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18.7.2014

Open Internet advocates discussed free expression and effective activism

Advocacy & Internet Summer School brought together a diverse group of activists and researchers from 24 countries to discuss the latest threats and opportunities of Internet freedom. The week-long intensive course hosted by Central European University in Budapest offered many new insights and practical case studies in freedom of expression, privacy or Internet law.

“Central European University is a place with a mission” is probably one of the first things you’ll hear about this unusual academic institution. Based in early 90s, CEU should have served as a source of intellectual support for critical thinkers building open societies in CEE region and beyond. More than 20 years after, CEU is a swarming international hub for exploring democracy from wide range of perspectives. Such was also the spirit of a summer course Advocacy, Activism and the Internet: Communication Policy for Social Change I had a chance to attend in the second week of July.

We learned about recent case studies – successful campaigns such as the fight against “#LeyChehade” in Peru. In fall 2013, a controversial bill was proposed in Peru. One of its biggest flaws was ordering Internet service providers to install a opt-in filter to block pornographic content. Hiperderecho, a non-profit geek squad, stand up against that with a campaign which featured various tactics such as media-savvy infographics, public debates or approaching MPs in their favourite supermarkets. Few months later, the bill was amended and refocused towards the promotion of the responsible use of technology within families.

Furthermore, we explored Internet freedom from a global perspective. Marius Dragomir from Open Society Foundations presented Mapping Digital Media project, an extensive research on how digitalization of the media affected journalism and democracy in nearly 60 countries. Individual studies are available here. Most of them include specific recommendations that can help forming a solid ground for advocacy efforts. For example, Mexican Association of the Right to Information managed to push 19 of 21 of the recommendations into the legislation.

One of the hottest topics throughout the week was mass surveillance. Ben Wagner from Annenberg School of Communication introduced us to current state of affairs, which is rather challenging and chaotic. Both research and law regulation is still in its infancy and there is a lot of work ahead of us. One of the most pressing issues is unlawful export of surveillance technologies, a huge but practically invisible business violating human rights. International campaigns, such as Coalition Against Unlawful Surveillance Exports or No Spyware for Dictators (on EU level) are just starting to bring these problems to light. Nonetheless, cases such the USA vs. Snowden made us think more about our privacy and holding governments accountable.

With such privacy concerns in mind, practical tips such as Strong passwords or Gmail security checklist might be handy.

As you can imagine, important things happened also outside the class. Some issues, such as right to be forgotten, are better discussed over a pint. And watching the Germany vs Brasil soccer blitzkrieg with people from so many continents was a truly memorable experience for me.

I was leaving Budapest empowered with an adrenaline injection of new ideas and grateful for having a chance to connect and share experience with remarkable people from all over the world. Many challenges lie ahead of us, but with such a group of skilled and passionate advocates, the Internet is in good hands. If you’d like to follow their future endeavours, subscribe to this Twitter list.

Michaela Rybičková

email: michaela.rybickova@motejl.cz

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