Open forum: Access Now

7 Dec 2016 13:30h - 14:30h

Event report

[Read more session reports and live updates from the 11th Internet Governance Forum]

Mr Brett Solomon, co-founder and Executive Director of Access Now(, started the forum by explaining how the idea to create Access now came about, based on political incidents that happened in Iran in 2009.

At the time, he realised that the Internet was extremely important to political activity and to human rights, but at the same time, it was at risk. That motivated him to reflect on how to go about setting up an international NGO, a non-profit that would focus on protecting the open Internet and defending the digital rights of its users, and Access Now started as a concept.

Mr Peter Micek, Global Policy and Legal Counsel at Access Now, spoked about the role of the organisation in providing direct technical support to users at risk around the world, by increasing capacity, security, and hardening communications. Micek works with international and multinational organisations like telecoms and he tries to promote norms, policies and practices to help mitigate the sort of harms his colleagues from the tech-team feel each day.

Dr Daniel Bedoya Arroyo, Incident Response Manager at Access Now, indicated that he works in the Digital Security HelpLine, an Access Now service for civil society that provides 24/7 support on digital security, with a multilingual approach, giving support in eight languages, with three offices in different countries. He indicated that they not only react but also prevent, providing individual and direct assistance, real time support whenever someone is either facing an emergency situation or just wants to get a better understanding of their context, their model and how to increase their digital security.

Arroyo also mentioned a concept named ‘Digital Security Clinic’ that they are implementing in different countries, bringing the HelpLine closer to individuals providing direct support on site. He considers IGF to be an important channel for starting the conversation.

Solomon emphasised that they have the technical knowledge and real time connection with users, which allows them to develop policies based on real-time experiences. He indicated it is not just academic and philosophical, it is actually a human rights-based approach connected to the ground in real time.

The panellist opened the floor to the audience, who agreed about the important role that Access Now’s HelpLine has played in helping them with digital incidents.

Micek stated that he hoped to see further surveillance reform in the US next year, but considered that the election’s results are not a good boost for that reform effort. The election has put other issues on the table, such as the regulatory regime. The US does not have a comprehensive data protection law and he considers it necessary to recharge efforts to preserve net neutrality and re-open Internet rulings that have been won in the last few years. On the international side, Internet shutdowns are a very pressing problem and progress has been made for Internet companies to recognise this as impacting human rights.

Mr Javier Pallero, Policy Analyst for Latin America at Access Now, talked about biometrics, like the national ID system being proposed in Tunisia, and said that they are setting up policy positions trying to channel the discussions and frame them in a human rights perspective.

He said in the Latin America region they are discussing: Over the Top (OTT) and how this idea will help in regulating content over the Internet, and about data protection reforms that are being discussed in different countries. He indicated that there are many issues going around, with people who are working with differences in context, formation, education, and political backgrounds, so we need to work on the concept of interoperability of our own ideas and the way we present them, having human rights as the common denominator in order to do that.

Mr Ephaim Kenyianito, Policy Analyst, Sub-Saharan Africa, and IGF MAG Member, mentioned that his region is suffering from the Internet shutdown, agreeing with Micek, it is a pressing problem affecting people’s work and normal lives and violating their rights.
He said that in Africa they are discussing issues related to access and connectivity, even when they recognise the importance of human rights. Kenyianito considers these topics to be priorities in his region, with many people unconnected.

Mr Deji Olukotun, Senior Global Advocacy Manager at Access Now, spoke about the #KeepitOn campaign which has with over 100 organisations from nearly 50 countries, dedicated to fighting Internet shutdowns. They are promoting a petition signed by almost 46,000 people, calling on world governments to publicly commit to keeping the Internet on.

Access Now’s annual RightsCon conference was mentioned, it is celebrating its 6th edition next year. He said it is an opportunity for individuals, organisations, and champions within governments to talk about these issues in a way that is strategically important.

It was also highlighted that they provide grants, even to organisations that do not have the legal or organisational structure that may allow them to apply for international funding.

Some of the panellists mentioned the importance of keeping in mind that security is something unique to your position, threat model, and threat analysis. They considered that the discussion should be around important questions like how to build a new infrastructure that is redundant and not susceptible to shutdowns and blockings; and how to make sure that privacy is respected by designs?

by Wanda Pérez Pena, Internet Society Dominican Republic