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Confronting an Authoritarian Internet – Voices from the Frontlines: Panel 1

Confronting an Authoritarian Internet – Voices from the Frontlines: Panel 1


I’m thrilled to welcome you here today. I
am thrilled to be joining you in hearing from our partners from around the world
and the speakers today. We at Internews are so privileged to work with the
dynamic and courageous civil society leaders across the globe who are on the
front lines of the future of the Internet, and today is about those
leaders. Everyone in this room knows that the internet is not a luxury anymore.
It’s the backbone of all communications, of all the information, that we create,
consume, and share. The Internet is critical to realizing both our rights
and the lifestyles that we hold so dear. Expression, association, privacy, health,
education, work, science, and culture. That’s why after more than two decades,
Internews supported partners around the world to demand, build, and protect a safe,
open interoperable Internet for all. And today that promise and potential of an
Internet depends on the work of local actors all over the world; on their
ability to fight for their rights; on their ability to design technological
solutions to keep connected to an uncensored Internet; on their ability to
guide communities and human rights defenders and journalists in a civil
society to stay safe online. Today we’re going to examine the realities of this
world that we’re living in where regrettably digital authoritarianism is
on the rise. But we are fortunate to hear from the leaders who are helping change
that from Uganda, Cameroon, Nigeria, India, Chile, and Colombia, who are all going to
illuminate the impact of digital authoritarianism, but more importantly
explain to us and share with us the technological and policy solutions
they’re bringing to fight it. I want to thank each of our panelists in advance
today for traveling so far and joining us. I want to thank Google for generously
hosting this entire event and the reception that follows. I want to thank
the US State Department for their generous support of this work over the
years. And I want to thank all of you for your time and your attention and your
insights as part of this conversation. I really am looking forward to the
conversation we’re gonna have so let’s get started. Our first panel is going to introduce some of those first hand accountings of
what it feels like to live with digital authoritarianism and how to fight it.
It’s going to be moderated by Mieke Eoyang, Vice President of the National Security
Program and Chairperson of the cyber enforcement initiative at the global
think tank Third Way and, importantly, Internews board member. Mieke, you come in and you’ll introduce the panel. Thanks everyone. If I could have my panelists join me on
stage please. Hi everyone I’m Mieke Eoyang. As Jeanne said I’m the vice president of
the national security program at Third Way. I will introduce our panelists. Most
importantly, here for the purposes of today I’m a board member at Internews.
I joined the board in November of 2016, which, as you can imagine, was a
pivotal moment in Internews’ fight against authoritarianism on the Internet.
And I have to say that, when I joined the board, it was one of the most inspiring
things that I had ever done in the wake of the 2016 election – was to learn about
the work that Internews was doing around the world. And I’m very pleased to
be here with some of Internews’ value partners globally. And I will start here
to my left with Gbenga Sesan. And I apologize if I get the name wrong – as
someone whose name is complicated to spell and pronounce, I am always
sensitive that. Gbenga is the executive director at the Paradigm
Institute in Nigeria. We have next to him Maria Paz Canales who is a Chilean
lawyer who joined us and flew in today, so we appreciate that, and Mishi Chaudhary
who is the managing partner at a law firm and the legal director for the
Software Freedom Law Center, and John Canfield who is the director of the
digital, sorry, Global Technology Strategy at Internews and works with a lot
of our partners on these issues. So let’s start with sort of a kickoff question.
I think in the United States it’s always a little difficult for us to understand
what authoritarianism really feels like because we live
a relatively free society where people say all kinds of things on the Internet
and we are really committed to freedom of the press. So I’d like each of our
panelists to talk a little bit about the missions of their organization, but also
give a few specific examples of how authoritarianism manifests in their work
and how that feels in the countries in which they work. Gbenga,
would you like to start? I don’t have a choice, do I? All right, so Paradigm Initiative started as you know a social enterprise that was
just interested in training young people on how to get to know more about the
Internet, about computers, and be able to improve their chances that, you know,
getting a job or just getting a better life. But somewhere along the
line, we realized the important of policy because you can train as many young
people as you want, but if the policy environment is wrong, then what you’re
just doing is just you know raising a bunch of people who will get
disappointed eventually. So we started working in policy and now we’re very
focused on digital rights and and that that is built on the fact that we see
across the countries we work in, you know, across the continent right now, we see a
climate of fear where people are focused on what would happen to me if I say X Y
Z? And and so there’s a climate of fear – not just journalists, not just in
opposition. And what we what we see right now is – if you as an individual, if you
say something that you know a senior government official considers something
they don’t want to hear, then literally you are opposition. You’re questioning
the almighty institution which you know which is weird.
