The Global Network Initiative 2016 Annual Public Learning Forum brought together experts to explore the immense challenges on the horizon for privacy and free expression in the ICT sector.

The event, which was hosted by the Georgetown University Master of Science in Foreign Service Program, also marked the launch of GNI’s new policy brief on responding to extremist content online without harming free expression and privacy. “Extremist Content and the ICT Sector” sets out a series of recommendations to governments and companies and is the result of an 18 month-long global dialogue undertaken by GNI and its member organizations.

The imposition of government restrictions beyond borders was the theme this year, and our two panels featured discussions on a range of issues, including data localization, the enforcement of the European “Right to Be Forgotten” mandate, and the risks to human rights inherent in government responses to online extremism.

In the first panel, “Extraterritoriality and Global Threats to Free Expression and Privacy,” experts from both sides of the Atlantic debated the human rights impacts of enforcing the European Right to be Forgotten. Professor Dawn Nunziato explained how the lines between search engines and content providers may be blurring, with news sites now under pressure to censor or remove material. Andrea Glorioso from the EU Delegation to the United States argued that it was important for sovereign democracies to be able to determine their own balance between rights to personal data and impacts on freedom of expression and human rights more broadly.

Professor Jennifer Daskal argued that current approaches to cross-border data sharing may incentivize data localization and surreptitious means of gathering data. Farieha Aziz, Executive Director of Pakistani human rights group Bolo Bhi, walked the audience through the potential consequences of Pakistan’s Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill (PECB), which has codified previously-arbitrary procedures that pose dangers for citizens’ rights online under a pretext of national security and countering terrorism.

Building on extensive GNI efforts on network shutdowns this year, Andy O’Connell of Facebook argued for the need to raise awareness of this growing trend, and for a multi-stakeholder coalition to work to demonstrate to governments and international institutions the economic harms of shutdowns in order to change government responses to elections and other political flash-points.

In our second panel on responses to online extremism, Microsoft’s Bernard Shen said online extremism is a real threat, but cautioned against responses by governments that were based on “a false choice between security and human rights.” CDT’s Emma Llanso warned that laws and policies put in place in the United State and Europe will be replicated elsewhere, in contexts where democracy and the rule is weak. ‘Gbenga Sesan, GNI-Internews Fellow and Executive Director of Paradigm Initiative Nigeria, briefed the audience on the instances where accusations of “terrorism” are being used by African leaders to infringe on users’ rights online.

Seamus Hughes of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University led a debate on the merits of current approaches to countering violent extremism, both online and off, and shared his analysis of an industry “finding a balance between terms-of-service enforcement and the need to protect security and rights.”

We thank Michael Samway and the Georgetown University MSFS program for their support in hosting the event.

GNI Annual Public Learning Forum
Storms on the Horizon: Contending with Complex Free Expression and Privacy Challenges Online
Wednesday, November 30th
Hosted by the Georgetown University Master of Science in Foreign Service Program

Welcome Remarks

  • Michael Samway, Adjunct Professor, Georgetown University
  • Mark Stephens, Independent Board Chair, Global Network Initiative

Panel 1: Extraterritoriality and Global Threats to Free Expression and Privacy

This session will go around the world in an hour, illustrating the challenges facing companies arising from conflicts of law as governments attempt to assert control over content and user data beyond their borders. Topics to be covered include data localization mandates, whether the right to be forgotten is going global, and contentious legislative developments in key countries.

  • Farieha Aziz, Executive Director, Bolo Bhi, Pakistan
  • Jennifer Daskal, Associate Professor, American University Washington College of Law
  • Andrea Glorioso, Counsellor for the Digital Economy, Delegation of the European Union to the USA
  • Dawn Nunziato, Professor of Law, George Washington University Law School
  • Andy O’Connell, Manager, Global Policy Development, Facebook
  • Moderated by Arturo Carrillo, Professor of Clinical Law, George Washington University Law School

Panel 2 – Grappling with Violent Extremism Online:

Toward Transparency and Due Process

GNI’s new policy brief on extremist content online will be presented, and representatives from government and international institutions, companies, academia, and civil society organizations will discuss the best way to protect freedom of expression and privacy while responding to extremism online.

  • Seamus Hughes, Deputy Director, Program on Extremism, George Washington University Center for Cyber and Homeland Security
  • Emma Llansó, Director, Free Expression Project, Center for Democracy & Technology
  • ‘Gbenga Sesan, Executive Director, Paradigm Initiative Nigeria
  • Bernard Shen, Assistant General Counsel, Microsoft
  • David Sullivan, Director of Learning and Development, Global Network Initiative
  • Moderated by Bennett Freeman, Board Secretary, Global Network Initiative