VoIP crackown: Implications for gov, telecom & civil society

9 Dec 2016 12:30h - 14:00h

Event report

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

The session explored the blocking of VoIP services around the world and assessed the human rights, regulatory and economic implications of this global growing trend. Mr Keith McManamen, Psiphon, moderated the discussion, which included Ms Hanane Boujemi, IG MENA Programme Manager, IG MENA Programme Coordinator; Mr Peter Micek, Access Now; Mr Amin Jobran, Outreach Manager, MENA, Mr Pablo Viollier, Derechos Digitales; and Dr Robert Pepper, Facebook.

The panellists addressed VoIP blocking and introduced the situation in the Middle East and North Africa Region (MENA) and Latin America. From an economic perspective, the impact of the phenomenon in the MENA region is high. In this area, there is a need for long-term business strategies developed around the Internet in order to embrace the benefits of the Internet. When it comes to human rights, it appears difficult to cover all the effects and impacts of VoIP blocking on social, economic and other opportunities. Old business models are not applicable anymore.

As presented by Pepper, the national cases highlight three reasons why VoIP applications are considered a threat: specifically the end-to-end encrypted communications, their open and free nature and the fact that they allow information dissemination. In the Latin America context, Viollier outlined the interconnection between net neutrality and Human Rights. Latin America presents different cases of VoIP blocking related to economic reasons and to the absence of net neutrality regulation. Brazil and Mexico emerged as two national cases of VoIP blocking, which directly affect the capacity of people to connect with each other, as well as the use of the Internet as a platform to exercise Human Rights. 

The panellists outlined that when VoIP blocking is considered exclusively from a technical or economic perspective, its effects on the population are often ignored.  Its human rights implications emerged not only as a human rights violation of freedom of expression and access to information, but also as a violation of the economic, social and cultural rights of people. As outlined, this is the area where the interests of civil society, government and the private sector, should come together.

The panel also addressed the need for a more decentralised model at the user, application, implementation and standard levels. Different work has been conducted by private companies to create innovative solutions in the area, however, as stated, there is still a need to enhance civil society capacity-building and to create user-friendly tools.

From a regulatory perspective, the discussion touched upon the need to work on the regulatory framework, in particular considering the difficulties that emerge with the classification of VoIP applications. As stated, it is necessary to work towards well informed and well intentioned policy-making.

The last part of the session addressed the role of the multistakeholder approach, which allows all constituencies to come together, discuss and integrate the benefits and incentives. Several points emerged in this discussion, such as the need to consider the different interests within each group, as well as the need for business to also act from a human rights perspective and not exclusively from a commercial one. 

by Alessia Zucchetti, Internet Society Uruguay