But on the other side is we’re looking at the opportunity to focus on the
Internet as a platform for innovation. It would interest you: all of the countries
we work in have digital strategists. They want to build smart cities. They want
broadband penetration to get to 60%. But, at the same time, the new policies that
have been introduced are literally like you’re inviting someone who’s very
hungry to the dining table to come and eat, but then you poison
the food, you know. And that’s exactly where we come in. There’s that
climate of fear, but there’s that opportunity for innovation and we
we hope that we can steer the conversation on action, you know, towards – I was gonna say to us the right – but that that would have certain meanings in this
room and in this country at this time. So, just say towards this direction. So that’s
that’s…but what we see in terms of the expression and the manifestation of
…you know, I’m African. Authoritarianism and dictatorship is something that now when
people talk about it elsewhere in the world, we look at it and say “oh welcome
to the club,” because, I mean I was born into a military dictatorship. I went
to school and I literally was introduced into Student Union activism because that
was the only way…I mean you either were a student who was serious and
studying and thinking about the future or you were conscious about the fact that
there’s a military dictator that is deciding everything for you. So you were
literally born for, born into activism. So I think it’s, for us, it’s a
continuation and it’s a translation of what we saw on the ground to a new
platform, to the Internet. We saw this all the time when newspapers published
articles, two things could happen – the government could seize copies of these
newspapers before 6:00 a.m. or a benevolent dictator could buy all the
copies of the newspapers. I mean that was a nice version of, you know, of control
then, but now it’s it’s a new platform. That was when yesterday’s news was
published today. Now the conversation is alive. I see something I don’t like, I can
talk about it in a moment. I can share digitally, you can get viral and
things like that. So we now see you know scenarios where we’ve moved from
governments you know trying to shut down the internet it’s not very sexy to shut
down anymore so you can easily just throttle you know you can slow it down
because no one would know the difference between the internet you’re slowing down
and the internet that people already call plug and play you guys are used to
plug on pay you know program play around here you just go on the BW or something
calm and you’re browsing but we talked about plug-and-play like you
type www-what ever.com and you’re praying oh my god let it connect very
quickly and it starts buffering and things like that so you can tell the
difference there are new laws and and you know and and this is what we’ve seen
there’s there’s a certain set of you know sophisticated you know measures
like new legislation that sound very great you know in some countries and
Tanzania Kenya you’ve got introductions of laws that will help that country make
more money but guess what it’s not about the money that the
country is going to make it’s about how to silence the new opposition which I
individuals who are conscious of what should be said and say them online so
interesting maria-paz in Latin America there’s also there’s a history fairly
recently of military dictatorships but as the Latin American countries
transition to democracy how are you guys experiencing authoritarianism what is
changing for you someone coming from Chile right now it’s going to a very
difficult situation I feel that this is at the same time a very inspiring moment
to talk about this topic the same that giving I was describing about Africa
Latin America characterized by a past of dictatorship and outer iteration and we
thought for a short period of time during the last 15 20 years that we were
walking away from this trend but sadly what we see right now is that out early
tourism came in very different flavors so before it was like something that
used to be regarded as an issue of how the world was divided and the political
trends that were dominating the global discussion and today we see that again
we are being kind of caught in this idea logic fight but different from the past
is not so easy to determine from which side out the return is coming because
currently in like in America we can see out
regionalism coming from from from the right and from the left and maybe the
way in which the outer is manifest it could be different in terms of the local
realities and the ideologies that are behind but the consequences for the
people are pretty much the same and if we look like deeper inside the causes of
the of the outer innocent and we are seeing in our region they’re all very
linkit with structural issues of our our region structural inequalities
structural deficiencies in the way in which democracies try to develop in the
recent time so what we we can see from the digital perspective not only from
the internet but from what the digital technologies can contribute for make
this better or making worse depending on which side you look at and how you try
to implement these technologies is that in many cases sadly these technologies
have been developed in our region with a very good purpose but not having a deep
enough understanding how are they unintended consequences of the logging
of these technologies so for example in the case of surveillance technologies
that have been something that has been implemented intensively in the recent
years many cases these surveillance technologies have been developed with
with very fair and good purposes which are have more digital sorry more safety
public safety or improve the efficiency in which the state and the government
can provide better services to the citizens to address these issues of any
quality that I was talking before but the reality is that when you live in
this context that I was described it at the beginning in
Altaria tourism it’s at the run of the corner the difficulty of implementing
these technologies even if you do it with very good intention at the
beginning to address these real very real issues the problem is that you
never know when these technologies can go and hand of people that will use them
not for the original purposes but rather for controlling people that can try to
present different views or in general to develop social control and try to shut
down opposition when things are going in in our operator union way so in general
the activism that directors digitalis had conducted since it was born almost
15 years ago started also I was mentioning working in in the public
policy realm because we understood that even in many cases the technology had
been welcomed in our region with a lot of optimism we thought since the very
beginning that we need to apply a critical view in how and where and why
these technologies are being implemented and we are in a society organization in
the position to try to shed some light in which could possibly go wrong if the
circumstances of our country’s change because as I mention it many of this
technology had been deployed and implemented in the last years that were
in some say some saying like good years because we were in a democratic
environment and we thought we will keep it forever and the recent times in Chile
in Ecuador in Brazil just show that that’s not the case so what what we have
learned as organization and what we are doing supporting local groups working in
digital issues in different countries across the region is precisely to
strength the mechanism to speak up about what
could possibly go wrong with technology and how we should build the
implementation of technology that is well intended in a way that is resilient
and it cannot be misused after when we confront this after a tourism that we
are seeing now of course this is not a full solution because as I mentioned
before this is all linked it with structural problems so another thing
that we usually try to raise it’s precisely that in all the issues that we
confront as digital rights activists we shouldn’t lose sight that these are
directly connected with the fight for all human rights it’s not leader rights
are not separate right it’s only the way in which we fight for or for the
realization of all our human rights and all the programs that we run as a
digital rights activist should be very connected and she’ll have an element of
support for the traditional human right defense that is still very necessary to
confront some this structural problem that I mention it that if they are not
solving the Orientalism it will not go away and definitely will not go away
just because we are a failure using technology Thanks so mushy India
is the largest democracy in the world and also plays a huge role in
establishing you know technology standards and a place where a lot of
these rights are fought tell us a little bit about your mission and also how the
authoritarianism manifesting there sure so I I track I read somewhere and I
quote that person all the time I don’t know the person so it’s good to goad
them it’s like India’s and America are watching the same reality TV show
