Access Now at the Internet Governance Forum: A full agenda

Bad technology policies are crafted behind closed doors. Good policies, on the other hand, are often created with input from a diverse array of participants – everyone from technologists to activists to companies and government representatives. Pluralistic, transparent, and inclusive policy making and norm building is key to the future of the internet and it’s why Access Now promotes this approach across all our work.

This week, we’ll be traveling to the 10th annual Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in João Pessoa, Brazil from November 10-13. The IGF is a pluralistic space for discussion, networking, knowledge sharing, and capacity building for internet activists, and Access Now has been to every IGF since 2010. It’s not a cheap trip for nonprofit advocates, but it’s an important one to make.

We’ll be contributing to IGF across a number of pressing issues. On November 10, also called “Day One,” we’ll hold a summit on zero rating, the practice whereby telcos provide internet services that are not counted against data caps. The most well known example is Facebook’s Internet.org, recently renamed Free Basics, which gives new internet users access to mobile apps such as the BBC and Wikipedia in developing countries. People around the world – including, notably, India – have pushed back against the initiative, citing concerns about Net Neutrality violations, threats to privacy, and security risks – as have we at Access Now. We’re encouraged that Facebook has listened to many of these concerns and made important improvements, but all parties have more to learn about zero rating. At the summit, we’ll discuss the latest research about zero rating practices and work with numerous parties to find an equitable path forward.

Countries throughout Latin America have been confronting a number of unique challenges to digital rights, such as data retention in Paraguay, surveillance in Brazil, criminal defamation in Ecuador, and cybersecurity throughout the region. We’ll meet with our partners in the region and discuss new frontiers for RedLatAm, the Latin American learning and information-sharing network that we help to coordinate.

Technology companies continue to shape the human rights landscape around the world. As such, we’ll join our friends at the Open Technology Institute to help launch the Ranking Digital Rights project, an exciting venture that seeks to score tech companies across a variety of metrics. The first report, which you can find here, shows that every company has a lot more work to do to respect digital rights.

Our Access Grants program, which we recently established with the support of the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA), is sponsoring Disco-Tech João Pessoa 2015. “Disco-Techs” are informal evening events designed to bridge the gap between technical and political solutions to attacks on internet rights and freedoms. The Association for Progressive Communications and Tactical Technology Collective will host informal discussions in a comfortable setting, with stimulating short presentations. The topic of the evening will be anonymity, which increasingly impacts freedom of expression and privacy online.

This year, U.N. member states declared that access to the internet should become part of the post-2015 Global Goals for Sustainable Development, which will guide U.N. and international development for the coming decade. Correlated to these goals is the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), which is at an important crossroads as stakeholders attempt to enshrine human rights within the U.N. internet development agenda. We’ll be participating in WSIS events at IGF both on- and off the official program to strengthen, and renew, IGF through the WSIS review process; to link the IGF and WSIS outcomes to the Sustainable Development goals; and to solicit feedback on the WSIS review document ahead of the High Level Summit in New York in December.

We’ll also be directly engaged in providing security to participants. Our Digital Security Helpline will host a clinic to offer free, walk-in advice to participants at IGF. The Helpline can examine devices for malware or tracking, and equip users at risk with secure communications tools such as encrypted email – a pressing need now that international communications are routinely surveilled by governments around the world. As David Kaye, the U.N. Special Rapporteur for freedom of expression and freedom of opinion, explained in his landmark paper, encryption is a crucial technology that underpins the digital economy and also enables the full panoply of human rights.

Civil society groups should not have to gobble up the crumbs after other stakeholders have devoured the main course. We’re wary of events originally designed to include civil society using tactics to exclude it. The problem with closed door meetings is that they lack accountability, and such meetings undermine a people-centered process of internet development. For that reason, it’s important that IGF and similar events have transparent processes for choosing official panels.

Finally, we’d like to wish our colleagues at APC a very happy 25th anniversary.

IGF will be a whirlwind. When it’s all over, we aim to continue many of these conversations at RightsCon, our signature conference that will be held in Silicon Valley in March. Submissions are now open, and we encourage you to submit your proposal to help shape the conversation. We also invite you to follow us at IGF on Twitter or Facebook.