The evidence that outlines the future of digital rights in Latin America

Since Indela was born to strengthen the ecosystem of digital rights, in these three years it has supported 20 projects, from 22 organizations, in 10 countries throughout Latin America. The needs in the region were changing with the pandemic, and Indela was adapting in an agile and flexible way to the current emergencies. The main areas of impact that emerged, and that were prioritized to be addressed, have been on subjects such as the reduction of online gender violence, protection of personal data, privacy, and analysis of mass surveillance technologies, among others.

During 2021, an external evaluation team began an analysis process to deepen Indela’s strategic vision, the support it provides and collaboration between peers. This external evaluation included the implementation of spaces for the collective exchange of reflections between organizations and the Indela coordinating team, which made it possible to identify the main future opportunities and challenges facing the digital rights ecosystem in Latin America.

Future opportunities

Three large areas of opportunity were identified to continue strengthening the protection of digital rights in laws and public policies in the region.

  1. New forms of connectivity and participation: The pandemic, beyond confirming these shortcomings and, in the face of a growing, accelerated, and in many cases forced digitalization, caused emerging social groups, especially young people, to increasingly demand their rights in relation to connectivity and digital participation. The Internet is a space for the exercise of rights in which all voices must be present.
  2. New concepts: There is a trend about the possibility of new human rights concepts, such as the right to disconnect and the right to privacy. These new configurations also go hand in hand with new demands for the recognition and protection of digital rights in different countries of the region, such as the conversation about the right to disconnect. In addition, there is an increase in the development of more open and transparent technologies, which could have a positive impact on democracies in Latin America.
  3. New actors: There is a need to include actors in the discussions on digital rights in the region, such as traditional civil society organizations, research centers and regional bodies such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Expanding the participation of these sectors allows collaboration for the defense and protection of digital rights in Latin America, as well as the development of new international standards for the protection of these rights at the Inter-American Human Rights System level.

The challenges

The increase of some threats, and other new ones, that cross digital rights and the organizations that defend them were identified.

  1. New inequalities: The digital exclusion is increasing existing social inequalities in the region and in the world, in some cases limiting access to and use of digital technologies, as well as participation and the exercise of rights in the digital environment. For example, school dropout during the pandemic due to lack of Internet access, where access to education for children and adolescents is violated. These new digital inequalities are more evident for women, youth, indigenous communities and vulnerable groups.
  2. Growth of anti-rights movements: Although several countries have made progress in protecting the women, LGTBIQ+ people and indigenous communities’ rights, there is an increase in the anti-rights movement in the region. This translates into rights violations in the digital environment, as well as the increase in hate speech and digital violence against traditionally excluded groups.
  3. Laws and policies in the process of becoming outdated: On the other hand, the regulations on digital rights in the region are not yet sufficient for their protection. Laws and public policies are not responding to the growing problems, this is due, on occasions, to the lack of capacity of some governments and public actors to understand the impact of digital technologies in the exercise of rights or to the lobby of the major technology companies, the Big Tech to stop some regulation. Faced with the absence of protective regulation, the States continue implementing massive surveillance systems that affect the citizens’ rights, without transparency or accountability. The implementation of these technologies, on the one hand, violates the rights to privacy and freedom of expression online, and prevents the free exercise of other rights such as citizen organization and mobilization.

These main opportunities and challenges that the digital rights ecosystem in Latin America is going through allow us to jointly identify a very visible future, and how to strengthen organizations and the defense of these rights. It is important to deepen into the main thematic axes to guarantee digital rights in laws and whole public policies, provide opportunities to build dialogue and articulate regional work with new actors, support organizations to strengthen their impact and capacities within this coming scenario, and align existing funding in the region to give organizations the opportunity to build new collective futures.

20 projects • 3 years of learning • Digital rights • Latin America

Indela (Initiative for Digital Rights in Latin America) began its work to strengthen the digital rights ecosystem in 2019. In these three years, it has supported 20 projects, from 22 organizations, in 10 Latin American countries. The main areas of work, which were identified based on a constant reading of the region needs, were on issues such as reducing online gender violence, protection of personal data, privacy, and the analysis of mass surveillance technologies, among others.

During 2021, an external evaluation team began an analysis process to deepen Indela’s strategic vision, the support it provides and collaboration between peers. This external evaluation made it possible to identify the main future opportunities and challenges facing the digital rights ecosystem in Latin America.

The evaluation process analyzed the projects of eight organizations supported by Indela, conducted 14 interviews with 20 actors related to the Initiative, two learning workshops and a workshop about the future. From this, a report on learning and three case studies on areas of impact were developed.

This blog post is the first publication that shares the main findings and learnings about digital rights future, as well as case studies for each of the main thematic axes.

About the strategic vision

Indela allows us to support a diverse digital rights ecosystem, through the support of projects led by organizations from various countries. The whole strategy of the Fund combines financial and non-financial support.

The first consists of financing the specific project of an organization, which allows the concentration of funds for activities related to the recognition of digital rights in laws and public policies. Financial support has given organizations a key boost, and in some cases even the opening to achieve sustainability through other, larger external funding.

On the other hand, non-financial support is coordinated through specialized consultancies that increase its impact and enhance the achievement of the project’s objectives. This transversal support has especially benefited smaller and emerging organizations in the ecosystem. Indela has supported organizations in matters of legal support, communication strategies development for incidence, and the consolidation of supported organizations.

In this sense, support beyond the project has been sought to focus on strengthening the resilience of organizations at different levels. For example, through non-financial support, tailor-made strategic consultancies have been coordinated for the strengthening of some organizations, which has allowed them to have support both in institutional growth, or even in some cases, support in the face of internal changes in structure that organizations were going through.

The personalized support from the coordinating team has allowed us to build trust to develop close and tailored accompaniment processes that meet the different needs of each organization.

About collaboration

Indela’s collaboration can be analyzed from two axes, on the one hand internally, on the coordination between donors that are part of the Initiative, and on the other externally, on the articulation between the supported organizations.

The coordination between donors, from the different capacities and experience, allowed collaboration, identification of priorities, and support for organizations in countries that traditionally were not able to be reached.

In the collaboration between supported organizations, Indela played a role of flexible facilitator, less institutionalized and planned, to collaborate and identify new areas of opportunity. There is a need to continue the construction of networks or working groups among the supported organizations, especially on some thematic axes, which allows contributing to promote the work of the organizations collectively and regionally.

Consult in the General Report, the results of the external evaluation carried out on Indela.

5 Key Projects to Strengthen Digital Rights

The explosion of employment, education, shopping, access to information and other areas of daily life that have migrated to digital platforms during the last two years due to the pandemic has generated new challenges in the protection of digital rights in Latin America.

Faced with this challenging context, constantly changing in the region, Indela understood that it needed to support, in a flexible and less traditional way, initiatives that aim to raise awareness and defend digital rights. In some cases, this means giving continuity to organizations to strengthen their cycle of impact; in others, it means responding to new opportunities.

As announced in the 2021 Open Call, Indela will support 5 key projects to strengthen digital rights in Latin America. The organizations selected will work in areas such as personal data protection, reduction of gender-based violence online, promoting awareness of mass surveillance systems, gender inclusion in legislative processes and improving conditions for reporting digital vulnerabilities.

Congratulations to Indela’s Selected Projects 2021:

  1. Mujeres por los derechos digitales” [Women for digital rights] by Asociación Aguayo and Fundación InternetBolivia.org, which will seek to include the gender perspective in the legislative and public policy debate on digital rights in Bolivia.
  2. Fortalecimiento de la ciberseguridad a través de cooperación público-privada sobre seguimiento de vulnerabilidades” [Strengthening cybersecurity through public-private cooperation vulnerability monitoring] by Democracia en Red in coalition with the Observatorio de Derecho Informático Argentino, which will advocate for public policies on information security to allow a synergistic channel of communication between tech communities and the national State.
  3. Videovigilad@s inseguros” [Unsafe video surveillance] by IPANDETEC, which will analyze the presence of video surveillance and loss of privacy in Central American in physical and digital environments.
  4. Ley de Violencia Digital Urgente” [Urgent Digital Violence Law] by ONG Amaranta, which will develop a communication campaign to raise awareness about digital violence and the urgency of a bill in Chile.
  5. Fortaleciendo la protección de datos personales en Paraguay desde la sociedad civil” [Strengthening personal data protection in Paraguay from civil society] by TEDIC, which will strengthen the evidence-based debate in Congress and work with the Coalición de Datos Personales for approval of the bill on personal data protection.

Indela, faced with this new reality and a future in which more and more millions of people will migrate part of their daily lives to digital spaces, is excited to work with these projects and continue to strengthen the digital rights ecosystem in Latin America.

For more information about Indela and the projects selected, follow us on Twitter and  Facebook.

