How can we ensure the internet stays free, open, and secure?

That was the question addressed at the sixth annual RightsCon  — “the world’s leading event on the future of the internet.” More than a thousand participants representing human rights organizations, governments, academic institutions, NGOs, leading tech companies, and software developers from 100 countries gathered together to advance a global conversation on protecting freedom of expression online.

The diversity of attendees reflected an important principle in the internet freedom community: a multi-stakeholder, rights-based approach to internet governance is essential.  This model emphasizes the need for a diversity of stakeholders from the private sector, government, academia, human rights advocates, and civil society organizations, with an equal voice in how policy is shaped and implemented.

At the intersection of human rights and technology lies a battle for basic civil liberties.  At this intersection, you’ll find RightsCon attendees defending the right to express oneself freely online without fear of reprisal, to communicate privately with others, store sensitive personal data securely, and to ensure journalists can safely hold government officials accountable.  All of these are dependent on a free, open, and uncensored internet.

Internet shutdowns, which are intentional disruptions of the internet and mobile apps to control what people say and do, more than doubled globally between to 2015 and 2016, according to Access Now, the sponsor of RightsCon.   How to mitigate these shutdowns was also a major topic at this year’s RightsCon.

Internet Governance and Freedom

As part of its project activities on internet governance and freedom, Counterpart International sponsored a delegation to RightsCon, made up of researchers, academics, and journalists from Latin America.   Counterpart’s delegates participated in and conducted their own panel discussions, networked with their international peers, shared experiences from their home countries, and held more than a dozen bilateral meetings with others on the global frontlines of defending digital rights and internet policy — most notably with David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression.

Counterpart’s purpose in supporting the delegation to RightsCon was to amplify the voices of policy and rights advocates, particularly from the global south, who might not otherwise have the resources to attend global forums of this kind.  Our delegates came away from the conference with an expanded professional network of global activists, knowledge of lessons learned from other countries facing threats to internet freedom, and a network of resources they can draw upon as they advance their work back home.  Counterpart will continue to build partnerships and advise on initiatives that strengthen civil society’s ability to educate, advocate, and effect policy outcomes for a free and open internet.

The work of those attending RightsCon is now more important than ever.  The event’s thirteen thematic tracks demonstrate how we are all impacted by pervasive internet governance policy, the digital footprint we leave online, and technology  — no matter where we live.  As part of our diverse activities, Counterpart is proud to have played a role in supporting attendees to engage in this vital internet freedom and governance conversation to help advance a free, open, and accessible internet for all.

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