Can Internet protocols

enable or threaten
human rights?

The underlying protocols

of the Internet

are enableing protocols that
allow you to do

whatever you want.

Ted Lemon

Connectivity is not

just about consumption,

also about expression.

Ben Campbell
Suresh Krishnan

A lot of censorship

happens by

limiting connectivity

The uses, or abuses
of the protocol

could harm user rights

Wendy Seltzer
What will
the Internet of the future
look like?
Daniel Kahn Gillmor
Laura DeNardis

What is being missed

is the infrastructural area
that we sometimes
take for granted.



is the positive
guiding force of the IETF.

Dan Harkins
Mark Nottingham

The IETF community

is heavily biased

to white, middle-class

American engineers.

Net Of Rights
a short documentary film

Human Rights Research Group

Research Group

Our work

The Human Rights Protocol Considerations Research Group in the IRTF is chartered to research whether standards and protocols can enable, strengthen or threaten human rights, as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), specifically, but not limited to the right to freedom of expression and the right to freedom of assembly.

If you’re interested in this work, please have a look at the film produced by members of the research group, follow the work on the mailinglist and have a look at our latest active Internet Drafts.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact the chairs of the Research Group directly.


ARTICLE 19’s Mallory Knodel Appointed Co-Chair of IRTF Human Rights Research Group

Mallory Knodel has been appointed co-chair of the Human Rights Protocol Considerations Research Group (HRPC) within the IRTF and will co-chair the group with Avri Doria.

The HRPC researches whether standards and protocols can enable, strengthen or threaten human rights as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It specifically protects, but is not limited to, the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.

Knodel is the current Head of Digital at ARTICLE 19, a not-for-profit focused on the defense and promotion of freedom of expression and freedom of information. A member of May First/People Link leadership committee, she is on the board of eQualitie and formerly served as the Senior Technical Coordinator for the Association of Progressive Communications.

Specializing in cybersecurity policy advocacy, digital media, and Internet governance, Knodel integrates a human rights, people-centred approach to communications and technology work for social justice movements. She is committed to protecting the core values of the Internet – freedom and openness of communications – and brings valuable experience to HRPC.

Originally from the US and now living in Nairobi, Knodel has worked with grassroots organizations in Bolivia, France, Palestine and the UK. As a radical technologist, she has utilized free, open-access software professionally for over a decade. Knodel joins the HRPC with a B.S. in Physics and Mathematics and an M.A. in Science Education.

United Nations Special Rapporteur calls upon IETF to assume its responsibility to respect human rights

The contemporary exercise of freedom of opinion and expression owes much of its strength to private industry, which wields enormous power over digital space, acting as a gateway for information and an intermediary for expression.”

It is with this sentence that United Nations Special Rapporteur (UNSR) on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, starts his most recent United Nations Human Rights Council (UN HRC) report published today.

The report is bound to make waves. Not only across the legislative realm but also with the private sector and the various Internet Standard Developing Organizations (SDOs). Kaye calls on them to ‘protect and promote freedom of expression in a digital age’. In order to understand the findings in his report, it is important to present some background on the role of the UN Special Rapporteurs.

Special rapporteurs are appointed by the UN HRC to monitor, examine, report and advise on human rights. The UNSRs act as independent investigators and rapporteurs, working on the basis of a country or thematic mandate. Every year they present several reports outlining their activities, findings and recommendations to the UN HRC. The position of UNSR on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression was established in 1993. As such, its establishment and work matured in a decade that also saw the rapid rise and spread of the commercialized Internet.

Yet, it was not until the 2005 report by then UNSR Ambeyi Ligabo, that the reports explicitly started recognizing the role of the Internet in enabling the right to freedom of expression. Since then, the UNSR’s reports on the right to freedom of expression have increasingly focused on the role of the Internet in both inhibiting and enabling this right. Culminating with the reports of former UNSR mandate-holder Frank la Rue that established that human rights apply online as they do offline, and the latest report of current mandate-holder David Kaye.

