Human Rights Research Group

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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.

Proyección de dos documentales IETF 95 Buenos Aires – Movie screening IETF 95 Buenos Aires

Proyección de dos documentales sobre la temática de Internet, tecnología y derechos humanos

El próximo jueves 7 de abril, ARTICLE 19 y la Asociación por los Derechos Civiles (ADC) invitan a la proyección de dos documentales sobre la temática de Internet, tecnología y derechos humanos:

* Net of Rights: Un corto que explora el vínculo entre los protocolos de Internet y los DDHH. Cada vez es más evidente que la promoción de una Internet abierta, segura, sin filtrar y fiable es esencial para los derechos a la privacidad, expresión y reunión. Pero, cómo pueden estos conceptos ser abordados en el nivel de protocolos?

* The Computers: The Remarkable Story of the ENIAC Programmers: Cuenta la historia de las seis jóvenes que programaron la primer computadora programable en forma totalmente electrónica del mundo, ENIAC, como parte de un proyecto secreto de los Estados Unidos durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial.

Al final de las proyecciones se dará lugar a una sesión de debate junto a los productores de Net of Rights.

Ubicacion: San Martin 536, CABA. Urban Station (Microcentro)

hora: 18.00 a 20.00 hs

Hay comida y bebida

Si tienen otras preguntas, por favor dirigense a corinne@article19.org

 

Movie screening of two documentaries about the Internet, technology and human rights

This upcoming Thursday 7 April, ARTICLE 19 and the Asociación por los Derechos Civiles (ADC) invite you to a movie screening and debate about the Internet, technology and human rights.

Two movies will be screened:

* Net of rights: A short movie that explores the intersection between Internet protocols and human rights. It is becoming ever more evident that ensuring the Internet remains open, secure and unfiltered is essential for human rights like privacy, freedom of expression and assembly. However, how can these concepts be protected on a protocol level?

** The Computers: The Remarkable Story of the ENIAC Programmers: This movie tells the untold story of 6 young female programmers that programmed the world’s first electronic digital computer, as part of a secret project of the United States during the Second World War.

After the screening there will be a debate with the producers of the Net of Rights movie.

Location: San Martin 536, CABA. Urban Station (Microcentro)

Time:18.00 – 20.0

Snacks and drinks provided

If you have any further questions feel free to reach out to corinne@article19.org

 

Dancing the Human Rights Tango – HRPC session at IETF 95 in Buenos Aires

From April 3 – 8, 2016 the IETF will hosts its 95th meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina. During this meeting the Human Rights Protocol Considerations (HRPC) Research Group (RG), will hold a dedicated session, which will take place on Monday April 4th, from 17.40 – 19.40 UTC-3 in the ‘Atlantico B’ room and can be followed remotely via this link.

The session’s agenda is as follows:

Beginning:

  • Jabber scribe, note takers
  • Agenda Bashing
  • Notewell

Introduction:

  • Status of research group (5 min)
  • Context of research (5 mins)
  • Discussion introduction website https://hrpc.io (5 mins)

Presentations:

  • Presentation + Q&A – Ramsey Nasser on ‘kalbe’ [قلب] a programming language entirely written in Arabic and the issues he came across while developing this (15 mins)
  • Presentation + Q&A – Geoffrey Bowker on Values in Design and difficulties surrounding engineering for social values (15 mins)
  • Presentation + Q&A – Nick Doty on privacy adoption in Internet and web standard setting, and how this could be applied in developing human rights guidelines (15 mins)

Discussion:

  • Discussion of research draft, including first version of considerations (15 mins) See: https://tools.ietf.org/html/draft-tenoever-hrpc-research
  • Discussion of report draft (15 mins) See: https://tools.ietf.org/html/draft-doria-hrpc-report
  • Discussion of censorship draft (10 mins) See: https://tools.ietf.org/html/draft-hall-censorship-tech
  • Open discussion other drafts, papers, ideas (15 min)

Next steps

AOB

The first three speakers, Ramsey Nasser, Geoffrey Bowker, and Nick Doty will shine their light on the work done by the HRPC group and connect it to their own research projects. These short talks are aimed at further scoping the extent and depth of the relation between human rights and Internet Protocols.

Ramsey Nasser is a New York based computer scientist investigating programming languages as mediums of self-expression. By looking at code as a vehicle of thought, he develops new languages to explore the relationship between human imagination and machine instruction.

