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