The findings presented in Kaye’s latest report are particularly important because he focuses specifically on the responsibility of the private actors that maintain and build the Internet’s infrastructure, to protect the right to freedom of expression and access to information. Kaye explicitly mentions the work of the Internet Engineering Task Force, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), as crucial to enabling the right to freedom of expression. He continues to identify several challenges, that are also being addressed by the work of the HRPC group, namely: the lack of sufficient consideration for human rights concerns in standard development; the lack of human rights knowledge and representation in these forums; and the (unintended) effects of (bad) engineering choices on the right to freedom of expression.

By highlighting the relationship between technical engineering, standard making and human rights, as well as presenting strong recommendations for improvements, the UNSR’s report anchors the discussion on the responsibility of the organizations maintaining and building the Internet in a human rights framework. His recommendations not only mention the efforts of the HRPC group, but also closely overlap with the work done by the group at the IRTF. Amongst others, Kaye mentions the need for advanced human rights impact assessments that document how human rights are impacted by technical work and the need for an increase in the number of technical experts sensitive to human rights concerns.

As mentioned, the recommendations resonate with the current work done by the HRPC group, especially with their effort to develop human rights protocol considerations that create awareness about the human rights impact of standards and protocols, document their impact and provide a concrete tool for engineers to understand their work as it relates to human rights. The report by UNSR Kaye indicates that the HRPC group is making real progress in ensuring that human rights are enabled on a protocol level, and that the Internet remains an open and accessible medium for providing unfettered connectivity and enabling human rights.

— This blog does not necessarily represent the opinion of the research group or the IRTF —

IETF 95 meets in Buenos Aires: a week of firsts

Last week, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) held its 95th meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It was an important moment in the history of the IETF as it was the first time in its history that it held a meeting in Latin America.

On Monday, 4 April the HRPC group held its session. During this well-attended two hour session, there were presentations from three experts, working on issues surrounding protocols and human rights:

Ramsey Nasser, a Lebanese computer scientist, game designer, and educator based in Brooklyn who does research on programming languages talked about قلب  (‘kalbe’) an all Arabic coding language he build to make computation more expressive and challenge the basic assumptions we make about code.

Nick Doty, the Director of the Center for Technology, Society & Policy and PhD Candidate at the UC Berkeley School of Information, spoke about his research on how privacy and other values are considered during the technical design process.

Joe Hall, Chief Technologist at the Centre for Democracy and Technology spoke about his work on censorship, specifically his work on the technical mechanisms used by censorship regimes around the world to block or impair Internet traffic and the importance of sensitizing designers, implementers, and users of Internet protocols to the mechanisms used to censor end-user access to information.

During the meeting, the research group’s members also presented their latest work, including two new Internet Drafts (I-Ds), improvements to the I-Ds’ text on the research methodology, the addition of three new case studies, an additional literature and discussion session.

The first outline of the human rights protocol considerations was also presented at this session, which aim to clarify how technical concepts relate to human rights, and what questions engineers should ask themselves when developing or improving protocols.  The aim of these proposed considerations is that engineers will comprehensively analyze the potential implications of their work for human rights, and will clearly document their decisions.

The proposed human rights considerations were positively received, and the group received substantial feedback on their work. Currently, the aim is a formal call for adoption of the I-Ds, to be distributed on the HRPC mailing list in the coming two months: this would make the I-D an official working document of the research group. This would open the door for the next step: approval by the Internet Research Steering Group (IRSG) which bring the research group closer to developing substantive human rights protocol considerations to enable human rights on a protocol level.

In addition, several HRPC members also participated in the first ever civil society (friendly) dinner and joined to watch a screening of two documentaries: ‘Net of Rights’ and The Computers followed by a discussion with around 50 local civil society members, organized by ARTICLE 19 and the Asociación por los Derechos Civiles.