Yesterday, the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation put on an event: Safeguarding Human Rights in Times of Surveillance. The event featured a round table with Rebecca Mackinnon, an NAF senior research fellow, Cynthia Wong, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, andCarolina Rossini, the Latin American Resource Center Director at NAF. Frank La Rue, the Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom and Expression at the UN, was the main speaker. La Rue and the round table discussed the impact of the PRISM and metadata collection leaks on human rights. Although rights discourse was the primary focus of the event, speakers often spoke from a business angle, and addressed issues relevant to CCIA stances.
There was a clear consensus among the panelists that the NSA revelations would instigate a conversation about control of the Internet. Despite the fact that La Rue worked for the UN, he took a skeptical stance on the organization’s ability to “control” the Internet, and stressed his concern with proposals to hand Internet governance over to the ITU. Many of the speakers were deeply concerned about the balkanization of the Internet, and were adamant about preserving the multi-stakeholder model which has allowed the net to thrive.
Mossini was adamant that the leaks undermined international trust in the United States. While the panelists noted the US’s history of robust protections of Internet freedom, they worry that countries with weaker records would use NSA surveillance to justify repressive stances. For example, net-neutrality in Argentina was reportedly halted following the revelations, and Brazil is now looking to emulate India’s centralized control of telecommunications. Such measures would hamper the crucial free-flow of data, and make it harder for US Internet companies to operate in other countries.
La Rue even discussed the role of intellectual property, and the importance of balancing freedom of speech and IP protection — something the United States does well. However, foreign countries protective of less-open IP regimes use allegations of mass-surveillance to pillory US proposals in free trade agreements.