2011 - Update II: Internet rights and democratisation

Global Information Society Watch (GISWatch) is an annual report focusing on issues affecting information societies around the world.

GISWatch 2011 looked at internet rights and democratisation, with a focus on freedom of expression and association online. This Special Edition picks up where GISWatch 2011 left off, analysing more than 60 country and thematic reports in order to better reveal and build understanding of the broad range of practical actions and strategies that activists are developing.

Five clear themes emerge. The first is a strong emphasis on the need for collaborative networking, online and offline, to build multi-stakeholder engagement that can contribute to protection of internet-related human rights. Key ingredients include building a collaborative network structure, effective engagement with internet rights issues, network diversity, open network infrastructure, clear roles and responsibilities, and connection to offline mobilisation.

Connected to this theme is the finding that although the internet is increasingly used as a space for dialogue and debate, democratic participation has not yet been fully realised and many groups remain marginalised both offline and online. There is a need to link online and offline democratic networks to build more meaningful and effective participation and to generate better internet-related public policy.

A third theme is that advocacy efforts are most effective when based on robust evidence and research, but that there are research and information gaps in many areas, which may hinder activists’ advocacy campaigns and drive the need for innovative awareness-raising strategies.

The continuing emergence and evolution of threats to internet freedoms is a major theme from the 2011 GISWatch reports, particularly around intellectual property laws, content filtering, cyber crime laws and anonymity. Strategies to resist these threats vary widely, but share a common element of being grounded in human rights and the use of rights to fight for wider social justice issues such as the need for the rule of law, affordable quality internet access, and freedom of expression. New forms of resistance are also emerging – for example, developing strategies for secure online communication to protect freedom of expression and freedom of association, including anonymity, particularly for women’s human rights defenders.

The fifth theme that arose out of the 2011 GISWatch reports was that in many countries, internet rights advocates have clear, positive policy programmes.

They seek to advance their objectives through concrete proposals in national and global policy spaces and through a mix of both online and offline strategies and actions. The policy proposals developed by local internet rights advocates are shaped by social, economic, environmental, political and other factors, but share commonalities.

These include an emphasis on multi-stakeholder internet policy-making processes; coherence; a balanced approach to internet policy that responds to national contexts while also linking to global policy issues; and an emphasis on innovation in remedies for internet rights violations.

The GISWatch 2011 reports highlighted a wide array of internet rights issues. We hope that this Special Edition will assist activists, civil society groups, human rights defenders, women’s human rights defenders and others, as well as the donors who fund them, to better understand the most effective strategies for practical resistance to threats to internet freedoms and the steps being taken to develop a positive internet rights and public policy agenda.

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