equal and proportional representation in the discussion. The remote moderator will facilitate the Q&A with the moderator. We would like a screen in the room to display the video questions, remote comments, and tweets.

Discussion facilitation:
We intend to make this an inclusive conversation, both among the panelists and between the panelists and the audience online and offline. This will be done by presenting various case studies that provide concrete hooks to anchor the conversation and ensure that the audience can relate to the ongoing challenges and benefits of conducting human rights impact assessments. We will also specifically ask the audience to share their experiences with HRIAs to bring a wider diversity of views into the conversation. Online participation will be facilitated as mentioned above.

Conducted a Workshop in IGF before?: Yes
Link to Report: https://dig.watch/sessions/lightning-session-internet-infrastructure-global-technical-standards-and-sdgs

Additional Speakers: 

Alissa Cooper


Length of session: 60 minutes

  • Introductions. The moderator will open the session by presenting the nexus of topics for discussion: what human rights impact assessments (HRIAs) are, their potential as a tool to develop human rights considerations among infrastructure providers and technical communities, and the role that civil society can play in this field. The moderator will then introduce the panelists. (5 minutes)
  • Case studies. The moderator will direct discu

Session Organizers

Thursday December 21, 2017 12:20 - 13:20 CET
Room XXVI - E United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG)