[IRP] FW: Invitation 7 December - Self-regulation: Should online companies police the internet?

Dixie Hawtin Dixie
Wed Dec 7 22:28:58 EET 2011

I agree - I think some of the confusion comes from the term "self-regulation" which (as Joe Mcnamee points out here: http://www.edri.org/files/EDRI_selfreg_final_20110124.pdf) used to be used for things which were widely seen as positive (or at least acceptable) e.g. intermediaries dealing with spam, but is now used to describe situations where intermediaries are encouraged or forced (by imposing liability or in other more discrete ways) to police and enforce limitations on content.

That is definitely one of the main battles ongoing at the moment at almost every level of intermediary. The Special Rapporteurs report is also really helpful here: "The Special Rapporteur emphasizes that censorship measures should never be delegated to private entities, and that intermediaries should not be held liable for refusing to take action that infringes individuals? human rights. Any requests submitted to intermediaries to prevent access to certain content, or to disclose private information for strictly limited purposes such as administration of criminal justice, should be done through an order issued by a court or a competent body which is independent of any political, commercial or other unwarranted influences."

One of the issues which I find complex is: how much discretion should an intermediary have to set up their own standards about what content is allowed and their own processes to deal with that content. Especially when we are talking about internet giants who make up so much of the internet at the moment. If I have a blog and decide to remove a comment because I don't like it, that is one thing, but if an intermediary like Google or Facebook does the same it carries much more risk. Especially because pressure to censor might be fairly more discrete - a request from a powerful person/entity to remove content would surely be more influential than that from an average citizen.

However, it is true that businesses do have to, at a minimum, respect human rights (even if that's not always a legal responsibility) and intiatives like the Ruggie Framework are promising. And there are some examples of best practice like Google's Transparency Report. But I still have questions about government responsibilities in this area. Am sure others have thought more about this (or else think I am chasing a red herring!), would be really interested to hear!


From: irp-bounces at lists.internetrightsandprinciples.org [irp-bounces at lists.internetrightsandprinciples.org] On Behalf Of Andrew Rens [andrewrens at gmail.com]
Sent: 06 December 2011 15:56
Cc: irp at lists.internetrightsandprinciples.org
Subject: Re: [IRP] FW: Invitation 7 December - Self-regulation: Should online companies police the internet?

In my view the issue of one of governance.

"Self regulation" is often code for no regulation, multinational corporations doing as they please. That is obviously undesirable. Neither is government trying to micro-manage uses of technology that it cannot predict. Also undesirable is the imposition on

I'd be cautious about giving corporations an opt out card to say that they having nothing to do with human rights. While corporations do have responsibility in respect of human rights I'd suggest that enlisting them as proxies for the State is evidently undemocratic. Ironically Internet service providers are being required to police conduct at the behest of a state that is itself captured by other corporate interests.Ultimately this is about corporate interests seeking to use state power to secure its hegemony.

I'd suggest that issue should be reframed as an issue of governance in which there are multiple stakeholders, and in which civil society should be participate directly rather than through the attenuated mechanisms of representative democracy.
Special attention should be paid to intermediary institutions such as ICANN, and standards bodies  and their potential as sites for democratic governance.

Special attention should also be paid to the entire political economy, including how the current agenda of governments to control the Internet has been formed.


On 6 December 2011 09:49, anja <anja at cis-india.org<mailto:anja at cis-india.org>> wrote:

Dear all,

Just to add a clarification to what is happening in India: in April 2011, a set of rules on intermediary due dilligence were issued by the government that made it obligatory for intermediaries to respond within 36 hours to any complaint regarding content they had received under the rules on grounds of the content being "disparaging", "grossly harmful", "ethnically objectionable", and a whole other range of equally vague terms that should not have any space in law. The current request of the minister, however, adds a whole new layer to the kind of censorship intermediaries would be expected to do, as he is requesting them to prescreen content. Complaints aren't even necessary anymore.

Clearly the people are not agreeing: among the top ten trending hash tags on Twitter in India today were: Kapil Sibal; #IdiotKapilSibal; #censorship; Free Speech; Freedom of Speech.

Best wishes,


On Tue, 06 Dec 2011 16:06:09 +0200, Anriette Esterhuysen wrote:

It has been posted previously but Rebecca McKinnon's TED talk is good on
this thread if I remember correctly.

http://www.ted.com/talks/rebecca_mackinnon_let_s_take_back_the_internet.htmlI agree with Dixie - the boundaries between self-regulation and
legislation is very thorny... and filled with pitfalls.

Companies cannot, and should not need to be, the arbiters or protectors
of our human rights. Great if they are progressive and pro-rights, but
individuals should not have to rely on corporate goodwill or values
which could change as a result of changes in leadership, policy, or
pressure from governments.

I am not saying that companies are not important players .. they are,
and can play a positive role.

Self-regulation and progressive company policy can be very useful. If
practised in ways that maximises expression it can strengthen freedoms
in cases where there are gaps in the protection of fundamental rights in
national legislation.

Corporate voices can also be powerful in convincing governments to
protect fundamental freedoms...

but ultimately the protection of free nline expression and association
needs to be legislated and due process should be followed when any
restrictions are applied.


On 06/12/11 15:39, Allon Bar wrote:

In that light, the messages from India are rather disconcerting: *"The Indian government has asked Internet companies and social media sites like Facebook to prescreen user content from India and to remove disparaging, inflammatory or defamatory content before it goes online, three executives in the information technology industry say." * http://india.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/05/india-asks-google-facebook-others-to-screen-user-content/ See also "Kapil Sibal's web monitoring plan: Google reacts, says company follows laws on illegal content" in the /India Times/. http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/tech/internet/kapil-sibals-web-monitoring-plan-google-reacts-says-company-follows-laws-on-illegal-content/articleshow/11007670.cmsOn 12/6/11 4:06 PM, Dixie Hawtin wrote:
Yes, the more I think about it the more convinced I am that the boundaries between government responsibility and self-regulation by companies is one of the thorniest topics we need to address and become coherent on from a human rights perspective - hopefully this meeting will provide a good baseline of ideas! I also hope to follow remotely, it will be live streamed here: http://www.alde.eu/event-seminar/events-details/article/self-regulation-37751/ Very best, Dixie
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