April 4, 2017 - Comments Off on Yet Another Year at RightsCon, and It Was Big!

Yet Another Year at RightsCon, and It Was Big!

Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) was at RightsCon - the world leading 3-day event to discuss the future of the internet - organised by Access Now from March 29 to March 31, 2017 in Brussels, Belgium. During the event, DRF hosted four sessions that discussed different issues relating to the safe and fair access to the internet. As mentioned here, the sessions reflected on what all DRF had been doing the past whole year.

On March 28, Nighat Dad participated in the panel discussion at EU Parliament titled "Tech and Foreign Policy - Bridging the Gap: Focus on Digital Development" on Day 0 of Rights Con 2017. The discussion was live-streamed here.

The panel was moderated by Marietje Schaake (Member of the European Parliament from the Netherlands). The panelists were Nighat Dad (Digital Rights Foundation Pakistan, Time Next Generation Leader), Linda Corugedo Steneberg (DG Connect, European Commission) and Mitchel Baker (Mozilla, Internet Hall of Fame).

Nighat EU Parliament

The panel sought to discuss the direction of digital development with reference to principles of human rights, equality and net neutrality. The panelists also discussed the role of the European Union in encouraging digital development worldwide.

Nighat Dad spoke about the need to link digital rights to economic and trade incentives such as the GSP+ and other initiatives by monitoring human rights violations. Nighat also spoke about the shrinking digital spaces for dissent and activism in Pakistan, and the world in general. Talking about the global trends, she referred to the US laptop ban as a violation of digital rights stating that "it is not only a laptop ban, it's a Muslim laptop ban".

Nighat EU Parliament 2

Nighat shed light on extra-judicial measures to silence voices online: "this not self-censorship, it is forced censorship". She talked about the "draconian" cyber crime act passed in August 2016 and the effect that it has for journalism and free speech.

Nighat also talked about the need for social media companies to be transparent in their dealings with governments, urging them to be accountable to their users.

The first session titled “Taking Matters into Our Hands: Addressing Online Harassment Through [Tools]” took place on March 29, 2017. The panel discussed the different tools and strategies developed in different contexts to address online harassment. The panel was moderated by Wafa Ben Hassine - the Policy Analyst at Access Now, and the speakers included Nighat Dad - the Executive Director of Digital Rights Foundation, Elsa Saade - Human Rights Officer at Gulf Human Rights Center in Beirut, Gulsin Harman from TurkeyBlocks.org, and Meg Hood - Rapid Response Coordinator for the Civil Society Centre for Digital Resilience.

During the session, Nighat Dad shared the tools and activities that Digital Rights Foundation has been introducing and implementing in Pakistan, including Pakistan’s first Cyber Harassment Helpline. Nighat emphasized on the fact that even though 60% of our callers are women, but the other 30% are men which depicts that online harassment affects everyone regardless of their gender identity.

Wafa Ben Hassine added that tools alone can’t address the issue of online harassment, but talking to people on ground can help in identifying where the problem lies.

Elsa Saade pointed out that while developing new tools would be a great approach, but it’s important to analyse why the already existing tools around addressing online harassment are failing.


Gulsin Harman shared that women journalists in Turkey face online harassment on a daily basis, and when they decide to report the harassment, they get harassed by the law enforcing agents themselves. While the situation isn’t different in Pakistan, this attitude and lack of gender sensitisation among the LEAs convince women to not speak about their experiences of online harassment.

Online harassment leaves a strong impact on the mental health of victim/survivor who experiences it, and the lack of awareness around the issue among people makes the experience more critical. Hija Kamran of Digital Rights Foundation adds that while access to the internet and technology is necessary, awareness around the informed use of that technology becomes crucial too.