Geoffrey Bowker is Professor at the School of Information and Computer Science, University of California at Irvine, where he directs a laboratory for Values in the Design of Information Systems and Technology. This lab and his work focus on questions surrounding the production of new forms of information systems and technology, which express and perform strong social and ethical values.

Nick Doty is a Director of the Center for Technology, Society & Policy and a PhD Candidate at the UC Berkeley School of Information, studying how privacy and other values are considered during the technical design process. He researches privacy in standard setting for the Internet and the Web and co-teaches the Technology & Delegation Lab.

In addition to the session, there will be a screening of the film Net of Rights with local civil society organizations. (More info about the screening will follow soon.) And a civil society (friendly) dinner at the holy cow on Monday, the only vegan restaurant in Buenos Aires, to further discuss the work presented during the HRPC session.

If you want to know more about the work of the HRPC group, you can subscribe to the HRPC mailinglist, find more information on this website and watch the film Net of Rights or email niels@article19.org or corinne@article19.org

Making sense of Internet acronym soup and our work: IDs, IETF, IRTF, SDOs and RFCs

The Internet and its engineers love acronyms and the accompanying body of jargon often referred to as ‘Internet acronym soup’. Below you will find a quick explanation of the most commonly used acronyms on this website, what they mean and how they are important to the work we do.

 

SDO – Standard Developing Organization

Standard Developing Organizations (SDOs) are organizations that are involved in developing, engineering, improving, interpreting or otherwise generating technical standards. These standards can have a wide range of applications, depending on the nature of the SDO and the specific sub-section of the industry or standards it focuses on.

 

IETF – Internet Engineering Task Force

The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) is an SDO. It is described as a ‘self-organized group of people who contribute to the engineering and evolution of Internet technologies. It is the principal body engaged in the development of new Internet standard specifications’ [1]. In many ways the IETF mirrors the Internet, as it is an informal ‘decentralized confederation of equals’ [2]. Its work revolves around ‘the development and evolution of the core networking protocols (such as TCP/IP) and the basic Internet applications (e.g., SMTP for e-mail)’ [3]. The IETF essentially creates voluntary standards that maintain the interoperability and usability of the Internet. It has no official membership. The work is mostly done over the publicly available email lists, and during three annual meetings. Decisions at the meetings are made on the basis of ‘rough consensus’, often expressed by ‘humming’.

 

IRTF – The Internet Research Task Force

The Internet Research Task Force (IRTF) is a parallel organization of the IETF. The IRTF encourages research that is ‘of importance to the evolution of the Internet’ [4]. It does so by setting up long-term focused Research Groups (RGs) that analyze issues related to Internet protocols, applications, the Internet’s architecture and technology. The IRTF is different from the IETF because the IETF deals primarily with shorter-term work regarding engineering and standard creation. The IRTF currently has 11 chartered RGs that work on issues as diverse as cryptography, global Internet access, Internet congestion and human rights. The RGs are populated by members that are expected to contribute to the work in their personal capacity (rather than as representatives of organizations) and on a long-term basis.

 

RFC – Request for Comments

Requests for Comments (RFCs) are the official documents of Internet specifications, communication protocols, procedures, meeting notes and the occasional attempt at April fools jokes. The first RFCs were written by Steve Crocker in 1969 to record the development of ARPANET. They have since become the standard way to document all the developments describing the technical development of the Internet. IETF RFCs ‘contain technical and organizational notes about the Internet’ [5]. IETF RFCs are authored by engineers and others working in IETF working groups to define and specify how the Internet (and its connected systems) should connect and interoperate. The IETF adopts certain documents published as RFCs as Internet Standards.

 

I-D – Internet Draft

Internet Drafts (I-D) are the working documents published by the IETF [6]. They document the specific technical specifications, outputs of research related to network engineering, and other technical information related to the IETF’s work. They are the preliminary working, or ‘work-in-progress’, documents that can eventually become RFCs. Or, in some cases, achieve the coveted status of Internet standard. I-Ds have no formal status within the IETF and come with an expiry date of six months, after which they must be updated or replaced.

 

[1] http://ietf.org/about/

[2] & [3] Davidson, A., Morris, J., & Courtney, R. (2002). Strangers in a Strange Land: Public Interest Advocacy and Internet Standards. Retrieved from http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs12130-004-1027-y

[4] https://irtf.org/

[5] https://www.ietf.org/rfc.html

[6] https://www.ietf.org/id-info/