Workshop on Internet, Human Rights and Governance in ASEAN
21 Apr 2015
The workshop on Internet, Human Rights and Governance in ASEAN discussed issues around internet access, infrastructure, regulation and human rights in ASEAN. The workshop included a presentation and discussion on the key points of the ASEAN ICT Masterplan 2010-2015. It was highlighted that although the current plan mentioned people empowerment as an objective, there is in actual fact, little indication of civil society involvement and participation in its formulation, and thus a less than satisfactory focus on civil society priorities.
Following on from the presentation, the workshop produced the following recommendations regarding internet rights and freedoms:
1. Development of ICT Masterplan/Blueprint
The ASEAN ICT Masterplan was developed for the period 2010-2015. Any development of a further plan must involve civil society in the negotiation and drafting process. The consultation process with civil society should be an ASEAN-wide process, and not merely a national process within countries. Special attention must also be given to countries that lack a national consultation process regarding ICT issues.
Civil society must be seen as an important stakeholder in the development of any ICT Masterplan/Blueprint. The workshop also discussed the possibility of a multi-stakeholder body that could include civil society representation in ASEAN, with representation from different civil society groups working on different issues.
There should be a permanent consultative process where governments and civil society can work on the development of any ICT plan and also evaluate the progress of any plan. In this regard, civil society can work on a scorecard for the region’s ICT plan.
It is important for civil society organisations to engage with the division of the ASEAN Secretariat that is in charge of the execution of the ICT Masterplan and to be aware of the agenda for the development of further plans.
There should be efforts to standardise regional definitions on concepts such as “broadband” so as to facilitate cross-border discussions. Any ICT plan should also promote inter-operability to allow better interaction between countries.
2. Internet access as a human right
The viewing of internet access as a human right is lacking from the current ICT Masterplan 2010-2015. It is important that ASEAN countries acknowledge internet access as a right.
States have positive obligations to facilitate the enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression via the internet. The internet should be accepted as a public good.
There should be minimum standards set for ASEAN citizens to be able to access the internet at a reasonable speed, and at an affordable price. Universal access to the internet from homes should be pursued vigorously as a policy.
The right to internet access must include not just access to a network, but also the right to free flow of information.
It is also important that infrastructure is developed that would allow for continued internet access even during times of disasters such as floods and typhoons. Internet access in disaster-hit areas can be crucial to rescue and recovery efforts.
There must also be continued internet access during times of political unrest.
3. Freedom of expression and human rights standards should apply online
Human rights offline should also apply to human rights online. Any ICT plan must respect international human rights standards, including the right to freedom of expression, the right to information and the right to privacy.
In particular, any ICT plan must respect Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which has been signed by six out of ten ASEAN countries. Any ICT plan should also comply with General Comment 34 of the Human Rights Council and the 2011 UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression’s 2013 report which focuses on the internet (http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Opinion/A.66.290.pdf).
Businesses that are involved in implementing any ASEAN ICT plan must also be made accountable to comply with international human rights standards. For example, to refer to the Manila Principles of Intermediary Liability (https://www.manilaprinciples.org)and the UN Ruggie Framework (http://www.reports-and-materials.org/Ruggie-report-7-Apr-2008.pdf) as guiding principles.
There must be a clear commitment that any ICT masterplan on infrastructure must not infringe on the right to expression. The development of ICT access and infrastructure should not be seen as an opportunity for governments to engage in content regulation.
4. Data protection
Not all ASEAN countries have data protection laws. Data protection needs to be a priority in any ASEAN ICT plan. Countries with data protection laws must improve enforcement of such laws.
Metadata must be included in data protection laws.
Data protection must cover not just the private sector but also public sector collection, storage, sharing and use of data.
Existing data protection laws in ASEAN lack obligations for institutions to disclose any security breaches resulting in loss of personal data. It must be made compulsory for any such security breaches to be disclosed. Especially with ASEAN countries promoting e-banking and electronic transactions, it is imperative that institutions are obligated to publicly disclose any breaches of its systems resulting in users’ data being obtained.
Any data protection law should also extend to data collected from smart devices, and the internet of things.
5. Intellectual property rights and copyright issues
Intellectual property and copyright issues inevitably affect matters regarding the internet and access to content on the internet. Agreements that deal with intellectual property and copyright issues, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, should be inclusive and transparent, and should not be negotiated in secrecy.
There should be an ASEAN policy to promote the use of creative commons and for certain kinds of content, such as health information, to be designated as being in the public domain.
There should also be an ASEAN policy to promote the use of free and open source software. This would also promote development and innovation in this area.
6. Blocking or censorship of sites
There should be clear and precise definitions on exactly what content can be blocked e.g. phishing websites and malware websites. If religious or morality reasons are cited for the blocking of websites, there must be clear and narrow definitions on exactly what sort of criteria is used to determine whether or not the websites should be blocked.
It should be made clear that websites that provide information and news such as independent news portals and health information should never be blocked.
If there are requests for a website to be blocked, there should be an open, accountable and transparent process for determining whether or not to accede to the request. There should also be an open and transparent process to appeal against a decision to block a website.
It is worrying that the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement may allow take-down requests by private entities. No internet service provider (ISP) should be allowed to take down content merely on the request of a private company. There must be due process and accountability in the blocking or taking down of any content.
ASEAN should be aware of cybersecurity concerns regarding the internet of things (IOT). Smart devices that are capable of accessing the internet such as televisions and refrigerators should also be included in cybersecurity measures. Measures should be taken to ensure that security vulnerabilities in such devices can also be assessed and updated. Cybersecurity should be narrowly defined, and not be used as a catch-all phrase to increase surveillance and to compromise privacy of individuals.
There should be greater people empowerment and awareness regarding surveillance online. There should be greater education on the importance of encryption of sensitive data and of 2-factor authentication in accessing online services. There needs to be more research and transparency on surveillance practices by governments and through partnership with private corporations.
9. Environmental Impact
In carrying out the ICT Masterplan, there will inevitably be an impact on the environment. It is important that the execution of the plan is carried out sustainably and proper measures are taken for instance, in the mining industry, and in waste management, to ensure the environment is protected.
10. Digital literacy
There should be a proper digital literacy programme to ensure that individuals are able to access the internet meaningfully and effectively. This should go beyond the mere provision of laptops, but involve proper curricula on how to access the internet effectively, safely and in the exercise of their rights.
There should be a focus on ensuring that marginalised and disadvantaged groups have effective digital access, such as persons with disabilities, poor communities, and women.
Prepared by: Centre for Independent Journalism
Workshop organised by: Centre for Independent Journalism Malaysia, Women’s Legal Bureau, Foundation for Media Alternatives, Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower), Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), Association for Progressive Communications (APC)