India’s just two seasons ahead and so thank you to in to news because they
started paying attention to India a much earlier than the others started paying
attention which is prior to 2016 they’re all what we are discussing today here
was already happening I have to say I am the founder of as a
fal’cie Dian an organization which is a legal services organization which is
like the Electronic Frontier Foundation which is where we got inspired from
started in 2009 I’m no longer the executive director I serve on the board
and their New Delhi base but they have offices in other places in India now I
think not just in India but another advanced societies governments courts
and the public is now facing or at least beginning to face their reckoning with
the extraordinary difficulties which are posed by presently existing social media
companies the like of the ones which we are sitting here they’re not social
media that party never started for them but other place other companies platform
companies who are now changing the human civilization and a very fundamental way
these companies surveil our daily social behaviour of real are male spy on our
social interactions and present edited news feeds and personalized advertising
keeping track of everything we read do etc and the government’s who have always
liked the desire which is universal the desire to control is universal do not
want to be left out in the party India’s a very attractive destination for a
variety of reasons our population is now a big thing once you are shut out from
China India is a much bigger market not to be left out it’s the largest market
for whatsapp right now it is a very big market to be attractive to platform
companies coming out of the US but that also means that the other actors in play
which is Indian companies the government of India also understands how that can
be used to leverage things for themselves this is a public event I’m
sure there consequences of everything you say and I do come from the largest
democracy I do not know what authority realism is because I’d never live
but this is different now because people who do live there
are watching a very different form of what can happen needless to say this
city and the country has ceded and vacated the moral high ground they used
to occupy which gives encouragement to a lot of people in other countries to say
well these people are never prepared they used to say a lot about free speech
expressions bla bla bla democratic values look
what’s happening in their country what prevents us from doing that so first
thing which is happening is co-opt the vocabulary say you believe in digital
rights say you BA believe in democracy free speech and expression and do
something completely opposite the institutions are going to be very well
and applauding whatever people do on the international stage look at what has
World Bank done to really ruin the entire way digital identity is done by
applauding something by coming up with really questionable methodology about
potential savings what India’s biometric identity system could do and then
advocating for it to be advocating it in to be exported to the rest of the vote
so so the first thing is as I say co-opt the vocabulary say we are doing it all
right India says the right to access Internet
is a non-negotiable fundamental right these are not my words these are the
words of the minister the Indian courts have said right to privacy is a
fundamental right then federal circuit courts have said that right to access
Internet is a fundamental right in 2019 India shut down Internet 78 times
already 350 times we have shut the internet since 2012 this is data
available at Internet shutdowns I on a project my organization started for
which now we have been asked to book under sedition laws of the country
because we maintained data and when you maintain data then people read that data
of people make their own conclusions about that data and there is no official
data but we go to the ground and confirm that
data with media reports etc reporting is a problem
the second thing how you do it is that free speech and expression and like so
there’s free speech and expression and there’s freedom of press
unlike the First Amendment here that’s not how India’s free speech free freedom
of press is not written in its constitution so the press is subjected
to the same kind of limitations which exists on free speech and expression for
the rest of the citizens in India now media can survive two ways in India one
you can just do the softball questions to the people in power not ask any
difficult questions always say pray pray always sing praises and to anybody who
questions anything you can always tell them leave the country and you don’t
leave you don’t like the country if you don’t like it just leave it you’re a
non-resident person you’re blah blah blah go to Pakistan or whatever or if
you’re in the other half of media who’s going to ask difficult questions then
you should be ready to suffer from the Enforcement Directorate from police
investigations from taxation investigations to stand the third thing
you do is people who run nonprofits and this is a major problem for the funders
the funders are always insisting assuming that what used to be pre 2016
us that kind of setup works everywhere this is a problem mostly in the US and
your Europe where everybody says you should be a non-profit you should be tax
exempt you should have all these things as history well guess what they take
away all the permissions you need the laws which you need to be compliant
think if you say anything or even if you ask a question you will not get the
permission to bring any funding inside and then you’re left on your own there’s
not going to be any support for this kind of work because you’re bringing in
cases to defend people somebody will say something on a Facebook page or a
Twitter or stand-up comedians a country which still has deforming criminal
defamation on its books it has sedition laws and a stand-up
comedian will say something the next day there will be
police complained about them and it is happening everyday so if there are
organizations who are going to put up lawyers we lawyers are expensive and if
you need if you’re going to need armies of lawyers to defend comedians movie
stars and just regular kids posting stuff on Facebook Twitter memes anything
because it’s going to be a problem for them and it’s Kafkaesque trials are a
real thing and they happen every single day and there is no real support for all
of that it’s a smart way to really make it impossible for people to work as on
rights from the government but if you’re a corporation then it’s a very different
different mechanism digital India is a real a very commendable project of the
government it’s amazing but if digital India means that we are going to use the
tools of technology to make sure that everybody has a biometric identity
blessed by mr. gates and the World Bank and then connect every other database
into a national intelligence grid and then also ensure that human rights need
to be defined and a little differently in the Indian context these are just
official statements not my statements and perhaps we need to see how the laws
work out then you’re actually talking about a surveillance system which the
world has continued to ignore what is happening to Viggers in one part of
China is coming to every other place it’s happening in various forms San
Francisco may not like facial recognition but everybody loves facial
recognition software in India it can help crime it can help a variety of
issues it’s an easy fix attorney general Barr statement about
encryption does not help any other country in one of the cases people who
are in courts in India they are going to cite all of this and say well look at
what he has said if it’s good for him why isn’t good for us
well Matt doesn’t work differently for good and bad guys but that’s where we
are today so on that happy note well I want to come back to a few things
here but first John inter News does work around the world not just in the
countries that were we’ve heard from today but all over the place how does
the organization balance its work thinking about individuals and the
protection of individuals in the face of authoritarianism and broader societal
change could you talk a little bit about that sure I mean I think in the word
world the words of my intersect people it depends it depends on what you’re
looking at and what’s happening and what are the trends and I think one thing
that is really starkly apparent from our other panelists this morning or this
afternoon now is that it’s equally risky to ignore the local context as it is the
global trends like every single point that we’ve heard about of pulling out
NGO registrations so making financial transfers or just existence or
organization more difficult to shut downs to you know different approaches
of censorship and throttling and being able to throttle the Internet and have
it really fuzzy about is this intentional or is this not and that’s a
very difficult area to talk to it’s a very difficult area to prove and all of
these are oh well they didn’t you know sign this form correctly therefore we’re
going to take their registration oh it’s just network congestion it’s not
censorship these are really difficult places to push back on but they’re
