The role of judiciary systems and internet governance

7 Dec 2016 10:00h - 11:30h

Event report

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

The session organised by UNESCO in coordination with Freedom of Expression Rapporteurs, and Regional Human Rights Courts, examines the role of the Judiciary System in addressing new challenges of the Internet and freedom of expression, such as the relationship between governments and the social media.

Mr Guilherme Canela, coordinator communication and information sector, UNESCO, moderated the session ans started by thanking the IGF secretariat for accepting their work and the government of Sweden for funding their activities. He mentioned that four years ago, UNESCO and two Special rapporteurs for the UN Mr Frank Rue and Ms Cataina Botero met, and due to the number of internet related court cases, expressed concern about the judicial system and freedom of expression. They suggested that they could help and he stated that they have trained 3,500 operators of judiciary systems in 23 countries.

Mr Toby Mendel, executive director of the Centre for Law and Democracy, Canada, presented the challenges of legal professionals, as observed in his centre that focuses on democracy and freedom of expression and also train legal professionals. He noted that judges face the following challenges related to internet matters:

  • They are not digitally good
  • They do not understand the technical implications of their decisions
  • They may not know the alternative option

He cited a case where six judges did not know the importance of YouTube and blocked its’ use in Pakistan for 5 years because of a single video.

Ms Catalina Botero, special rapporteur for freedom of expression for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) – joining via video – admitted that the Internet has knowledge and culture but also abuses of power and corruption. She insisted that everybody using the Internet must be free to communicate and receive information, so judges must be careful when taking decisions that can prevent millions of people from having access to information. She mentioned the right to be forgotten as primordial.

Ms Hawley Johnson, Project Manager, Columbia University Global Freedom of Expression, presented a database containing case analyses from different parts of the world. The Spanish language version was developed in collaboration with UNESCO and Catalina Botero. She added that the aim is to enable people to access the database and see how similar cases are handled elsewhere. The English site hosts 800 cases from 110 countries and the Spanish site hosts 170 cases from 16 countries in Latin America, as well as seminal international cases. She concluded that the objective is to help national courts keep pace with international standards.

Mr Edison Lanza, special rapporteur for freedom of expression, Organization of American Statestalked about Brazil and the role of the judiciary. He stated that Brazil approved the Brazilian Internet Bill that supported freedom of expression but this was later on challenged by the judiciary. He mentioned that the blocking of WhatsApp in Brazil was a violation of the fundamental freedom of speech in the internet bill. He proposed that the Internet regulation should be taught in law schools to address these challenges.

Mr Marcello Leonardi, from Google, explained how judicial decisions interfere with Internet governance. He stated that Brazil has over 3,000 cases with Google and that he has noted that judges are out to solve specific problems and do not understand the implications of their decisions. He mentioned a case where a court ordered Google to disclose the accounts of all android users within 500 yards of a crime.  He concluded at all times and in all countries an eye must be kept on such decisions.

by Foncham Denis Doh, Internet Society Cameroon