June 04, 2018 - Comments Off on Freedom of Expression, Privacy and Rights of the Marginalised: DRF discusses at RightsCon 2018

Freedom of Expression, Privacy and Rights of the Marginalised: DRF discusses at RightsCon 2018

Digital Rights Foundation headed to Toronto this May to attend RightsCon 2018. As the leading conference on human rights in the digital age, DRF was happy to represent Pakistan and explain its context, and present the work that DRF has been doing over the past couple of months.

DRF’s participation in RightsCon can be categorized into three areas: Freedom of Expression; Data Protection; and Gender. All of these areas are related to human and digital rights, they are all causes that DRF has been working hard for whether through research, on-the-ground assistance, or advocacy.

Participation at RightsCon was intensive, with Nighat Dad and Hyra Basit representing the team on a total of 14 sessions, two of which were proposed by DRF, over the course of three days. However, Day 0 was also quite busy - Hyra divided her time between a Protect Our Spaces meeting, called to discuss the sexual harassment that goes on within the tech and human rights circles and what can be done about it, and a meeting on the way Facebook plays a significant role in the politics and operations of a country; Nighat, meanwhile, attended the Executive Directors’ meeting.

DRF has always been vocal about the granted right  to freedom of expression without discrimination between race, gender, class, ethnicity, or religion. Freedom of expression not only includes the freedom to speak and express opinions and thoughts online, but to be able to access online resources without blockades so that a person can then express themselves. The latter especially was discussed during the session ‘Digital Rights for the Persecuted Refugees: Can there be a Global Support Framework?’ moderated by Faheem Hussain. Hyra talked about the struggle to access the internet among the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Pakistan, refugees from Afghanistan, and also some of the more positive ways that the internet is being and can be used. Nighat as a panelist in the session ‘Eye of the Beholder: Government Attempts to Define and Detect "Extremism" talked about how freedom of expression is curbed because of the constant monitoring and surveillance that is prevalent because the definition of who an extremist or terrorist isn’t clear.

Nighat expanded on the context of Pakistan during the session ‘Free Speech is not Blasphemy’ hosted by Bolo Bhi, talking about the thin line between hate speech and free speech, stressing on how someone’s free speech shouldn’t be used as an excuse to impinge on the rights of others. Continuing the conversation on Day 3, she pointed out the gap in protection offered by privacy policies by the same telecom companies in different countries, as well as the systemic harassment faced by women online which results in many women withdrawing from online spaces during the ‘The Widening Digital Divide’ session arranged by Bolo Bhi. Talking about the nearly two-year internet shutdown in FATA, she suggested strategic litigation using a mix of human stories, violation of human rights and economic cost argument to deal with internet and mobile shutdowns at the session ‘Combatting Shutdowns with COST: A Data Driven Policy Tool for Internet Freedom’. She also addressed the issue of Youth Surveillance as part of a panel hosted by IFEX, especially social surveillance, which affects young girls even more, and while DRF is initiating the discussion on privacy by going to schools and universities, laws that protect children are not adequate for the digital age.

DRF has always stressed on data protection and privacy laws, understanding the intersection between human rights and digitization. As part of our research and advocacy, we looked into the continuous NADRA breaches that have taken place over the years, and all the informed sharing of data by NADRA and government officials without taking the consent, privacy, and safety of Pakistani citizens into consideration. This was also shared during a session “Fingerprint on the pulse: Challenging the lack of privacy protections for biometric data.” hosted by Privacy International. ‘The Global State of Data Protection’ hosted by Access Now was also an opportunity to discuss the right to freedom of information and informational self-determination, and how the GDPR will affect Pakistan.

RightsCon was also an opportunity for DRF to continue its participation in the development of the feminist principles of the internet, as Nighat explained them for the audience and how they applied in Pakistan’s context. We also had the chance to talk about our experience running the Cyber Harassment Helpline and what we’ve learned from our experience in the ‘Take Back the Net: Innovations in Tackling Online Hate and Harassment’ session hosted by PEN America. And while online harassment covers a range of activities, an effort to start a discussion around how the victims of non-consensual pornography can be helped was made through a session hosted by Acoso Online, where the digital security tools and the mental health aspect were discussed.

The ‘Masculinity in Online Spaces’ session hosted by DRF proved to be a thought-provoking session with the panelists speaking out about their experience with men’s behavior online and how the way masculinity exhibits itself has lead to gendered trolling, devaluation of women’s work and severe mental trauma.  The ‘Gendering Surveillance’ panel was also proposed by DRF to discuss the ways in surveillance manifests itself in different contexts, and how it disproportionately affects women and gender minorities.

The four intensive days at RightsCon proved to be packed with insightful discussions, opening us up to new perspectives and giving us the opportunity to present our concerns, criticisms, cultural context. This exchange of ideas opens us up to work towards improving the work that we do in Pakistan.

Written by Hyra Basit

Published by: Digital Rights Foundation in Blog

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