Mapping digital rights in the Middle East and North Africa: A new visual tool for comparative analysis

5 Dec 2016 10:00h - 11:00h

Event report

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The session Mapping digital rights in the Middle East and North Africa introduced the Internet Legislation Atlas, as a new visual tool for comparative analysis.

Ms Hanane Boujemi, Senior Programme Manager, iGmena, began by presenting the Internet Legislation Atlas (ILA), an initiative that maps the laws in MENA countries that govern the Internet. The ILA facilitates comparison between countries to identify best practices and opportunities for improvement. Users can compare laws within and across regions, allowing for deeper understanding of the similarities and differences in approach. The project also increases the knowledge of stakeholders, empowering them to take the lead in promoting rights-based Internet policies, engage in regional and global discussions on Internet law, and find resources to drive change more effectively.

Ms Noha Fathy, ILA Project Lead, iGmena, introduced the ILA visualisation tools, and explained how the tool will be applied in countries focused on ILA. There are five themes and categories: constitutional protection, content restriction, media and internet actors, internet intermediaries, surveillance and protection and personal data related to universal access. The ILA maps the legal landscape in each country as it relates to the Internet and civil society and outlines gaps and ambiguities in existing laws and regulations in relation to international human rights standards.

Fathy highlighted the opportunities for advocacy regarding Internet-related law and policy in each country, drawing on international human rights standards and best practices to connect civil society to resources that will help them navigate the legal environment in the MENA region. One of the challenges of the ILA is the draconian laws that restrict online freedoms and rights and permit cybercrime and terrorist acts; allow for visiting of immoral websites, sending abusive message, damaging national unity and peace. Telecommunication laws and national security are a pretext used to impose restrictions and judicial oversight. This stifles digital rights. The absence of the rule of law and the legal safeguards of human rights, pose a great threat.

Mr Walid Al-Saqaf, Trustee of the Internet Society, highlighted the fact that the ILA can be useful for grassroots organisations who do not have the right legal background. The ILA provides important information to people who do not have it. The Internet Society is helping to ensure that the Internet is used by the citizens, for the citizens. This is because users do not always understand the legislation in their society, or how it is enforced. They do not appreciate the power of information available online that can guide new legislation and offer a means for reforming our Internet governance ecosystem.  

Al-Saqaf mentioned that it is a useful exercise to compare the revision of laws in other countries in the region. Civil society should take a more objective approach to it and use the ILA as a tool for development. The challenge is that Internet governance stakeholders work in silos. The ILA helps improve access.

Mr Niels ten Oever from Article 19 looked referred to the fact that the Internet empowers and increases in importance, particularly the right to have open standards. This comes with layers of accountability that have to be regulated on an architectural level. We cannot understand the legal framework without understanding the infrastructure, the human rights aspects, or the legal aspects.  The Internet is complex.

by Hamza Ben Mehrez, Internet Society Tunis Chapter