The second session that Digital Rights Foundation was about an issue that’s not very debated in the context of Pakistan, but holds a great importance towards the access to the internet. The session titled “Net Neutrality and its Future in the Developing World” was taken place on March 30, 2017. The panel was moderated by Raman Jit Singh Chima - Policy Director at Access Now, and the speakers included Gbenga Sesan - Executive Director at Paradigm Initiative Nigeria, Agustin Reyna - Senior Legal Officer at BEUC, Apar Gupta and Kiran Jonnalagadda - Co-Founders of Internet Freedom Foundation India, Serene Lim - APC Impact Coordinator for Malaysia, and Nighat Dad - Executive Director at Digital Rights Foundation.

NN Panel Poster


The panelists discussed the many aspects of Net Neutrality and why is it important to talk about it.

Apar Gupta, who is the volunteering founder of the remarkable campaign #savetheinternet in India and the Co-Founder of Internet Freedom Foundation said that Net Neutrality should not be taken as a separate issue and should not be left for another time, but instead it should be discussed as part of the larger debate.

Hija Kamran of Digital Rights Foundation adds that open access to the internet is a human right and it should be granted to everyone in a fair and open form without prioritising one content over the other.

Apar Gupta and Kiran Jonnalagadda also added that the Government of India received 1.2 million responses on their Net Neutrality public consultation, which also included a love letter. The government published all those responses for the public to access.

Gbenga Sesan added that the government needs to be convinced that infrastructure isn’t just about building the roads but also about technological access too.

When asked how the concept of Net Neutrality can be communicated with those who are not on the internet but have access to the technology, Agustin Reyna responded that you need to communicate in their own language, the right language for them to understand better.


Raman Jit Singh Chima asks the important question: Do people need a triggering event to safeguard the rights like Net Neutrality considering that internet is an open platform and it should be provided to all without paid prioritisation of content.

Surveillance Panel Poster

The third session hosted by Digital Rights Foundation revolved around discussing Surveillance and Privacy from the Margins. The session took place on March 30, 2017. It was moderated by Jessica Dheere, the co-founder and co-director of SMEX, and the panelists included Nighat Dad, David Kaye - UNSR on Freedom of Expression, Bruce Schneier - world renowned cryptographer, Chinmayi Arun - Research Director at National Law University Delhi India, Courtney Radsch - Advocacy Director at Committee to Protect Journalists, and Carolina Botero - Director at Karisma Foundation.


The panel aimed at discussing the gendered nature of surveillance and intended to acknowledge that the experience of surveillance is not uniform, i.e. it depends on the identity of the person being surveilled. Through this panel we want to understand the particular kinds of surveillance experienced by women and the sexualized and gendered ways in which it manifests itself when applied to women's bodies.

The panel also discussed privacy as security and how data protection and privacy laws need to be strengthened and how a breach of privacy can have dire consequences for individuals.


Jessica Dheere kick-started the panel by asking some very important questions about how surveillance changes based on the power dynamics and how does it affect the people of colour and minorities in any society?

Courtney Radsch added the experience from journalist's’ perspective, saying that it leads to self-censorship.

She also discussed the increased surveillance on US border that violates people’s right to privacy.

Nighat Dad added the perspective of Surveillance and Privacy in the context Pakistan and used Qandeel Baloch - the slain social media celebrity - example that her murder was incited after her privacy was violated by the mainstream and social media.

She also added that the increased surveillance is promoted by the easy availability of surveillance technology that widespread the practice.

Bruce Shneier - Image Courtesy @AToker

Bruce Schneier discussed the technical aspects of surveillance and said that it’s not easy to track the small surveillance technologies. He also added that power dynamics play a major role in the context of surveillance and that it often gets lost in the discussions.

Bruce also added that surveillance is almost unavoidable and is used as a weapon. He also emphasized that your mobile phone and camera is someone else tracking device. He added that it should also be viewed from the perspective of refugees and minorities.

Whereas, David Kaye added that there are different kinds of surveillance like state surveillance, non-state surveillance, social surveillance, and others, and it’s nearly impossible to avoid targeted surveillance.


David Kaye - Image Courtesy @AToker

He emphasized on the fact that the current law and order situation of the world reduces people’s right to privacy and restricts their anonymity. He also added that surveillance is the issue of the masses and not just of targeted groups.