Central America for the improvement of public policies on digital rights

By IPANDETEC

Context

Central America is a region of 7 countries and over 50 million people. Of this population, less than half have Internet access and, looking a little closer, the inequalities and digital gaps are exacerbated in rural, indigenous and LGBTIQ + populations, as well as people with disabilities, among others.

In 2019, Indela selected IPANDETEC to develop the project Building capacities in the Internet ecosystem in Central America with a multisectoral perspective. It created a solid network of Central American participants dedicated to improving laws and public policies related to privacy and cybersecurity which demonstrated some initial improvements in the region.

Due to the pandemic, IPANDETEC had to streamline its processes to achieve its goal. The project suffered delays and adaptations to its completion, transferring the missing training to virtual sessions and events, but never stopping.

Beneficiary countries

The project focused on three Central American countries: Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. These three countries have high levels of cybercrime and the State does not protect the personal data of its citizens. These countries were selected due to the urgent need for public policies regulating the Internet, as well as the lack of trained local actors who could undertake informed advocacy based on standards focused on human rights.

In the case of Guatemala, the personal data protection bill had been halted since the year 2009 and its discussion had not been completed. Similarly, bills had been introduced in Honduras that did not include standards focused on human rights, and therefore threatened the country’s legal stability in terms of cybersecurity. Finally, El Salvador had begun public consultations for discussion of a data protection bill.

Achievements of the project

IPANDETEC’s project provided training to more than 200 people in the participating countries and produced a map of actors working on Internet public policies, including congresspersons, elected authorities, members of the private sector, actors from civil society and human rights activists, academic experts, and members of the technical sector. It also managed to expand the usual ecosystem by bringing together people who were not actively participating at that time in the development of Internet public policies.

One of the major achievements was the creation of training sessions in the various sectors, including some such as academia and government, which are not always included.

Finally, we created three guides for the development of public policies, one for each country, which were shared not only with project participants, but with policymakers for their use in future legislation. The first document, “Step by step for a comprehensive cybersecurity policy | Honduras,” includes Honduran regulation on cybersecurity, as well as standards and practices that must be used when discussing and approving a cybersecurity policy. For El Salvador and Guatemala, the documents focus on personal data protection in each country and the steps necessary to approach the discussion with a focus on human rights.

As an organization, IPANDETEC learned in depth about the importance and effectiveness of the multisectoral mechanism, the great need for this type of project in the region, and the need to increase the representation of women in Internet-related issues in these countries, among other interesting aspects for future development of extensions of this project.

At the end of the project, the picture in the three countries had radically changed. Guatemala is preparing to discuss a personal data protection bill, while in Honduras the proposed cybersecurity law was not passed. Finally, El Salvador saw the veto of its personal data protection bill.

Eleven organizations in the fight to position and defend digital rights in Latin America

By Al Sur

The rapid advancement of digital technologies and their widespread use by governments, businesses, and general society has led to much speculation about their effect on human rights. These technologies’ ability to execute mass surveillance, capture personal data, and spread mis- and disinformation requires a comprehensive understanding and concerted response on the part of civil society. This was the motivation for the creation of Al Sur, a consortium of eleven civil society and academic organizations[1] from Latin America working to strengthen human rights in the digital environment. This consortium was one of Indela’s selected projects for 2019, through which it sought to consolidate its institutionality and generate greater capacity for advocacy at the national, regional, and international levels. With Indela’s support, Al Sur organized multiple sessions with specialists, expanding not only the knowledge base but also the network of action to strengthen the digital rights ecosystem. The organizations comprising the consortium received training on “Strategies to access information about surveillance practices,” carried out by Luis Fernando Garcia, Director of R3D de México, and “Negotiations surrounding the Second Additional Protocol to the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime,” which strengthened the alliance between Al Sur and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). Prof. Sean Flynn of American University also carried out a training session about intellectual property and copyright during the pandemic, which offered the opportunity to review the regulatory market of the entire region. Building a regional agenda Al Sur developed three research reports through this project not only as a strategy to promote a proactive regional agenda, but also to allow other organizations to join and work with the consortium:

  1. Gender-based political violence on the Internet. Gender-based political violence, from a broad framework of diversity, encompasses violence related to political rights, which become aggressive manifestations that undermine the voices of women and LGBT+ persons. In this sense, the report provides a regional perspective, resulting in criteria and recommendations for electoral justice systems, online platforms, political organizations, and civil society.
  2. Mirando Al Sur. Towards new regional consensus on intermediary liability and content moderation on the internet. This document examines comparative debate and maps the legal discussion and self-regulation at a regional and international level, to finally address specific proposals and principles of the region.
  3. A Human Rights Legal Framework for Communications Surveillance in Latin America. This analysis of the situation in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay and Peru addresses regional debates and research to maintain a legal framework that respects the rights of individuals, guarantees their practice and has effective control and surveillance mechanisms allowing restitution of rights to be demanded and serving as a democratic control of the broad powers of the States in this matter.