happening in so many of the different countries we look at in very different
flavors which is why the local context is absolutely important and cannot be
ignored but I think the global trends of seeing this in not only different
countries but all across the world in different regions Latin America Africa
but all those South East Asia also Mena also former Soviet states is here in
Europe like the same different approaches with the same as Maria
pointed out like the same impacts are happening they just have different you
know local flavors and local like defenses so that all being said it
dramatically depends I like to loosely bucket things and are we looking at what
is currently at open society with rule of law with
democratic values or practices how you will is it are a closed society where
advocacy is incredibly risky incredibly difficult or is it somewhere in between
is it closing our trends looking negative are you having to worry about
things a bit more and where is that going in the future or is it opening did
it just have a transformation in government and things are looking up
things are looking great in opening in open environments
obviously like protecting existing policies strengthening them building new
policies there are rights protecting that is the most valuable and overall
the long game is to build that resiliency framework in each country
enclosed you really have to worry about safety and security and working with
people who understand the context but also working with Jasper populations
giving them the tools and the training and the abilities they need it’s a sport
to do their work without putting them further at risk in closing I think
that’s one of the very like high energy areas if you will it’s both you haven’t
lost the ability to do advocacy you haven’t lost the ability to push back
against these things it’s critical moments that where you can do that but
at the same time you also to be respectful of their coming reality need
to start looking at digital safety and physical safety holistic safety all the
way around but how can you before it becomes illegal to do X or Y & Z build
those capacities ensure people have the ability to understand what internet
shutdown looks like how to circumvent it how to get around it or how to sustain
yourself throughout one whether it’s you know one day one hour 90 days or ongoing opening I think actually though is the
most interesting space because a lot of people will rush in and say hey let’s
open up everything you know the Sun is out we can be completely publicly can be
completely visible we can start up all of our greasy work we can push all this
it’s a it’s our open window and that can backfire
a lot of places we’ve seen open and then contract again with often very dire like
real-world problems so I think it’s a very careful standpoint in those places
of where’s this going how public are we willing to be what are the risk
tolerance in this area what can we do what what should we not do and how
should we have approached that again like all of these are deeply grounded
and you have to be working local you have to understand the context you have
to work with amazing partners like these to really understand what the heck is
actually going on as opposed to what you’re seeing what are the public
statements what are like you know random white dudes from DC saying about it
versus what’s actually going on on the ground um I want to come back to
something that me she raised in and John I’ll start with you on this you know the
u.s. is a really important role model in the global conversation and introduce
has long been supported by the US government but it feels like we are in a
real moment of change in the way that the u.s. is understood around the world
and it’s bigger than just one man in his tweets even if that man is the president
um we’re seeing you know we have
traditionally seen tremendous support from in Congress and in other places for
continuing to push for internet freedoms John can you talk a little bit about the
ways in which in turn OU’s has seen the continuation of US leadership in this in
in Internet freedom and places like that and what that has meant for the
organization for an organization like yours that’s doing work around the world
yeah I would say the the day-to-day and the the vision of the funders really has
not shifted dramatically and that’s the value of where played people like inter
news and the other implementers in our space are also able to have those
discussions here in DC and also help shape the direction and work with
partners to find out the the most valuable path moving forward so it like
obviously there’s massive sea changes at the political and visible level but I
would say there’s a lot of stability in terms of where the funding is coming
from who’s providing it who’s signing off on
and a kind of how it’s being shaped manga maria-paz talk a little bit about
this tension right because we have in the one levels tremendous stability in
the us support and programming but at the same time this political context has
changed a lot how do you experience these sort of conflicting tides on the
ground okay let me let me take you a few years back into a room in had the
Internet Governance forum so typically what happens at the you know those
global conversations is that Russia and China on the other side the u.s. is on
this side with a few other guys and it’s like everyone is pointing on China and
Russia and saying you’re the bad guys who do the bad things you know but this
particular IGF something interesting happened we had a roundtable the US
ambassador was on the table and someone from Russia and China you know made a
comment about Edward Snowden and said if Snowden was not American
you would have offered him asylum and you know that moment
people laughed but for me it was a shift it was a shift because that became the
bullet in many of our countries that became what my Minister in Nigeria for
example used in his public statement and said the u.s. does it the UK does it so
why are you saying it’s wrong and I think that you know you know we’ve had
conversations about this inside this room outside this room and things like
but that moral authority that the US had and it lost is a major major loss to
this walk that we do and I think that it is important yes there are institutions
that are still working towards that it’s important for us to have that
conversation and say listen there are things that have been demonstrated or
things that have been said that have not been helpful because they translate into
excuses don’t forget the country should walk in
you know I’ll give a very simple example of Tanzania where you know everyone
talking about Tanzania right now about now how you know the man the president
called a bulldozer as literally you know taking the country
in a direction where if your PR used to be and now if you appear seems to be
going you know the other way and many times you try to have that demand in
Tanzania in Rwanda the pushback is that you know what we’re doing this for the
good of the people and human rights is a Western concept and that that is a
dangerous argument to have especially when the examples you used to give about
the West now becomes a more complex you know conversation I think that you know
we need we need to face reality that the moral high ground that was lost now
provides a space where we can have really serious conversations about norms
and standards not about okay this country’s a standard but this actions
this you know nonce this principles are the standard and everyone should be out
of them should be held accountable based on those I think that these hard times
that we are living now also provide us very good opportunity and for me
precisely in the case of this kind of this alignment between what the
different founders coming from the us either diffident to be your the US
government support to the digital rights movement around the world could also
take in this difficult time as an opportunity to reconnect with some of
the fundamental issue that I was pointed out at the beginning like understand
that and the other rights need to be more connected with structural issues
around the world and I’m coming back to some of the fundamental discussion not
focusing so much in technical tools which are still useful and important but
connecting more to the underlying discussion of what we won those tools
provide us in terms of the values that we think that are important that at
least in our case I agree with what I mean I was mentioning it’s like
affirming the validity of the human right international standard so avoid
this like race to the bottom in terms to say that because it’s that it’s under
question here at a local level or severe under question an international level
and allowed this line of narrative that manga was mentioning that some of the
states around the world that want to go in the auditorium
but sorry and they are like using this as an argument if they are questioning I
am I am allowed to question also so I think that for us founders either
governmental feeling to be this a very big opportunity to go and support and
work in the issues related with digital technology with Internet freedom in
