Perspectives June 1, 2023
At RightsCon, Freedom House is Working to Protect a Free and Open Internet
Multistakeholder collaboration is central in the fight for a global internet. RightsCon presents an opportunity for just that.
The internet is more fragmented than ever before. From blocks on foreign websites to restrictions on cross-border data flows, governments are carving up the global internet to create online spaces they can control.
Alongside other defenders of internet freedom, Freedom House is working to combat this alarming trend and reverse the resulting damage to democracy and human rights online through its research, programmatic initiatives, and advocacy efforts worldwide. That’s why we’re headed to San Jose, Costa Rica, for the 12th annual RightsCon Summit, hosted by the digital rights organization Access Now.
Multistakeholder cooperation—in which civil society, governments, and the private sector come together—is crucial to protect and defend the global internet. The internet itself was largely created through this form of cooperation, with representatives from the private sector, civil society, and the technical community coming together to harmonize security standards and other protocols. RightsCon exemplifies these values, facilitating a collaborative environment to address looming problems facing the digital sphere, and to seize opportunities for positive growth. Through panels, workshops, and conversations on the sidelines, Freedom House plans to deepen coalitions aimed at combatting the most pressing threats to internet freedom.
Harmonizing data-protection laws and collaborating to protect human rights
Robust privacy standards and strong data-protection laws are essential for protecting human rights online. However, many governments are exploiting the growing appetite for data protection to increase state surveillance, delegate decision making to politicized regulators, and place undue restrictions on how data can flow across national borders, driving the splintering of the web.
In response, Freedom House and the Global Network Initiative are cohosting on June 7 at 10:15 a.m. (CST) the in-person session, “Pitch Perfect: Harmonizing Data-Protection Laws and Collaboration to Protect Human Rights.” The panel will feature experts with experience analyzing, implementing, and advocating for such legislation, including from the Internet Freedom Foundation and Meta, independent expert Eduardo Bertoni, Freedom House’s Allie Funk, and the Global Network Initiative’s Chris Sheehy as moderator. Together they will explore how civil society, the private sector, and policymakers can work together to design and advocate for interoperable and rights-respecting data-protection laws that are essential for defending a free and open internet.
Internet blocking and the consequences for human rights
In 2022, our Freedom on the Net report found that a record number of governments blocked websites hosting political, social, or religious content, with a majority of these cases targeting sources located outside of the country. Several governments went further, blocking entire social media platforms or cutting off internet connectivity all together, with disastrous consequences for free expression, access to information, and other human rights.
To raise awareness about the issue, Allie Funk joins Cloudflare on June 8 at 3:15 p.m. (CST) for the online RightsCon discussion “Internet blocking and the consequences for human rights.” The panel, which also features speakers from Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) and Access Now, will explore the varying technical measures used to block or limit access to online content, the risks of overblocking, and the consequences for human rights.
Pushing back against digital repression and boosting resilience in southeast Asia
Internet fragmentation makes digital repression easier to get away with. For instance, people have fewer avenues to connect with communities abroad if they only have access to a splintered web. However, we have reason to be hopeful: civil society, notably activists and human rights defenders, have been advising policymakers, engaging in strategic litigation, and pushing the private sector to act. And, Freedom House research shows that multistakeholder efforts like these are yielding results. Since autocrats often learn from each other and use similar techniques to stifle online rights, there’s immense value in collaborating with regionally and internationally about ways to fight back.
To this end, on June 8 at 5:45 a.m. (CST), Freedom House will cohost the virtual RightsCon discussion “Digital repression and resilience across southeast Asia” with Freedom on the Net civil society partners Free Expression Myanmar and Manushya Foundation. We’ll talk about the latest developments related to censorship, surveillance, and digital repression across southeast Asia during this conversation, moderated by Freedom House’s Kian Vesteinsson. Panelists will share where they see opportunities to better protect human rights online—such as working through the regional #StopDigitalDictatorship coalition—and support human rights defenders who advocate for a free and open internet.
Strengthening digital security for rights defenders and journalists
Activists, human rights defenders, and journalists are still daily targets of digital repression. At RightsCon, Freedom House’s Human Rights Support Mechanism, which works to protect human rights defenders from these threats, is partnering with Internews to present SaferJourno, a guide on how to enhance these individual’s digital security. Freedom House and Internews will also discuss a separate framework we’re coproducing on integrating digital security support in human rights programming—a valuable element that can ensure at-risk individuals can safely continue their work of protecting rights and defending democracy.
We’re looking forward to RightsCon and hope these conversations and collaborations will strengthen existing partnerships and spur new opportunities in defense of a free and open internet.