Know Your Digital Rights

Posted June 27, 2014 from Syrian Arab Republic
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I was invited to participate as a mentor for a group of Arab youths in an Internet Governance training held in Beirut - Lebanon at the beginning of June 2014. The training covered a number of issues from Internet Governance in general, laws related to freedom of expression and the right to privacy, and Intellectual Property rights. One of my tasks was to give a presentation about the Syrian Electronic Army, a group of collective hackers that hacked into Syrian activists' accounts and stole their information. As I was asked to be a mentor, my WP beloved mentor and friend Sarah Whitten-Grigsby was on my mind, and she urged me to share what I have learned and accomplished.

One of the questions that attracted my awareness is how much we are aware of our digital rights. Nowadays, we usually take logging into internet for granted without giving it much thought. Many of us today are connected, we comment on different subjects, advocate, apply for job and study opportunities, share our experiences and come together with people we might never met in person. Internet became a tool for empowerment and freedom, but at the same time disempowerment when it is controlled, limited and monitored. In order to be more effective as masses online to advocate and be active in causes that matter to us, we need to empower our navigating through the cyberspace, and know our rights online. During the sessions in Beirut, I learned the following rights are vital for a free and productive usage of the internet.

1- Freedom of Expression

Of course, the internet is all about the freedom of expression, having the right to speak out and be part of an open dialogue, to seek ideas and receive information. This includes the protection of any medium used for speech -or expression- including the internet.

2- The Right to Privacy

The right to privacy is your right to share or not share any personal information online. In many countries laws state that privacy is the right to not be subjected to unsanctioned invasion of privacy by governments, corporates or individuals. This includes the right to remain anonymous online to protect personal safety.

3- Freedom of Association

For Instance, Twiter is a huge platform for association where millions of people gather to spread news. Likewise, World Pulse is a platform for women association and women all around the world must have the right to gather online and share their visions and perspectives. Forming a group on Facebook, closed or open, to exchange ideas and regulate activities on the ground is also one way for association. The right of protesting online, something we Syrians did in many occasions when a group of people spread the word in many social platforms defining a certain time for all participants to take a digital stand by writing demands and denunciation.

4- Universality and Equality

Internet as a tool for empowerment and shaping the present and future, must be accessible for all regardless age, color, gender, ethnic and religious persuasion.

5- Internet as a tool for protecting human rights and Social Justice

World Pulse for example, is a social tool to demand women rights, empower women and strengthen their voices to achieve the goal of advancing social justice.

6- The Right of Education

This includes digital illiteracy to enable people use the internet according to their needs.

7- The Right to Development

Capacity building is part of it. Using the internet to improve the well-being of populations or individuals.

8- Network equality

Everyone should be able to log in online freely, without discrimination, filtering information or blocking internet traffic on commercial, political or other grounds.

9- Standards and Regulations

"The Internet’s architecture, communication systems, and document and data formats shall be based on open standards that ensure complete interoperability, inclusion and equal opportunity for all." ¹

10- Internet Governance

The question of Internet Governance (IG) was first initiated at the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) in Geneva 2003 and Tunis 2005 during which the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) was established and defined IG as: ‘The development and application by governments, the private sector, and civil society, in their respective roles, of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures, and programes that shape the evolution and use of the Internet.'

We may say that Internet Governance includes all the former 9 rights. Unfortunately, many governments in the Middle East and North Africa still believe that governance here means reinforcing governments' control over the web rather than shaping it with other parties especially the civil societies.

Knowing my digital rights made me realize how crucial to defend digital freedom if we need internet to be a tool for change.

¹ IGMENA campaign Know Your Rights.

WWW: Women Weave the Web

Comments 7

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Iffat Gill
Jun 29, 2014
Jun 29, 2014

Greetings Humming Bird,

So glad to hear about the Internet Governance training you were part of in Beirut. It is very important for everyone to be aware of their digital rights and learn about protecting themselves, their privacy and personal information in the online world.

Thank you for sharing your learning with the WP community!

Kind regards,

Jun 30, 2014
Jun 30, 2014

Dear Iffat, thank you for reading my post and for your reply. I am glad that you found it useful.

much love and respect, Hummingbird

Jul 05, 2014
Jul 05, 2014

This is a fantastic piece, Hummingbird and extremely informative! We often don't realize how important it is to be informed and aware of our rights online. I completely agree with you that internet is a great tool for empowerment, particularly for connecting and sharing ideas, establishing equality, developing literacy skills, protesting online, demanding more rights and reforms, but, as you said, quite rightly, it can a means of control and oppression if abused by governments who do not believe in the right for people to stand up and express their opinions about the policies and politics of a country. As more and more people are learning about governments' use of the internet to gather information about their citizens, we are seeing the negative impact that the internet can have on our lives. Internet Governance should be followed by all governments and the right to privacy should be respected. This is why we must continue to fight for our right to privacy, greater equality, freedom of expression online. I commend you for your great article. I 'm sure that the Arab youth in Lebanon were really inspired by your trainings and learned a lot from you! Keep up the great work!

Jul 05, 2014
Jul 05, 2014

Dear Lea,

I am really happy that my article is lifting up the awareness of internet users. People must pay attention to what they are doing, they must be part of shaping one of the most important and powerful tools in our age, not just remain users. Thank you for your encouraging words.

Love and respect to you my sister.

Jul 08, 2014
Jul 08, 2014

Dear Hummingbird,

I learnt something new today. Network equality. Someone like me logging in from Lagos in Africa sure knows how annoying all those slow connections can be when you just have important things to email or upload. Definitely an area we need to see to if we are serious about access to internet/information/services.

Best regards, Osai

Jul 18, 2014
Jul 18, 2014

Dear Hummingbird,

Thank you for sharing about your recent mentorship experience with Arab youth and for teaching us here at WorldPulse about the different avenues of internet governance.

I'm particularly struck by the opportunities that exist to to protest electronically by mobilizing our voices across social media platforms rather than escalating violence with guns and tear gas. Where there is the freedom to do so, using our digital voices to catalyze change is an amazing power!

Thank you for clearly listing out ways that Internet usage and access should be promoted in healthy ways for all! Freedom of expression, Right to Privacy, Freedom of Association, Universality and Equality, Internet as a tool for protecting human rights and Social Justice, the Right of Education, The Right to Development, Network Equality, Standards and Regulations, and Internet Governance… all of these provide different ways of thinking about our connections.

With young leaders like you promoting responsible internet usage and the breakdown of unnecessarily strict governmental controls, I have a great sense of of encouragement for the future of our world!

All best wishes from an American sister, Kristie

Tan Ching
Jul 30, 2014
Jul 30, 2014

Whenever I read of some stories in world pulse, it always motivates me to think what else I can do, even as a ordinary ( average ) citizen so that we, women can raise our heads higher as we stand on par, as fellow human beings...though we may be physically weaker due to gender but we can still do so much more, for humanitarian issues , as volunteers, activists or professionally to excel in our fields. To show that women are just as good in Maths, Sciences, engineering.

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