connection with these values with this fundamental values on traditional value
that they have been supporting also in the past but that in some moment I have
the feeling that they’ll the technical layer kind of disconnected as a student
separate conversation from from those structural problems I think that it
there is an urgent need to reconnect and in that sense I think that there is a
second layer that is more directed to the strategy within how we do that and I
think that in that sense we need to understand working in public policy
sorry in policy advocacy as a more diverse strategy that not only it’s
fighting against bad public policies coming directly from the government but
also to work more in other behind-the-scenes places in which are
important decisions are being made the decision about how to fund the
development of this technology that later used for auditorium purposes like
the investment and Development Bank to me she was mentioning about the the
biometric implementation sis the system implementation and all that kind of
conversational relate to the private sector like with the
huge centralization of services that we have now many of those decisions the
best place in which they can be challenged which also from its filing
policies like to the assessment and the work together between steel society and
private companies and and and use the international framework of Human Rights
to support the values that are relevant for civil society is increasingly a task
that is related to private companies that are the ones that have centralized
in the recent years the power related to internet and digital technology so I
think that also it’s it’s an opportunity to understand how the dynamic you should
be the working in public policy in from all the level from the local learning
each one of the country and to international is fear so Misha your
comments about the loss of US leadership in the space or spurted me to ask you is
there anyone out there that people hold up as a role model for digital freedom
and in combating this or is this a place where people are just fighting just as
one of your great leader said be the change they want to see in the world and
people are just trying to embody that as opposed to having a role model in the
space now that the u.s. is a little you know all over the place in terms of the
country I don’t know about freedom or what but there is a role model China is
a very good role model they’ve done economically very very well they are
getting into places where US has completely left the ground vacant and the market is cut cut it’s just totally
close to a lot of platform companies the jig seems to be up for platform
companies here but it’s a sherrard every day we see something which is set by the
companies that’s going to be hearing day after tomorrow also but the democratic
candidates have been talking about a lot of these issues and but all of that is
lost in a way act if actual action is going to happen
or not but when you contrast it with China you don’t have a disinformation
information problem because information is already controlled in a very close
way you have companies which are so much bigger the success of whether it is in
Alibaba or abide dance tik-tok way of which is just completely eating
everybody else’s lunch in terms of social media or any other platform
building of technologies whether it is Huawei or is is very attractive to every
other country when they look at it they have an actual negotiation power with
the US India talks about data localization and then us reacts by
saying something about trade which is six billion dollars when Indians
actually the conversations in India were like what is six billion dollars the
data 1.25 billion people if it’s only being monetized by Indian companies is
far more useful than this small little things there that’s why the push for
data localization has been happening and as maria-paz said is because the private
sector itself plays very different games you speak to a company here it’s a very
different not only the tone and tenor etc but it’s also a completely different
legal argument which makes no sense whatsoever but when you are in another
country in India which I can talk about is they still play the lexicalized
server game there is a cloud act here mmm loud process is broken it can be
done in actual cases so but they continue to go fight cases say oh my god
my servers are in California I can give you anything and then they have then
they will take this thing you’re coming after free speech and expression people
like us are also torn at that time well I do like free speech and expression but
not the kind you are mentioning here Facebook is today all for free speech
and expression two days ago it was different and once you’re out of China
and you cannot no longer run on Tiananmen Square now and speeches of
political leaders are protected so China looks very very attractive to everybody
right now you can run your own economy you can
monetize the data of your people you can have complete political control you
don’t have the problem which us seems completely incapable of handling in
their own Democrats democratic system or in their institutions is how how the
conversations are happening in that country saying why would we not choose
the very efficient authoritarianism in contrast to this democratic democracy
which us is telling us I understand there’s a lot of nuance I’m not saying
that democracy is only electoral democracy there is institutions and I
know things are happening here hopefully these proceedings which are going on in
your Congress will actually go somewhere but but that’s where the leadership is
going having said that Europe does look very attractive but the problem with
Europe is only regulations you can’t beat something only with regulations and
not any innovation Europe has not reduced one single company which they
can say hey move away from the network effects from the success of these
surveillance capitalism based companies and come somewhere else
there isn’t anything like that happening we have not taught our people that self
hosting is a thing that decentralization is a thing we all did I come from the
open source movement I love free and open source after without which neither
this company nor any other company would be possible today but that building
blocks were used for centralization for saying we are the people who can build
these services give to you at a cheaper price so that you can speak everything
well yeah but then it becomes much more complex so much more complex that I
don’t think anyone and one stakeholder can address that problem and that’s why
it has to be a multi-pronged approach if they will be regulation it’s not just
antitrust its privacy its surveillance it’s free speech and expression it’s
also about private sector it’s about government you can’t keep government out
multistakeholderism became just a name for keeping governments out
of everything and for 7-8 years we did the dancing around all the time
multistakeholderism nothing came out of it we were at a place I understand and I
completely agree when problems actually come to such a – such a crescendo then
there’s also opportunity and optimism is the only thing which will keep us all
going so but but the problems are complex and the problems will not be
solved by one government one company or or us or or anybody else it will be very
different Europe will do regulation because they are good at it
and they have done it and they are proving to be more effective but that’s
not enough we will have to have alternatives you can’t beat something
with nothing so that’s where I think well on that from that point of view I’m
sort of curious because right India China the US Europe are large enough
that they can try and create paradigms around their particular points of view
but for other countries if they don’t have the market share they may have to
choose among those options they’re not there may not be in a position to be
able to define the world that the way they want it so I’m curious for
countries in Africa for countries in Latin America how did they how do you
understand the the offers from the big from the big players here how do you
understand them as benefitting or hindering the work that you do to try
and change the societies that you live in what what would you prefer and how do
you understand especially in this moment what is the u.s. offer in this
competition I mean so there’s there’s what we consider useful there’s also
what the institutions that interface consider useful and I think what you see
I mean as I speak most a lot of African presidents on their way to Russia if
they’re not there already you know for the Russian African summit they see no
African summit odes and all that and I think that there is a huge disconnect
between what government representatives you know offer and get at this mittens
and what we consider to be is needed on the ground now
unfortunately what the language that governments speak is laws and the
language that platforms and companies understand is also laws so for example
if you talk about free speech on platforms they would eventually have to
refer to the local laws of countries and where this becomes a problem is that
we’re now increasingly having a scenario where governments that have an agenda in
