Jurisdiction experts invited to enrich UNESCO’s draft Internet indicators

UNESCO is working to develop indicators for Internet Universality, which could be useful for interested stakeholders in a country to map areas for possible improvement.

But a complexity for research and recommendations exists when there are relevant online actors and content based outside the country’s jurisdiction.

A call for suggestions and solutions was made this week at the Global Internet and Jurisdiction Conference, Ottawa, by UNESCO’s Director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development, Guy Berger.

Participants from governments, Internet companies, academic, law firms and international organisations were present at the event, which was organized by the Internet and Jurisdiction Policy Network (IJP), in partnership with the Government of Canada. UNESCO was an institutional supporter of the conference which took place over 26-28 February 2018.

“Debate at this conference focused on three Internet areas where jurisdictional issues can arise: online content; cross-border requests for digital data - such as for criminal investigation; and Internet website naming,” said Berger.

Participants identified some of the online content cases that could often have jurisdictional issues – such as those ranging from copyright, child abuse, defamation, “fake news”, and non-consensual sexual imagery.

“Much attention was also given to distinguishing the proper roles of governments and the array of Internet companies in regard to these kinds of contents, and what processes could address any issues arising,” Berger said.

The Director told the Ottawa Conference of UNESCO’s work to promote broad normative frameworks to help inform solutions, referring in particular to the Organization’s Internet Universality concept with its ROAM principles.

The ROAM schema advocates that the Internet can best serve humanity if it respects Rights, Openness, Accessibility, and Multistakeholder participation.

“Online content is implicated in each of these four ROAM principles,” Berger stated, adding that UNESCO’s draft indicators to assess ROAM at national level reflect this dimension.

Once finalized, the UNESCO indicators can help national stakeholders to map how the Internet functions in their country, and provide evidence for proposing policy improvements. “The complexity is when a domestic matter is impacted by extra-territorial dimensions,” added the Director.

“A question to ask is whether ROAM and its indicators could help to assess – and ultimately improve – systems at the interface between jurisdictions, especially when the issue concerns online content,” said Berger. 

He urged participants to help UNESCO address this question, pointing out that the period for comment on the draft indicators closes in mid-March 2018.