Joana Varon’s speech representing civil society at IGF2015 Opening Ceremony


Hello, all protocols have been addressed. I would like to extend my general greetings for all the participants. And correct my affiliation. I’m actually researcher and human rights advocate, and founder director of Coding Rights which is a female organisation focused in advancing the enforcement of human rights in the digital world by integrating usages and understandings of technology into policymaking process. I have to say a few weeks ago, we were surprised by a E mail saying that I’ve been nominated by my colleagues for this Opening Session. When I got the news, the first thing that crossed my mind were memories from when I attended my first IGF back in 2007. Here in Brazil, in Rio de Janeiro.It was just nine years ago, but as much as I changed, I got some trust from Civil Society colleagues that nominated me to be here today, the Internet has also changed a lot. And we have great innovations, more people connected, indeed, different kind of smart devices, but I’m concerned. The Internet was built with the core value of connectivity to be open, interoperable. But our Internet is becoming more and more centralized. Sometimes, by the action of governments, but mostly by market powers. That aspect poses problems to those core values that were originally embedded in the architecture of the Internet poses problems, protection and promotion of human rights, and also represents challenges to the Internet Governance processes. Particularly concerning, how we address our endless search for the beloved utopia of a Democratic multistakeholder participation. Mostly considering this from the mental power imbalances within the various stakeholder groups, some concerns, human rights and from the mental technical values for the Internet architecture, like end to end interoperability, confidentiality and many others are being solved, in this progressively more centralized Internet, coined by profit and control. I give some examples of such centralization trends. In terms of connectivity, for instance, at least in developing countries or emerging economies, connectivities are still centralized in the hands of very few telecommunication companies. We need to discuss alternatives to this such as public regime for Internet services, discuss free spectrum, usage of cognitive radios. We have technologies for that. And I was glad that there was a particular plenary addressing this issue in this edition of IGF already. Furthermore, we need to understand that Zero Rating practices are not the solution to the digital divide. There are people, particularly from developing countries, that practically only access one service and think it’s Internet. Imagine if this perception would escalate. So, please let’s not sell donkeys pretending they are horses, Internet org is not Internet, free basics is not free, we are paying for it. It is more like
It’s more like you are basically getting free of your rights, the right to access global and free Internet. So, we not only need open connectivity. We also really need implementable net neutrality, and in particular the representatives, Brazilian Government representatives that are here, I’d like to ask for them to please consider that there is a urgency to have a regulation of Marco Civil that decree that hopefully would set the tone about that. Marco Civil was an example in terms of process and content worldwide, but without regulation, it is in danger, mostly by market practices. Another example of decentralization is related to freedom of expression and privacy. A Special Rapporteur David Kaye said today and I find appealing, why are we reading a newspaper, the newspapers today, the newspapers is also reading us. All this data, data, our digital shadow, our powerful tool, that can be used against us, either by framing us, framing our will, or to be used for pressure or clashing groups of descent. So while we have never been more connected, we have also never been so exposed as in the digital world, and pervasive surveillance, weak enforcement for data protection or discourse of Cybersecurity and terrorism does not make the perspectives very good. We need strong and enforceable data protection views and here I call attention again to the situation in Brazil, we need to deliver our data protection bill. There was a result of a public consultation to the legislative, they have to approve as soon as possible so we have coherence with national and international agenda in the protection of digital rights or privacy rights. We also need to understand and ensure that encryption and anonymity can and should be preserved. We need to solve jurisdictional conflicts to ensure that protection of freedom of expression and privacy are not dependent on companies. We need to move forward with transparent and accountable IANA transition towards a global system. And beyond, policy approaches to human rights, we need to inform these principles for the development of technology. Technology is not neutral. We need to consider that what does it mean to have human rights considerations for standards and protocols. We need to foster free software as it has been said in sessions here, if we cannot see, we cannot trust it. We need to work more closely to technical community to understand or at least expose the implications about what they do, and human rights. Finally, we need more women and more diversity within those who develop technologies.
And create policies for technologies. This imbalance is already very expressive in this Opening Session, in which you can count four women. So to wrap my points, all this list of issues that can be developed further and further, represent the challenges that are increasing, to protect and promote human rights and the core values of the architecture of the Internet in face of decentralization. My final consideration for us to have in mind is, what is the Internet Governance system that can address all this? What is the role of IGF facing these issues? IGF is indeed a unique space for multistakeholder dialogue. But we need to fulfill them in data of IGF as provided in the Tunis Agenda. We are currently in the process of reviewing the WSIS+10, where this issue can be addressed. But the renewal of IGF cannot be used as a maintenance of the status quo, in which the Internet Governance ecosystem remains the same. No one can solve the issues that I have raised so far. The Internet that we were discussing during WSIS process in 2003 and 5, and later on here in Brazil in IGF 2017 is not the same. The challenges to maintaining a free, open and decentralized network have never been bigger, and the solution is related to access, whether the institutional arrangements that we built are able to protect and promote human rights, and enable us to maintain technical values that inspire the creation of the Internet. I hope in these days to come, we can discuss this and other issues further, with all the reasons they require but not only discuss really, let us also protest freely. This is also political space. I’ve been looking and saw some Civil Society representatives are being harassed and taken out of the venue by due to attempt of silent protest around free basics. It is a bit unacceptable in a context in which we are discussing free speech. So please, let’s let people who cannot be on the stage also symbolically express their key questions regarding the future of Internet in front of high level panels like this. I hope this issue can be solved quickly. Finally, let us also use this space to think what institutional arrangements are needed to move forward beyond the status quo, in order to reverse the strength of centralization of the Internet. Let us try to put at least many of the beautiful words that were said here and look good in paper, in practice, towards a real people centered, open, free, global and inclusive Internet.
Thank you so much.



