News

ICANN HRIAs at the 2018 IGF

The CCWP-HR and NCUC co-organized a workshop to introduce new HRIA models under development in ICANN to the broader internet governance community during the 2018 IGF, held 12-14 November in Paris. HRIAs are an increasingly popular tool in the private sector to identify salient rights, anticipate negative impacts, and mitigate harm.

In the digital space, it remains challenging to define rights-holders amongst internet users and anticipate impacts as technologies evolve. This was highlighted by many attendees, yet there was broad support for companies and standard-setting bodies to introduce human rights commitments and corresponding due diligence mechanisms. Another recurring theme was the value of bridging the internet governance community with the business and human rights field, the benefits of which were showcased during the session.

One area of divergence related to which subset of rights should be prioritized, e.g. children’s, cultural, or LGBTQI rights. HRIA practitioners provided examples demonstrating that impact assessment methodologies can be tailored to address specific, or various, categories of rights. As a result, participants suggested that such tools can make the subject of human rights more practical and tangible while allowing people with divergent positions to engage constructively.

There was widespread multistakeholder support for organizing a Cross-Community Session on the subject of human rights during ICANN64, which will be held in March 2019. This will be an opportunity to gather feedback on ongoing efforts to design and test impact assessments geared toward ICANN policy development processes. Potentially interested parties suggested were the NCSG, NCUC, and GAC working groups on Public Safety and International Human Rights Law. The initial HRIA model can be found here.

VIDEO FROM THE SESSION
WORKSHOP DESCRIPTION & REPORT

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November 2018

ICANN63 Barcelona

Tangible progress was made for human rights at ICANN during its 63rd meeting, held in Barcelona from 20-25 October. Some highlights:

  • CCWG-Acc Work Stream 2 recommendations have now been approved by all Supporting Organizations and Advisory Committees. The next step is final approval from the Board, at which point the Human Rights Bylaw will become activated.
  • ICANN CEO Göran Marby mentioned their organizational HRIA in his opening remarks during the ICANN63 Welcome Ceremony, clearly citing the community’s success in putting human rights on the agenda. (video, starts at 41:56; more information about ICANN’s HRIA available here)
  • HRIAs were also major topic in the NCSG’s meeting with the ICANN Board, where we confirmed that both the methodology and the unredacted results from the assessment will be made public once it has wrapped up. (video, starts at 33:38)

ICANN org’s engagement with human rights sets a positive example in the DNS and the tech sector more broadly. However, it’s important to reiterate that ICANN’s HRIA does not cover DNS policy. As identified in the CCWP-HR’s latest paper, ICANN Policy and Human Rights: A Primer on Current GNSO Policy Development Processes, DNS policy directly impacts the human rights of both registrants and internet users at large. Therefore,  it’s important for the ICANN community to continue working to assess the impact of ICANN’s policies and ensure that they live up to the Human Rights Bylaw.

** ICANN policy HRIAs will be the focus of our workshop during the UN Internet Governance Forum Wednesday 14 November in Paris — contributions to the session are highly encouraged, and remote participation will be available.

More broadly speaking, there are currently many conversations underway within the ICANN community about improving the efficiency and effectiveness of consensus-based community policy development processes. During the CCWP-HR’s September call, the GNSO’s “PDP 3.0” and its articulation with the Human Rights Bylaw was a topic of conversation. More recently, presentations on diversity and transparency in Barcelona sparked a lively exchange on the relationship between bottom-up consensus-based processes and standards for legitimacy and accountability. The evolution of ICANN’s multistakeholder model — particularly as it relates to the new community standards for human rights, diversity, transparency, and accountability — will be an important topic to keep track of as conversations evolve.

 

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November 2018

Human Rights and ICANN – Into Uncharted Territory

Since its inception, the Internet has become a core delivery mechanism for human rights, particularly freedom of expression, but also the right to education, the right to association, and the right to political participation, among many others. As a steward over this global resource, ICANN plays a pivotal role in the exercise of these rights, and their policy decisions have profound impacts on the rights of billions of internet users. This gives rise to a novel conceptual challenge: what kind of human rights obligations attach to ICANN itself, and how should human rights be understood in the context of an organization which is not a government, nor an inter-governmental organization, nor a private sector corporation.

International human rights rules are primarily designed to bind States rather than private actors. There is, however, growing attention being paid to the human rights obligations that attach to corporations and other private sector entities. This is most prominently addressed in the UN’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which formulates guidelines for avoiding private sector complicity in human rights violations. However, there is an increasing recognition that some private sector actors have a duty not just to avoid violating human rights, but that they also, in some circumstances, bear a responsibility to safeguard and even to promote human rights. This is particularly important to consider where the State has explicitly handed a key human rights oversight role to a non-State body, or where an entity effectively holds a monopoly position over a particular resource or function.

These conceptual challenges are in addition to the questions around whether and how human rights principles should be adapted to apply to online communications. Rather than creating a platform for an influential few, as newspapers or broadcasters do, the Internet facilitates speech directly by individuals, giving everyone a platform and access to a global audience. By the same token, however, this grants the intermediaries that facilitate online communication an unprecedented influence over individuals’ right to freedom of expression and access to information. This power has also attracted the attention of governments, which are placing increasing pressure on non-State actors to facilitate and/or participate in human rights violations, for example by acting to police particular user content, or handing over personal information about users.

All of this brings us back to ICANN, and its role in overseeing the domain name space, as well as in holding the ring between the different players that make online communication possible: including ISPs, registries, registrars, and other infrastructural components. Amending ICANN’s bylaws to ensure that the organization has a mandate to respect human rights is the first step, but it leads to far more challenging problems of defining what human rights mean in ICANN’s unique context. This is the conversation that the CCWP is helping to facilitate, as the diverse stakeholders in ICANN’s community come together to present their different visions of how human rights responsibilities apply to this novel ecosystem.

Post contributed by CCWP-HR Co-Chair Michael Karanicolas

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September 2018