As a consortium, Al Sur is also interested in understanding and generating a stronger relationship with regional and international interconnection spaces. To better position themselves in various international forums, they are working on mapping and exchanging best practices, generating research, and holding meetings and consultations with specialists. Al Sur analyzed the United Nations Organizations (UNO) System, the Organization of American States (OAS), and other international bodies, and through this analysis compiled a document—currently under review—whose publicly available version is being considered by civil society in the region. To further augment their position, Al Sur has also increased its digital presence by launching its webpage in three languages and publishing more content on is blog and Twitter account. The impact of Al Sur’s work in the region has led to invitations to make substantial contributions in high-impact spaces; Twitter invited the Secretary to be part of its Security Council, the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) asked the organizations of Al Sur to be part of the discussion about misinformation during the pandemic, the consortium was invited by Electronic Frontier Foundation to attend a inter-regional cybersecurity and cybercrime group, and it was represented at the Global Privacy Assembly. In addition, Al Sur created recommendations on important  international reference documents, including the Second Additional Protocol to the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime, the public consultation of the Government of Brazil on regulation of the Marrakesh Treaty, the review of the first version of the draft text of the UNESCO Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence, “General comment No. 25 (202x): children’s rights in relation to the digital environment” of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, and the call of the Council Working Group on International Internet-related Public Policy Issues (CWG-Internet) of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). One of the consortium’s most significant milestones is Al Sur’s now expanded capacity to react to international discussions and debates. The research and reports published allow it to anticipate emerging issues and move forward with evidence, positioning itself as a collective, and as such has strengthened its alliances and identified spaces in which it can have a greater impact. Ultimately, the consortium and its collective work have been furthered by the support of Indela. Al Sur is better positioned to think more strategically about its next steps and to offer a more organized space for its members to participate in the collective effort.

[1] Al Sur is comprised of:  Association for Civil Rights (ADC), Center for Studies on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information (CELE), Coding Rights, Derechos Digitales, Karisma Foundation, Hiperderecho, IDEC, Panamanian Institute of Law and New Technologies (IPANDETEC), InternetLab, Network in Defense of Digital Rights (R3D) and TEDIC.

#FreedomNotAvailable: Voices of Artists, Journalists and Protesters Under Threat in the Digital Space

By ARTICLE 19 Mexico and Central America

In a context of already widespread violence to silence the press in the physical environment, Mexico’s journalists now face additional pressure, threats and intimidation forcing them to delete digitally-shared content. Content removal[1] has the potential to silence essential expressions in a democratic society. Voices of artists, journalists and protesters face the risk of being eliminated and illegally erased from the digital space without the guarantees of due process.

The “Defending Freedom of Expression on the Internet: Transparency and Due Process of Online Censorship through Content Removal” project supported by Indela has brought this reality to light and shown the negative effects it has on freedom of expression and the right to information.

The various activities carried out as part of this project have helped some actors of the State publicly acknowledge the commitment to take on higher levels of transparency regarding removal requests made to social media platforms by institutions of the Mexican government. It has also contributed to a demand for social media platforms to include data about which State institutions are making the requests, the type of information they are asking to have removed and the reasons these requests are made, in transparency reports.

Through the #FreedomNotAvailable and #NeitherCensorshipNorPadlocks campaigns, we, along with other organizations, have managed to bring into the public agenda the need to defend freedom of expression from extrajudicial mechanisms like “notice and takedown” or copyright claims to remove content on social media platforms, web pages and web hosts.

Through a partnership with Harvard University’s Cyberlaw Clinic, we developed the white paper Access Denied: How Journalists and Civil Society Can Respond to Content Takedown Notices[2] which describes the impact of the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) on journalism and the work of civil society organizations in Latin America. The Karisma Foundation (Colombia), Intervozes (Brazil) and Espacio Público (Venezuela) participated in the creation of this guide.

The results of this project have also allowed ARTICLE 19 to make tools available to civil society to respond to requests for content removal by social network platforms through a series of informative guides: (i) Content removal guide on Twitter policies; (ii) Content removal guide on Facebook community standards; (iii) Introduction to content removal and the (iv) Google content removal guide[3].