Nadine Moawad’s speech representing civil society at IGF2015 Closing Ceremony

Thank you.

(cheering and applause).

This is a very opportunity for me to take this with my own head so I will use the last ten seconds.

Thank you very much, I’m happy to be speaking today on behalf of the Civil Society and I’m happy for this opportunity and quite honoured. I want to tell a personal story because as a kid who grew up in a small Lebanese town, in the ’90s, the issues that we discuss here today of Internet freedom, access, freedom of speech, gender and sexuality, these are very personal issues to me because they reflect my own struggle for freedom, for knowledge for community and for love.

So little did I imagine when I was a kid, teenager growing up that one day we would come to multistakeholder settings and to the UN and discuss these issues as political issues. I wanted to invite us in this last Closing Ceremony to remember that moment where we first connected to the Internet, and that is infinite feeling of possibility.

Because that I believe is the feeling of liberation that has to guide us as we make decisions about how we govern the Internet. So we have heard these amazing technological developments in the last few decades, mostly driven by capitalism, and I think the greatest advancement has been the Internet, but we also know that capitalism as a economic model will not last forever. That it is eating up our planet, it’s widening the gap between the rich and poor, the one percent get richer, the rest of us get poorer. We have to ask ourselves if we believe that the Internet is a facilitator for equality, for justice, empowering people, why is it that in the last ten, 20 years, we have seen the greatest inequalities of our time? We have to ask ourselves that, because we all come here with the belief that technology is an equalizer, and we come here with the belief that the Internet will bring good to people.

Right? That it will lift us up somehow, from these models that aren’t working, and take us to better egalitarian equitable systems. We have to ask how come the Internet that we used to log into and those of you who are a bit older will remember, logging in, in late ’90s and 2000s, when everything was possible, and yet now, every interaction is monitored, regulated, surveilled and every virtual point of our identity is sold for profit and is monetized and is privatized.

These are the questions we have to grapple with. When we come to spaces like the IGF, and talk about human rights and about the right to privacy, right to human dignity, human anonymity, sometimes it’s strange to sit around the same table and discuss things that are such fundamental human rights. We have to ask ourselves, how are we framing the questions around these issues?

Because you know the saying in debates that those who frame the question win the debate. Right? So I’ll start with a first question for example, freedom of speech. How are we framing our discussion on freedom of speech? Freedom of speech is not the freedom to offend people who are weaker than you. It’s not the freedom to push down people who are already battling against complexes of military, of war, racism, of genocide. It is not the freedom to see someone who is struggling because of structural issues, and then bash them and say look, freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is our right to offend those who are untouchable, those who are empowered in power, those protected by media, banks, armies. It’s our right to offend those people.


That is what we understand as freedom of speech. Otherwise, it’s called hedgemonnic speech, so it is our right for example to demand of Arab governments to release immediately people like Hala and all of the bloggers that are detained because of tweets and blog bots.


This is what we believe freedom of speech is. Also freedom of speech is the right of African Americans to say loudly and clearly, black lives matter, one of the most beautiful campaigns …


Happened on the Internet recently, was black lives matter and they had to say it a hundred million times, to get people to listen to them. Yeah? And freedom of speech also is the right for persons and activists to come to the IGF and carry a banner that says, free basics.