many of the country work actually now have laws that sound like they’re
solving problems in a very simple example so you know the transcendent
government you can dunk of many Kenyan government says okay you know what we
would like to get a lot more revenue and one place to get revenue from is the
internet so we have all these new taxes but ideally you know that this taxes I’m
not really to get revenue for the government this taxes are actually to
control and make sure that less and less people have access you know online I
mean in Tanzania I mean we’re talking about that earlier in Tanzania you’re
supposed to pay another and twenty seven dollars to get a bloggers license I mean
how how do you explain that you know I’m not the biggest expert in Uganda here I
mean you know Ashley is but if a country introduces a new tax that makes you lose
three million Internet users in three months then you clearly know that’s an
economic advantage so I think the challenge is there’s a huge gap between
the people who interface and make this laws which is the government’s that have
access to many of those platforms and all the conversations with other
countries including countries that represent ideas that we aspire to and
the you know organizations on the ground were able to work which is why of course
the interest of many organizations is now to get involved in you know
policymaking and all those processes to make sure that we get as close as
possible to to you know to the ideal but reality right now is that the trend of
of laws that literally just literally just justify the wrong things that are
being done by governments you talk about the cybercrime laws in many countries
okay buddy terrorism laws in many countries they’re basically you know get
towards you know Gaghan people who have been become prominent voices
the Chinese are also very aggressive trying to get into Latin America you
must feel like you have many options there or there’s a competition for your
attention how do how do you understand that both
from this of where the governments are going in Latin America but also for the
activists how do they see this this tension sure I mean as a region we are
not oriented it’s a producer of technology we
historically have been consumers of technology so in that sense we were very
attractive for for the us-based companies that implemented very
successful their technologies in our region and recently China have its eyes
in our region also and have been very effective distributing even for free a
lot of their technologies and those technologies are arriving in our region
with all the the issues of technology develop it in an authoritarian country
in which the design of the technology itself it’s built in some sense for
providing the capability of use the technology for civilian purposes and for
social control purposes but the problem is that the line of speech for a little
by activists is not so simple for saying that these technologies are
not good and should be received in Rio because again those technologies are
offered framing in a narrative of like being able to solve a real urgent
problems that we have a structural problems related with with violence with
with Public Safety with corruption and efficiency so it’s not really easy to
overcome the narrative of a technical solution ISM that is behind the
provision of this technology for free on top and also because it’s not so easy to
build a narrative of distinction from what are the other technologies coming
from from from the US or from the dream world because those had become
technologies of a capitalist surveillance as me she was describing
before so people start to question in my region what is the difference between
beings or variant by a government or being civilians by the private companies
so how you build this this clear distinction again it comes to my
previous point of like if us-based companies or Western basis companies of
Technology want to show what is the different it should be a bigger
alignment with the protection of human rights and how that bill fundamentally
in the design of the technologies to show that there is a different part of
development how the technologies can be exploded for really improve the quality
of the life of the people and not at the cost of them giving up in their rights
and how those technologies should be a tool for building more resilient
societies and more equal societies are societies that are fundamentally
committed with democracy in all their aspect not only election era democracy I
mean she was pointed out so I think that that it again it’s a problem right now
but it’s also an opportunity and if we want to frame this course that it make
really a line between this more output and technologies for saying and other
technologies coming from other places of the world there is an opportunity to
work harder to really make how different business models are possible I think
maybe we have a few minutes for questions from the audience
i I don’t I forgot to bring my SmartWatch with me today so okay okay
good so um maybe if I don’t know if there’s a someone will just take
question to them from the audience if there and as we’re getting to the question I
think that both the opening that Bing uh mentioned earlier and your points are
really critical because what is authoritarian its centralization of
power and when you move that on line and like I don’t want to talk about
attitudes of erasing borders but borders are much fuzzier online what does it
look like if China is the technology provider what does it look like if a
major centralized platform is taking all you providers exact things that you’re
putting up that’s still high risk and if we don’t take this a hot opportunity
right now to build standards and expectations of what do we demand out of
privacy from the tools that our governments and ourselves are using then
then when does that ever win to happen the question from the audience
hi Genevieve from the public international wine policy group I think
one of the basic assumption when working with this designs that you know a free
and independent internet I sort of caught it good government and democracy
but within a digital an especially transitional justice space is
increasingly difficult in or the fact that a lot of these cues have been
abused inside violence and it’s really troubling that a lot of those internet
providers internet platforms I find it very difficult to say where to draw the
line when we’re talking about an authoritarian internet the dictator is
not just a government better so these platforms so what are the
responsibilities and why should a balance be track between responsibility
and free expression or information thank you a lot our panelists answer that but
you may also have examples of the ways in which the Internet has been misused
to incite violence um not necessarily by the government but just and the ways the
platforms have been operating and how you think about solutions to that space
so I think this this goes back to the point I was making earlier we made a
fundamental mistake when we had role models and sort of assumes that this
institution of this country represents what we’re looking for now that that’s
been shattered thankfully we now have an opportunity to create expectations based
on norms and standards and those don’t only apply to countries they also apply
to companies to say that if a certain expectation of freedom of expression is
val later because a company’s business model clashes with it in that instance
that company is an enemy of progress if it’s a country that can be done enemy of
progress and and and so it comes back to the they you know not not just the
community in terms of users but in terms and I don’t want to use the word
stakeholders again because you know it takes two motorcyclist but but the
people who use and even those who don’t use are certain expectations and this
expectations it would take a lot and this is where I have fundamental trust
in humanity and I know you know it’s a very optimistic view to have that you
know we will we will you know sort of self correct and eventually go to what
standards that we almost all agree on but that’s that’s the way it’s gonna
happen there are people there are institutions that will disagree but
there are certain certain fundamentals that we all agree on I’ll give a very
simple example you would never meet a freedom expression
activist that says that child pornography is okay there are certain
lines and I don’t want to use you know the the red line you know it brings a
different image but there are certain lines that we need to arrive at and then
we are gree either it applies to a country or he applies to a company
because I mean to be fair there are platforms now that are way bigger than
countries and so I think at the end of the day it comes back to this you know
that the model isn’t exactly institutions or companies or nations but
a model is the entire body of expectations of norms and of baselines
that we all agree or at least sort of subscribe to that we can’t exceed and
when we exceed we can jointly voice our to say that this is wrong either it’s a
company or it’s a country I just want to add on top
of that very related in the same line of reasoning that I will summarize idea in
