As we have for the past several years, my ConnectSafely.org co-director Anne Collier and I are attending this year’s Internet Governance Forum (IGF) to talk about child protections, child rights and digital citizenship, including children’s’ access to social media and other Internet resources. The ninth annual IGF takes place in Istanbul, Turkey, September 2nd through the 5th.
The IGF is what the UN calls a “multi-stakeholder” gathering, which means it’s not just governments that attend IGF, but also representatives from industry (mostly tech companies), non-profit organizations and academia. Numerous U.S. officials are here, including Catherine Novelli, the State Department’s Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment, NTIA Administrator and Assistant Secretary of Commerce Lawrence E. Strickling and FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn.
There will be several sessions on Network Neutrality, which has become a major topic in the United States, but also around the world, including in Europe where the European Parliament has voted to limit Internet service providers’ ability to charge for special services or faster access to content providers.
In the U.S., the FCC is pondering new network neutrality rules after the District of Columbia Circuit Court overturned nondiscrimination rules that the FCC had enacted in 2010. The proposed FCC rules would ban blatant blocking of competitive content, but would allow ISPs to enter special agreements with content providers, causing some to fear that this could lead to a less open Internet where rich companies have an unfair advantage over those without the ability to pay ISPs for enhanced access.
Open access has long been a theme at IGF, with most participants agreeing that the Internet should be open to all ideas and not censored by government or ISPs As always, there will be sessions on freedom of speech, including one entitled Online Freedoms and Access to Information Online.
But any discussion of free speech has to include a critique of countries that have restricted access to some parts of the Internet including the host country, Turkey, which for a time early this year banned access to Twitter and YouTube. Those particular sites are once again accessible but, according to Turkish Internet rights activists Yaman Akdeniz and Kerem Altiparmak, “Between May 2007 and July 2014 Turkey blocked access to approximately 48,000 websites,” based on a recently updated law. Akdeniz and Altiparmak added that “Although the law is ostensibly aimed to protect children from harmful content, from the very beginning it has been used to prevent adults’ access to information.”
Akdeniz and Altiparmak will be boycotting the IGF but will be participating in the Internet Ungoverance Forum that will take place in Istanbul on September 4th and 5th “for people who demand that fundamental freedoms, openness, unity and net neutrality remain the building blocks of the Internet.”
Child protection and youth rights
There are several workshops on child protection including the ones that Anne Collier and I are speaking at. Anne is moderating a workshop entitled Empowering Global Youth Through Digital Citizenship with the goal of moving beyond protection towards a better understanding of youth perspectives, including ”how they use digital tools and spaces to promote and support causes, make change and participate in civil society or even political life.”
The panel I’m moderating, Protecting Child Safety AND Child Rights, focuses on how adults can help young people remain safe online without jeopardizing their rights of access, free expression and participation.