Feminist reflection on internet policies

Changing the way you see ICT

IGF 2012: Day two in room four

Katerina Fialova
Katerina Fialova on 23 November, 2012 - 11:41
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Katerina Fialova is coordinator of the GenderIT.org. She lives in Czech Republic.
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Day Two in Room Four

What I most value about the IGF is that thanks to its multi-stakeholder principle, it widens my perspective on pressing internet governance issues. However, all three sessions I attended on day two in room number four, while talking about human rights, failed to include women’s rights perspective. Women internet users are important stakeholder and it is evident that even after six years of existence IGF still fails to engage them in equal footing with other stakeholders.

Each workshop dealt with the issues of freedom of expression, privacy and security, but each of them in a very different manner.

Balancing freedom or expression with privacy and safety

The two morning workshops looked at how to balance freedom or expression with privacy and safety. The first was framed around a new UNESCO publication that maps current regulations of internet privacy from the viewpoint of freedom of expression, including legal remedies and self-regulatory guidelines.

The session started by looking into the history of privacy protection which emerged with the start of photography. So, privacy protection was always technology related, and the history shows that new technology will always bring new challenges. Current technology such as clouds, mics built into machines we always carry with us, search engines and social networking, all these generate an enormous amount of personal data and extend the reach of the information that corporations, governments and other users can find, information about our relationships, habits, behaviour or bodies. This ‘oil of the 21st century’ is mined and controlled by a handful of powerful private sector actors.

It was shame that the peer to peer privacy threats generated by this amount of personal data was only mentioned by a Google representative. The lack of gender perspective was even more striking in relation to the recommendations presented on how to balance freedom of expression and privacy online among which was listed that one should chose the right which best embodied the public interest. This makes it seem like there is a unified public interest – to whose or which public interest are they refering? Would women or sexual minority groups’ interest ever be prioritized?

(see whole workshop transcript here)

The second session built on the first workshop with a focus on safety of online media actors. One of the panelists highlighted that the impunity of threats to journalists is one of the worst forms of censorship. More than 50 journalists have been killed this year (by the end of November). Of those journalists killed 39 were online writers and bloggers. Non-state actors especially organized groups are behind a number of these killings. UNESCO is thereby calling on states to also actively defend online freedoms, which includes ensuring the safety of journalists.

However, the gender component was again missing. No person raised the issue of women online writers being frequently harassed online on the basis of their sex or sexuality. Although the joint declaration on crimes against freedom of expression released early this year by OSCE, UNHCR, OAS, and ACHPR (that urges governments to recognize the seriousness of crimes against journalists and others who seek to share information; to fulfil obligations to prevent and prohibit such crimes, and to protect journalists as well as their families; to conduct independent, speedy and effective investigations into such crimes; and to provide redress for victims) states that there is a “particular challenges and danger faced by women exercising their right to freedom of expression, and denouncing gender specific crimes of intimidation including sexual assaults, aggression and threats” and calls for the specialised programmes that “should include a range of protection measures, which should be tailored to the individual circumstances of the person at risk, including his or her gender, need” and “appropriate training on crimes against freedom of
expression, including gender specific crimes” for relevant law enforcement officials.

It was highlighted by one of the participants that it is important not to get hooked up by the question of who is a journalist and who is not. Could this be translated as meaning that everyone expressing their views online can fall within this net of protection?

(see whole workshop transcript here)

Aspects of identity

The last session was supposed to be on aspects of identity. It was a completely imbalanced session not only in terms of gender, but also from a regional or a civil society perspective. The organizers of this workshop clearly fail to uphold the multistakeholder principle which lies at the heart of the IGF.

Some of the statements made here included that:

? anonymity and privacy is not a same thing.

While many participants were nodding, I am not sure I agree. I find it hard to distinguish or imagine one without the other. Even according to wikipedia.org: anonymity “refers to the state of an individual’s personal identity, or personally identifiable information, being publicly unknown”.  Privacy is “the ability of an individual or group to seclude themselves or information about themselves and thereby reveal themselves selectively”.

Moreover why do we need to distinguish between them, and more importantly what consequences does it have to make this distinguished. This was reinforced by the next question/statement raised by one of the session participants and affirmed by the panellists:

? who needs to retain anonymity in a democratic country?

Hey, I do!
when I go to vote
when I do search on some personal health issues of myself or my family members
when I wander through streets

But most important, anonymity is critical for many people living in ‘democratic’ countries because of threats and violations they may face because of their sexual, gender, racial identity or because of the views they express.

? we should not worry much about surveillance cameras and monitoring of our online activities… they are only used to track ‘ bad guys’?

Yet another statement which I had problems with, mentioned in response to a privacy issue raised by one session participant who was concerned about her id card being required when she wants to use an internet cafe in India.

Almost on a monthly basis we read about cases where someone’s private data has been leaked or misused. In one of the earlier sessions, there was, for example, mention of a case from South Korea where personal information of at least 85% of internet users in Korea had been stolen several years ago, and by then there was real name legislation forced by government. Having your real identity attached to these data make them particularly valuable and attractive. Or how the cases I have heard of cellphone sellers providing/selling young women’s phone numbers to male clients? How can we trust that data collected about us, our movements and communication will not be abused by government or other parties, regardless of how ‘good’ we are?

(see whole workshop transcript here)

 

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