In his opening address at the Asia Pacific Regional Internet Governance Forum (APrIGF) 2016 in Taiwan, Markus Kummer, its Executive Coordinator, mentioned that for many years, the IGF sees itself as a forum for strategy but applies no pressure on itself to make decisions. There have been no tangible outcomes, only some recommendations to be pushed through some mechanisms such as the UN process. In short, the IGF is a forum for diplomacy.
With that in mind, some of the forum participants attended a discussion on the Right To Be Forgotten (RTBF), a concept initially discussed and implemented in the European Union and Argentina, and intended to allow individuals to "determine the development of their life in an autonomous way, without being perpetually or periodically stigmatized as a consequence of a specific action performed in the past."
The dialogue on RTBF included the perspectives of different stakeholders considering the impacts on access to information, the shifting of decision-making to technology companies, and the right of an individual to privacy and security. It aimed to go through the legal, technical, and societal implications of RTBF decisions for internet design, access, and use.
The session was also part of a global collaboration between academics, NGO researchers, and information professionals who came together to take a closer look at RTBF rulings around the world. They addressed challenges arising from the terminology and implementation of the rulings and how they are shaping a "New Internet Era".
I'd like to highlight some of the points brought up that I found of interest, especially from Prof. Kyung Sin Park from Korea, who asked about data ownership. Today, most of us are frankly unfamiliar with who or which entities actually own our online data. This includes all our status updates, images and audio files that have been uploaded to dozens of apps, services, and social media.
When talking about RTBF, Prof. Kyung added that we also should consider relevance. Public interest makes it relevant to fulfill the RTBF, because people are very diverse and the right can protect a person's past life and prevent discrimination based on it. The question was also raised on how we differentiate private identity with RBTF.
In another comment, Dr. Monika Zalnieriute from the University of Melbourne emphasized on the private sector and the government privatization of human rights. There is also the angle from which historians and librarians see issues with RTBF, in the sense that history must be protected so that it can be used by researchers.
Smita Vanniyar, Research and Communications Officer from the Indian organisation Point of View, complained against the real name policy that has been advocated by Facebook. From civil society's perspective, especially people with different sexual identities and orientations, some of whom have dual identities need protection from societal threats. People who are queer, for example, are in need of both the freedom of expression and the freedom of sexual expression.
At the end of discussion, almost all of the participants came to an agreement that the right to be anonymous is similar and equal to other human rights, and there should not be any rights are more or less limited than another.
Video streams and thematic summary reports from IGF 2016 are available here.
The aftershock of Snowden’s revelations seems to have died down. Other than a few more journalists who are now using encrypted emails, nothing much has changed. Security experts are still juggling terms such as SecureDrop, TOR, PGP and many more, but just how many media professionals are paying attention to them?
Journalists around the globe are increasingly being harassed, censored, monitored or even worse, have been stopped from doing their work. According to Reporters Without Borders, 35 journalists have been killed and 167 others imprisoned in 2016 alone.
However, according to our work in the field, we note that the threats faced by journalists are mostly related to local actors and not some form of high-level surveillance. Local thugs, mayors, politicians and landlords have shown themselves to be the most common enemies.
At the same time, the tools used to conduct these acts of surveillance are becoming cheaper and easier to obtain and use. So while journalists should discuss and investigate larger issues, they should pay more attention to their local challenges.
There's also this new phenomena, where journalists are finding it very difficult to protect their sources, the people who are providing them data and information. Journalists need to be more careful about their digital footprints and the kinds of information they are releasing in stories. They also need to do more to protect their research, data, electronic devices, work spaces, and on/offline identities.
With regards to digital security in the office, a few key questions need to be answered:
- What is the protocol for using encrypted emails?
- Who will people refer to if there are security issues?
- How will they contact this expert or reliable individual?
- Do they live in a country where encryption is outlawed?
Journalists are also currently using more chat applications in their smart phones than laptops. Here, it’s important that they choose between Whatsapp and Signal, which are already equipped with end-to-end encryption, making them far more secure than free-service email, with Whatsapp looking to soon integrate fingerprint verification. Beyond these tools, are they even using secure passwords? Knowledge in creating better passwords is actually just as, if not more important, than using complex applications.
Most importantly, addressing all the above issues requires a change in behavior towards security, which is usually the hardest to achieve. The journalists of the world will hopefully not have to see another prominent victim like Snowden for that to happen.