that yeah we are looking for centralization of a standard and
decentralization of the decision made based on those standards so does
mingi was mentioning we already have like clear guidelines in the
International Human Rights that has also some regional flavors because for
example the way in which freedom of expression is interpreted vary in
different region of the world for example my Latin America has
particularly strong standards in protection of freedom of expression and outline the previous censorship clearly
which is different from Europe and which is different from the first amendment
concept in the u.s. so they are like some local flavours in the
interpretation on the application of these principles but the fundamental
ideas are present in the international human rights standards and increasingly
we should agree that those should go inside of the of the practices and the
policies of the companies that are operating globally and them in the
application of this a much more attention should be paid in in the local
context to understand how we we can effectively apply these standards that
are global in a sensitive way with the with the local context so I think that
that that is why I will pick this summary of like centralization in terms
of a standard decentralization in terms of application and an understanding of
how the harm can be boosted at a local level I’m very glad that other people are more
optimistic than I am it’s like climate change girl town but
gets very very angry and and she’s right she should be angry but planet will
survive planet has had many other things it’s I it’s us who will not survive and
considering how we behave we perhaps should not but I I do think there’s so
many problems on how the entire digital ecosystem has become are much more
ecosystem problems privacy is an ecosystem problem it’s not just me and
you trying to save our privacy there are so many other people who can get in and
compromise mine or your problem and there isn’t any other business model
which we have right now seen from the internet which has told us that there is
a way to make money it’s only about surveillance and then selling it for
particular purposes that could be a commercial purpose which is usually said
oh this is just a very benign way of collecting information selling it only
for advertising which is what you need there is no other business model which
really effectively works that we have seen so far and there is a lot of
attraction for the tools that have been built and there is not enough
alternative tools that are coming we never taught everybody how they can
build their own tech which might be a simple thing running a mail server is
not a very difficult thing but we never taught anybody that’s why we have all
these email free services which we are reliant on everyone so we will suffer on
all of that and more often than not we forget as John said because the borders
are fuzzy so many times I have had to explain to people that India’s First
Amendment are the reasonable restrictions on our free speech the US
First Amendment is a u.s. first amendment it’s not the same but they
think that they’re online it must be their right as well and it’s the same
thing the machines the companies are collecting behavior all the time whether
you show umbrage and you’re angry at something you
happy at something they love the behavior you should just be on the
platform and keep behaving their behavior collectors they’re going to
have that all the time as the center of their business and the rights are
justiciable only against our governments I cannot go and assert any right against
any private platform and say my right of free speech is violated good this is my
platform I run it the way I like it and they are right about it they have become
much bigger they are I don’t know what people want to call them public square
or whatever but that’s the truth that’s the way laws are written laws are slow
lawmakers don’t have an idea they’re talking still about can you fix my
iPhone and all those are realities but the and like both of them I want to be
an optimist because otherwise what is there to do until we die we should at
least do something while we are here I do think that we we should believe a
little bit more in ourselves our collective powers that demanding better
products from the companies by the customers does work we shouldn’t just
resign I have nothing to hide I’ve given up now everything is already with them
if that were the case they were not advertised on all airports all railway
stations here about how great they are doing with privacy when when when
candidates are saying certain things that is changing the conversations when
the consumers are demanding better things that is changing the
conversations our kids are much better equipped in handling these things than
we are because their idea of privacy may be different but at least they
understand it better than we do where we’ve said oh my god this is too
complicated let somebody else do it someone I was speaking to said oh my
little kids how pictures are on Instagram what is going to happen what
happens if he wants a political career and I’m like the sensibilities after 20
years would be very different because when everybody is odd pictures are
online what are you going to do so but demanding better products from
the companies does work gdpr was this thing oh my god Jia you you
will never be able to get anywhere it’s going to destroy businesses it will
never be able to regulate it is working to some extent maybe not the perfect way
but to some extent it is working everybody is now asking for an omnibus
national privacy legislation here because CCPA kicks in in on January 2020
so when we demand better products they have to deliver when our regulators and
our representatives elected or otherwise are forced to demand better regulation
it does work calling everybody out on their hypocritical statements it does
work saying one thing and co-opting the language which most of the chiefs of our
countries have now perfected including here everywhere else calling them out
although as tedious at it my might may sound but it does work because
somebody’s reading somebody is asking for that and not believing that these
companies this car this has all happened in a blink of an eye 2007 is when iPhone
was launched we’re only in 2019 this can change again so I I think my optimism
lies more in collectivism asking for the right thing holding people accountable
and continuing to march forward so March 1 is awful so John I think you know we
really struggle with this misinformation I know Inter News has done a lot to try
and combat it especially there are a lot of environments around the world where
misinformation is often used to cause real harm to communities can you talk a
little bit about the work that inter News has done to try and figure out how
to combat that kind of misinformation I mean to some extent we focus much more
on instead of saying combating or fighting or any of that really just
focusing on building strong existing information ecosystems and working with
logo two-minute media giving them support they need they
already have built trust they already are recognized but their revenue streams
are drying up their ability to be visible is drawing up and so how can we
supplant that support that have them find other ways newer ways to survive in
a very different like broader information landscape and so that really
is our approach well about more positive and optimistic I guess then constantly
worrying about how our combatant I’ve of misinformation the longer game is really
like not giving it fertile ground to take place in so if you have a strong
existing information system that gives a lot more resilience and protections
around it it’s not perfect like misinformation this can be targeted and
weaponized in very effective ways that defeats even very strong ways like that
but it it’s the strongest easiest most cleanest in a way it doesn’t get you in
messy arguments it’s like we’re building this and it’s strong and it’s pretty
pretty clearly a good thing to serve good information instead of fighting
because you didn’t just fighting specific fires all the time can i I
think that this is clearly one of the example of that Misha was referring as
an ecosystem issues so I think that for example in Latin America we have seen
that the conversation about misinformation many times go to this
idea of like trying to find the tool when true is something that always had
been difficult to determine even before the deed development of media it was
something that was struggling for also a traditional media so at the end as one
of the issues related with ecosystem we should look at different places in which
we can reinforce the ability of the ecosystem to determine what is is
misinformation rather than like focuses it was a problem that we will confront
in one place is something that you need to be address it in the things that John
was like strengthening the ability of
independent media to provide information and to have a means of surviving in this
changing environment it means that we need to look at all the election
regulation that is in place in different countries to ask for more accountability