Free of basic human rights, that is what we defend as freedom of speech.

We see, my friends, it is not the governments who protect freedom of speech, not the corporations, not the police. Only people who will protect it is us, by our relentlessness and our sheer insistence that we will not shut up about our rights, to say what we want to say.

Further example I want to talk about is access because we have talked about access in this Forum. Remember how we frame the question, those who frame the question win the debate. Right?

The debate about access is mostly controlled by those who have access, deciding on behalf of those who don’t have access, what they need. I’ll tell you a story about my mother, she joined the Internet because she heard from her neighbor in the town that she could raise a virtual Forum with animals, crops, she could feed things, she could look after them. She got excited about the idea of a Forum.

She plays on the Forum all day, tells me about it, sometimes sends me photos, etcetera. My mother is not interested in using the Internet for information because she doesn’t trust it. She would actually be an excellent content producer. She could populate the Internet with better content than most of the information that is out there. But yet when we talk about access, we don’t think of my mother as a content producer, as someone engaged in this Internet. We see her as someone who will use the Internet, for example, to talk to her local Government. It so happens her local Government is her cousin, if she wants to talk to him she stands on the balcony and yells across the street.

But since we frame her, when we frame the discussion as these poor people who are not connected, we need to bring them Internet, we are disempowering people, instead of empowering them, and instead of putting the agency where it belongs.

Technology by default is a product of creativity. People understand technology, but somehow when we make it into this cryptic complicated issue, we are disempowering them. I also want to talk about anonymity. I can’t see my timer. Anyway, I want to talk also about anonymity.


Anonymity, the debate is framed in a way where anonymity causes crimes, which is also such a strange debate. If I go to my, I get my bag stolen, run to security, I say my bag is stolen, he will not say I’m sorry, your criminal is anonymous. Right? He won’t say, oh, damn it, anonymity, we should have scared everybody and put chips in everyone to monitor where they went, otherwise we have crime. Crime by default is anonymous. We figure out ways to work around it without saying, because of crime, we have to rid people of anonymity. The fact is, my friends, anonymity saves lives. A lot of people are free and alive today because of their right to be anonymous.

Now we have to go to extra lengths …


It’s getting harder and harder to be anonymous. And they are talking about making encryption illegal. We have to fight for these things. We have to retain these things.

Finally, I must speak a little about sex, because that is my main job with APC, I look at the intersection of sexuality and technology. If we think about sex, sexual rights, as fundamentally your right to have good sex, this is what you advocate for. What does it mean? It means you can have healthy sex, you have all the information you need, you can talk about it openly, you are having consensual sex, nobody is forcing you. You have access to contraception, you can choose your partner. You have access to abortion, etcetera. We are talking about rights that are sexual rights. We fought hard for decades to get the United Nations and get local Government to recognize that sexual rights are human rights, including the right of LGB Ts and rights of queer people and people of diverse sexualities.

So we come to think about the Internet in relation to sexual rights. Because the Internet has a lot to do with sex. We all have sex online, we all use the Internet to look up sex information, it’s a political act, particularly for people whose sex lives don’t make it into the mainstream. Yeah? For women, for LGBTs, for people with disabilities, people with color, all categories of people whose sexuality are still taboo and don’t want to talk about it.

The Internet enables us to discuss them. We have to keep having these conversations about sex at the IGF, in Internet Governance spaces, because we have to unpack the complexities of the relationship of sexuality with technology. For example, who decides what is harmful content? Who decides what is pornographic? Why do we rid young people of their agency to decide of what is harmful for them and what is not? Why do we put young people under the blanket and say protect them, protect them. What do we censor using this blanket because we want to protect young people instead of recognizing the young people, use the Internet better than any other generation can use it, and can make decisions about what to say for them and what is healthy for them and what is right for them. Embedded in this is the question of consent.

We started talking a little at this IGF about consent. I think we have to move forward and discuss more, how do we embed the idea of consent, meaningful consent into our technology, design, structures and discussions and our politics.

To summarize, my friends, I think it is a time for us to be braver, be bolder, and to demand what we want to demand what we believe is right, and to up our efforts to keep the Internet, a Internet that we love, a Internet that can transform our lives and if there is anything we know about the Internet, it’s that it always has amazing surprises for us.

Finally, I want to name, I was asked to name a Civil Society colleague who was in IGF for a long time, Ronnie coven from the World Press Freedom Committee who is not with us anymore. Keep fighting for a free and open Internet. If you are not going to fight for it, we are going to lose it. Thank you.

(cheering and applause).

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