The impact of this project must be viewed in light of the #FreedomNotAvailable: Censorship and Content Removal in Mexico[4] report, which reviews the various mechanisms used in the country to remove online content and interfere in the right to freedom of expression and information of journalists and all users of technology.

The report explores how content removal undermines the press and the flow of information and manifests itself through: 1) content moderation policies on digital platforms, which are incompatible with the human right to freedom of expression; 2) threats and harassment of journalists to remove information from their spaces or digital profiles, and 3) content removal requests made to digital platforms—under ambiguous legal assumptions and without following due process or complying with judicial guarantees. It also describes the relationship between various institutions of the Mexican state and digital platforms to ask them to remove or restrict access to content. In this scenario, an information gap prevails, as does a lack of clarity about the legal basis giving the authorities the necessary power to request the removal of online content.

According to transparency reports from Twitter, Facebook and Google, between 2017 and 2020 Mexican authorities made 38 thousand requests for content removal. However, through transparency requests, reporting parties reported only 1697 requests for removal during that same period. With this, we have identified inconsistencies in the information provided by authorities, so we only know 1 in 10 requests made by the Mexican State to digital platforms. That is, for 95.6% of content removal clauses, we have no information, transparency, or accountability.

Indela’s support has been crucial for presenting the results of the investigation and sharing tools to deal with the abuses existing for content removal. Their support has also been vital for the Mexican State, digital platforms and other actors to take on greater commitments to transparency and accountability, as well as protecting the right to freedom of expression and access to information in the digital space.


[1] Content removal is the practice of deleting or restricting the circulation of information online, making use of legal frameworks and private mechanisms that limit its access. It is used illegally and irresponsibly to censor information of public interest that should circulate and remain accessible.

[2]Available at the following link: https://articulo19.org/reclamos-de-derechos-de-autor-son-utilizados-para-eliminar-contenidos-periodisticos-y-de-activistas-en-america-latina/

[3] The four guides are available at: https://seguridadintegral.articulo19.org

[4] Report available at: https://articulo19.org/libertadnodisponible/

New reality, new 2021 Indela call

2020 was a challenging year. Latin America, like many parts of the world, is facing grave and unprecedented threats to rights and to democracy. The use of information technology, for example, has come to affect aspects of our lives like never before, and responses to the Covid-19 pandemic have exacerbated the deep inequalities that already existed in our societies — from the digital divide in the region, which affected access to knowledge and information, to new and complex security and privacy challenges. 

In response to the pandemic, the public sector has introduced social controls, and put restrictions on rights. Many Latin American countries have adopted technological measures to prevent and reduce the spread of the virus, for example, implementing contact tracing apps. These apps, which have not been shown to reduce contagion of the virus, violate the right to privacy by collecting unnecessary personal data, offer little transparency as to how that data is – and will be – used,  and present serious security concerns. They also increase both corporate and state power in the context of the current crisis, and our post-pandemic future.

In addition, during the first months of 2021, many governments in our region have taken a public position on the regulation of large digital platforms such as Facebook, Google, Twitter. These positions are concerning because they undermine freedom of expression online, and shape public discourse, without consideration of the public’s broader interests.  

While the future is uncertain, this significant and historic moment presents the opportunity to preserve and advance digital rights in Latin America. , Given the current emergency we are facing, Indela (Iniciativa por los Derechos Digitales en Latinoamérica) is launching a new, more flexible open call, intended to support projects that respond to the urgent needs of the digital rights ecosystem in the region.

In particular, Indela’s 2021 Open Call will support projects that protect and advance rights affected by digital technologies, and that are submitted by organizations based in Latin America. We will consider proposals for projects on public campaigns, applied research, and/or public policy advocacy, for funding up to a maximum of US$25,000, that can be implemented within a six-month period. In addition, each project will be eligible for specialized consultancies to strengthen the impact of the project as well as the overall work of the applicant organization. 

At Indela, we are reaffirming our commitment to strengthening digital rights in the region by supporting the organizations that defend them. We believe we must act now to address the specific and urgent challenges facing Latin Americans, by expanding and protecting our digital rights.

The 2021 call will be open from April 15 to May 15.

APPLY HERE

Indela is proud to support six new digital rights initiatives in the region

Selected Projects 2020

Digital and physical spaces are increasingly connected. Political and social tensions, the public’s relationship with the state and its use of technology are raising new and complex challenges to digital rights. The ongoing pandemic, and related state responses, are creating further cause for concern: Throughout the region, we are seeing widespread misuse of personal data, limits on expression, lack of information and knowledge being distributed to vulnerable communities, and many other alarming developments.