about how digital media is used for political purposes it looks to the
incentives that are provided to the the use of data for advertisement and what
is the model of Revenue and Android in much more transparent information about
what information is motivated with with which purposes and make it more
transparent before when you open any newspaper you knew who was the owner of
the newspaper what kind of political alignment has so we need to try to go
back to that fundamental idea and when people see these information they are
able to understand where it come from and what is the values that are behind
that but not tell them this is true or false this is about like how to make
more resilient the ecosystem I think we have time for one more question from the
audience all right in the absence of a question from the audience
I will ask since we are here in Washington DC what is the thing that you
hope the US will do what’s the most positive thing that the u.s. can do to
help you in your work can I speak more to the ecosystem of supporting DC not
exactly just yes okay so and I and I understand we have in the room people
who are doing amazing work supporting you know engineers and other partners
you know through you know technical support money and all that you’re in DC
increasingly the gap between the odd topics that excite you and the reality
on the ground that gap is getting wider we have all
these conversations about AI you know you know 4th Industrial Revolution and
things like that in many other countries that we work those are great research
topics but they will not keep activists out of jail I think that while we chase
the sexy we also need to make sure we support the necessary sex is good
necessary much better just following that same line like to be more critical
about how the ideas and project that are funded to support the digital
environment or the film on internet are connected with this fundamental question
of the structural issues that the different societies confront in
different region inequality and all the the issues related with transparency
democracy and all that it’s necessary and technology need to be regarded again
as just another layer that need to be connected with these fundamental
questions and to work in a very much integrated way making the question about
what are the right intervention for technology technology is not always the
solution for everything technology also can make worse things so and that it’s
not a general evaluation but it’s a very contextual case-by-case evaluation so if
you want to be more effective supporting the work that we do help us on that to
really have like more clear criteria for evaluating when is the right
intervention for technology and what type of technology and what are the
condition that that technology should need to implement for really fulfill
that good purpose that can have in mind a one
it’s proposal so this is all refrain sorry can be framed in the human right
impact assessment of any technology that has been promoted in developing
countries I just feel bad demanding anything there’s a lot to do in DC
already if that can be fixed a lot will be fixed anyway right stay optimistic as
Benga said buzz words are very nice and that’s where the VC money goes
everything was blocked in a few days ago then it was coin offerings then it is
the then it is of course AI will solve everything but move fast and break
things no longer works it never worked but we really decided to believe in all
that in that vision so don’t believe in buzzwords because nobody else does
other than VCS but they put the money where the values are not just where the
new sexy tech is being built everybody wants to have start-up everybody wants
to have that life and this is from India where the best the thing which we do is
make softer and be engineers all the time and but but you can’t leave
humanity behind just because things have to move and build very very fast don’t
believe the numbers because the numbers are concocted by everybody and as John
said the long-form media or media organisations if they are not empowered
and they’re not allowed to exist the the attraction of the short form because the
attention span is decreasing the long-form media or the responsible
journalists will also adapt to this new media it doesn’t mean that they no need
the funding or they don’t need the support investigative journalism takes
time it’s painful our old values which the Western civilization or the eastern
civilizations have over thousands of years cannot just be
abandoned because some of us who are younger and live in Silicon Valley or
Bangalore think that’s how they are going to change in the world
so those value systems still work we have not succeeded UN is failing in its
job in many other places but at least the conversations are alive so don’t
pull out support from where traditionally support has been because
that work is still going on and to talk to the people whether it is the
platforms or whether it is the papers the everything the my first point was
vocabulary has been co-opted so what you hear may not be what you actually what
is actually happening on the ground everything which looks efficient and
attractive is not necessarily translating to the same kind of freedoms
what we want to all stand for and you need epics and you need rights and you
need the conversation about rights and not just the conversation about
ownership which is what USS they usually has been whether it is the IP regime or
how we talk about data these days ownership is not the conversation we
only need to have you need to have ethics and fun decentralized
technologies can i mike tropic google’s that allowed i’m not sure i can build
much more those are all like critical points like i am the biggest believer in
the Church of decentralization it might be our only path out of this in terms of
your specific question of what candy see specifically is this weird City thing do
in this world for this I think underlining these two trends they were
coming out of listening to what’s going on in the local level and funding fixing
those issues as opposed to pouring tons of funding into chain buzzword bingo
with the copy art two caveats as important discussions around data
localization for local for like each governments empowerment economically
happened run that forward how would that be used by by the most oppressive
government at the same time because the same tools are being used by
authoritarian governments to have access to Facebook data to Google data who
wanted our centralized source data where you can’t play the like that’s not by a
jurisdiction card as easily anymore so run those things forward what would that
look like and that goes for private technology as well like when we you know
plug into the internet do you want Apple to do that where you have to get a new
plug installed every two years do you want Google to do that well they’re just
stop supporting that service or Facebook we’re all they’re just mind your data
and then it apologized for it later like when you have that plug in your head
that’s going to be a very interesting platform decision we and so I there is a
place we’re looking forward I think like even though I am like the most pragmatic
please don’t talk to me about blockchain because all you person there’s value in
looking in these platforms and making sure that ethics and and critical
thought are being applied are we training a eyes with diversity in mind
are you going is it going to be the experience of if you have darker skin
you don’t get hand ride because they didn’t program for that like this is a
building diversity at the beginning and building like ethics and strategic
thought into these things how will they be used how can they be used negatively
is important don’t pour a lot of funding in that
there’s enough funding there but poor thought into that and then poor funding
and people on the ground to fix things well I feel like it’s some very
important advice for all of us I’d like to ask everyone to join me in thanking
our panelists moderating so thank you so much Mika and
with that it’s 2:30 it’s the witching hour it’s time for coffee we really we
purposely built in a very extended coffee break so we have a half an hour
because we really wanted everyone to be able to talk to our partners who are
here and may I ask my panelists for the next panel to just stand up so everyone
can see you so Josh na and Babette and Emily and Karolina so these are our
panelists for the next panel we’re gonna get some coffee we’re gonna caffeinate
we’re gonna meet each other and then these amazing panelists they’re gonna
sit down with me and we’re gonna talk about what’s actually working right now
like what are we doing on the ground that is making the situation better what
is gonna keep us all from starting chain-smoking tonight and how can DC do
a better job of supporting that like how do we in our capacity here and that’s
not just policy but operational town how do we turn what we have into avenues for
solutions and how can we support that type of work so with that please there’s
stacks and coffee please get up introduce yourselves to each other this
is an amazing group of people and we’ll see you back here in about a half an
hour

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