Kaye urges that surveillance will continue but what’s important is that people keep pushing governments to justify it on human rights grounds. He furthered his talk by adding that journalists, women, LGBT community are most harmed by surveillance.

Harassment Goes Deadly Panel Poster

The fourth and last panel of Digital Rights Foundation at RightsCon talked about online harassment in the global north vs global south. The panel titled “Harassment Goes Deadly: the Global North vs Global South” took place on March 31, 2017. The panel was moderated by Bishakha Datta - Co-Founder of Point of View India, and the panelists included Hera Hussain - Co-Founder of Chayn Labs, Nanjira Sambuli - Digital Equality Advocacy Manager for World Wide Web Foundation, Emily May - Co-Founder and Executive Director at HollaBack, Japleen Pasricha - Founder of Feminism in India, Susan Benesch - Project Director at Dangerous Speech Project, and Nighat Dad - Executive Director at Digital Rights Foundation.

The panel was live streamed by Chayn Labs on their Facebook page and it aimed at discussing online violence which is usually seen as a problem for the so-called “backward societies” around the world. The narrative goes that women and vulnerable communities in the third world are particularly susceptible to honour and gender-based crimes. High profile cases of online harassment leading to violence in offline spaces is seen as a reflection of an entire culture in the Global South, whereas it is couched in less cultural and societal terms in the North. The fact of the matter is that online violence against women is a global and universal problem.


This panel discussed the realities of online violence which are as serious a problem in the Global North as they are in the Global South.

Bishakha Datta started the discussion with the introduction of the panel followed by the talk by Hera Hussain. According to Hera, Chayn is operating in 12 countries, a lot changes with geography but online harassment is common everywhere. She added that women are particularly vulnerable on social media to the point that they often end up making multiple profile. n Pakistan, women get killed for getting harassed online.

Because Hera works in multiple societies both from global north and global south, she added that the only difference in experiences of online harassment in the north vs south is that the people in the developed part of the world are more aware and know how to react to a certain situation.

Japleen Pasricha did a research on online violence in 2016, where she interviewed around 500 women in India. According to her, online violence isn’t just receiving photos of penis in your inbox or unsolicited content. In fact online violence is also getting trolled for days which often results in the victim/survivor leaving the social media sphere for days.

Japleen says that she uses the word ‘violence’ because online harassment is a form of violence where the victim or the survivor experiences a huge level of emotional and psychological stress that can’t be explained by any other term than ‘violence’.

Nighat Dad furthered the discussion by questioning the inadequate steps taken by the social media companies to counter online harassment. She said that the reason why Digital Rights Foundation started the cyber Harassment Helpline was because there was no help available to the victims of cyber harassment, not on state level, not from the social media companies. And the fact that it leaves a serious impact on the mental health of the victim, steps have to be taken by someone.

Nanjira Sambuli believes that online harassment is a lifelong issue, and what the survivors and those working on countering the issue requires is support from the people around them and in their societies. The solutions around countering online harassment should have sustainable models. She further added that women, in Kenya, are ranked on the basis of how pretty they are rather than how capable or successful they are.

Susan Benesch asks how can the impact of harassment on women be lessen and the cost of harassing a women be increased? She says that there’s not just one kind of harassers. There are people who are dedicated harassers, who wake up in the morning to troll someone online with malicious intent. Then there are people who jump the bandwagon, they see others causing verbal and psychological harm to someone, they start doing it as well.

Bishakha Datta pointed out that in India, women are asked to leave social media if they’re getting harassed online. Leaving social media to avoid online harassment is like asking women to not go out to avoid street harassment. The need is to address the problem and then counter it from the very roots.

This concluded another successful participation of Digital Rights Foundation at RightsCon. With that being said, we hope to take these important discussions forward and into the real world to take solution-led steps towards countering the issues pertaining to digital rights.

Written by Hija Kamran

Published by: Digital Rights Foundation in Blog, Events

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