The Internet Governance Forum (IGF), which has been held annually since 2006, is a big milestone for organisations and individuals working on technical and academic issues surrounding internet governance. In spite of the sanitized theme of “Building Bridges, Enhancing Multi-stakeholder Cooperation for Growth and Sustainable Development”, the forum held in Bali from 22-25 October this year was charged by fears, concerns and outrage following the NSA revelations by Edward Snowden, and fueled further by the declaration of a Miss Internet Bali.
In the midst of discussing human rights in relation to internet governance, including women's rights in the internet, the Indonesian Internet Service Provider's Association fueled protests from women's and human rights groups. Its Miss Internet Bali event, that was reminiscent of beauty pageants that treated women as passive objects was been seen as reducing women's contribution to the development and use of the internet into a simple marketing ploy.
A protest letter was signed and presented to the IGF organisers by various human rights organizations including the Association for Progressive Communication (APC) of which EngageMedia is a member, the National Human Rights Commission of Indonesia (KomnasHAM) and the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPPA).
As EngageMedia is an organisation focused on video advocacy on social justice and environmental rights, I attended workshops that discussed topics covering threats and opportunities for human rights online, freedom of expression and security on the Internet. Most of the discussants talked about the decline in safety and security on the Internet, specifically regarding the increasing number of Internet activists, bloggers and journalists who are receiving threats, being detained and imprisoned, and in some extreme cases, being killed because of their reports.
Recent research by Freedom House revealed that freedom on the Internet has been on the decline for a couple of years. The research categorized the 76 countries surveyed as 'Free”, “Partly Free” and “Not Free”. Almost all Southeast Asian countries fell into the category of “Partly Free”, except for the Philippines which was categorized as “Free”, and Burma that is “Not Free”. The survey measured control over Internet activities including blocking and filtering, surveillance, paid pro-government commentators manipulating online discussions, new laws and arrests for political, religious or social speech online.
An interesting workshop I attended at IGF was one was chaired by youth talking about online anonymity. Young people, aged between 15 to 17 presented a survey on "Online Anonymity and the Freedom of Expression". The survey that was designed by and for youth stated that one in three people communicated online without revealing their identity in the last year. The most popular reason for being anonymous online was to protect personal information, which 65 percent of respondents selected. The second most popular reason across all ages was “to feel safer”. Most of those surveyed also said that they are more likely to say what they want online if they are anonymous.
Hendriati Trianita is EngageMedia's Program and Operations Manager. Photographs courtesy of IGF 2013.