When it comes to protection of human rights online, Latin America is a complicated region. Some governments have taken bold steps to safeguard digital rights, with Brazil passing the “Marco Civil da Internet,” a ground-breaking civil rights framework for the internet, and Chile banning zero rating practices which violate Net Neutrality principles. Yet numerous challenges remain for protecting free expression and privacy online, as well as for connecting the unconnected.
At the end of July Access Now participated in the Latin American Internet Governance Forum (LACIGF9), which took place in Costa Rica. There, we discussed a wide range of digital rights issues with our local partners, as well as representatives from government, the technical community, and the private sector, to prepare for the global IGF that will take place in December in Guadalajara, Mexico.
This year, topics discussed at LACIGF included cybersecurity, Net Neutrality and connectivity, intermediary liability, the balancing of intellectual property rights and access to knowledge, and human rights online. All of the participants — panelists and audience members alike — contributed to the discussion, sharing insight about their countries and communities to collaboratively develop a regional agenda for internet governance.
The meeting was especially important for Access Now because it took place in San Jose, where our Latin American office and most of our regional team is located. We are excited to continue to strengthen our connections throughout the region.
Below, we share details about the sessions we participated in, our Digital Security Clinic at LACIGF9, the joint civil society statement on digital rights in Latin America, and what’s next in the lead-up to the global IGF in Mexico.
Digital rights and development: Can we leverage the internet to address inequality?
From the opening of the conference, which featured Costa Rica’s vice-president, Ana Helena Chacónthe, the debates were marked by the theme of connecting digital rights and the fight against inequality. This is a critically important in Latin America, since it is still the most unequal region in the world, socially and economically. There were also repeated calls for inclusivity in discussions about internet policy, and, encouragingly, significant participation by women in the panels.
We were excited to be invited to take part in some of the discussion panels to develop this year’s IGF topics. Javier Pallero, Access Now’s policy analyst for Latin America, joined a panel on Network Neutrality and connectivity, and bought up the link between regulatory proposals to tackle the digital divide and the need to protect free expression through Net Neutrality. Panelists raised the issues of zero rating policies and Over the Top (OTT) regulation, with participation by representatives from national governments, civil society, and the internet and telecommunications industries.
Daniel Bedoya, the incident response manager for Access Now’s Digital Security Helpline, joined a panel on Costa Rican perspectives on the internet, helping to identify the remaining challenges for implementing the government’s high-level policies on accessibility, Net Neutrality, digital security, and freedom of expression. In his presentation, Daniel used real-world examples to illustrate the distance between current policies and the reality of people’s daily lives, stressing that there is a need for mechanisms that respond to the digital security concerns that affect civil society activists.
For a look at the videos and reports from all of the sessions, visit the official LACIGF website.
A digital security clinic for all attendees
In addition to participating in the panels and other conference activities, our Costa Rica team held a Digital Security Clinic. Our helpline experts answered participants’ digital security questions, and provided guidance on incident prevention, secure communications, and risk management, with a particular focus on local activists and users at risk. This was the second time we’ve held a digital security clinic at an LACIGF.
We also co-hosted a social event with our partner Fundación Acceso to welcome regional civil society activists to Costa Rica, offering local food, drinks, and, of course, some nice Latin music! This informal meeting was an excellent opportunity for us to hear from our friends and partners about the challenges they face when defending digital rights locally.
The way forward: the struggle for digital rights in Latin America continues
Last year, at the 2015 LACIGF, civil society issued a statement identifying challenges for internet governance in Latin America. Unfortunately, many of those challenges remain. There have even been serious setbacks to digital rights in Brazil, Paraguay, and Peru, among other countries.
In response, civil society organizations issued a statement right after this year’s event to raise awareness about the worrying issues still in play. The document, available in Spanish here, provides concrete examples that illustrate the state of human and digital rights in different countries in the region. It also expresses concerns about a possible limitation on Mexican civil society participation in the IGF that will take place in Guadalajara next December, and demands that the IGF maintain its multistakeholder character, and respect different points of view. This statement has strong support, with almost 40 organizations from 14 countries signing on.
Our goal is to ensure that the governments that attended the regional forum listen to our concerns, and set up a pathway for creating human rights-based policies. We will remain vigilant, watching for action on key issues in the lead up to the global internet governance forum in Mexico. Stay tuned.