To support the advancement of digital rights in the region, Indela opened its second open call in 2020. We received 138 proposals from 15 Latin American countries.

Today, the Indela team is pleased to announce the six projects selected for its second funding cycle. We are very proud to support these innovative initiatives, which will work on free and fair copyright reform, reducing online gender based violence, localizing public data protection policies,  and user-centric cybersecurity laws, among others.

These six projects will receive funding for 12 to 18 months, as well as customized support to strengthen the impact of their work.

The final selections from Indela’s 2020 open call, are as follow: 

  1. REMIX: discussing copyright and the Internet,” by Agência Lema and InternetLab, will foster a public conversation about copyright in Brazil, and the need for progressive reforms.
  2. Supporting Victims of Online Gendered Violence” by the Cultivando Género Civil Association, will support women and girls in Aguascalientes, Mexico, who have been targeted by digital violence, to learn about the legal options available to them, and make informed decisions in exercising their rights.
  3. DATYSOC: towards a Comprehensive Digital Rights Agenda in Uruguay,” by DATA Uruguay, will strengthen Uruguay’s digital rights legislative digital rights agenda by advocating for public interest copyright regulation and internet intermediary liability policies.
  4. Multicultural digital rights frameworks for indigenous and afro-descendent communities in Bolivia: comparative analysis and public policy advocacy,” by Asociación Aguayo and Fundación InternetBolivia.org, will work to develop contextualized regulatory frameworks for internet access and personal data protection in selected Bolivian municipalities.
  5. A Multi-sector Initiative for Information Security and Fundamental Rights,” by  Vía Libre Foundation, is a collaboration between public- and private- sector actors to develop policies that safeguard digital assets (including personal data and critical infrastructure) in Argentina. 
  6. Building bridges between Latin America’s digital rights and consumer defense communities,” ​​by the Brazilian Institute for Consumer Defense (IDEC), will coordinate the digital rights work of consumer defense advocates, with the strategies of the region’s digital rights community. In particular the project will focus on personal data protection policies and their enforcement. 

Congratulations to the organizations selected in Indela’s 2020 Open Call!

For more information about Indela and the projects we support, follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Latin American digital rights in 2020: a year of new opportunities and challenges   

Bookending 2019 were two major milestones for digital rights and civil society in Latin America. At the start of the year, we saw the #MeTooMX movement ignite in México, amplifying the voices of sexual violence survivors nationwide. Later in the year, during the months of October and December, we saw dozens of protests erupt in response to deep-seated, longstanding socio-economic and political issues take place across Latin America, but especially in the Andean region. Countries such as Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador and Peru became the focal point for diverse, vibrant, decentralized movements that resulted in several state leaders leaving power.

While the full impact of 2019’s social justice uprisings is still being understood, we can already be certain that there is a fundamental relationship between digital rights and civic participation. In other words, digital and physical spaces are increasingly interconnected. For example, the MeTooMx movement demonstrated the transformative power that citizen participation can have online, but it also illustrated the threats it can pose. While the movement brought much needed attention to gender equality, at the same time it led to increased attacks and harassment of women both online and off. Similarly, the protests throughout the Andes, undoubtedly made important progress for social, political and economic rights, yet at the same time they were met by online censorship and internet shutdowns, and an increase in intrusive state surveillance without adequate justification or oversight. As several organizations from the region expressed in a public statement from December 20 th 2019, there is wide concern about the “global trend of persecuting people who defend human rights using digital media and platforms, including those who conduct research and provide safety training to protect and promote these rights.”

Unfortunately, not just in the Andes, but throughout Latin America, social justice protests are increasingly met by disproportionate state surveillance. Amidst the region’s crises of legitimacy and weakening institutions, many governments are now spying on their own citizens at unprecedented levels. For example, we are seeing the broad use of facial recognition and other biometric surveillance technologies, the use of targeted spyware deployed against activists, and disproportionate access to personal records – all of which are contrary to international human rights standards. As a result, we are seeing now more than ever that the connection between political and social tensions and the State’s use of information technology are central to civil society’s agenda. Just as it has never been so important to understand the digital environment to understand what’s going on in the streets, it has never been so important to understand what’s going on in the streets, to understand the digital environment.

The state’s use of information technology to consolidate its power, could not, of course, be possible without the private sector, which is, in its own right, interested in amassing profit. This convergence of commercial and political interests has led digital rights organizations to develop sophisticated and comprehensive agendas centered around the principle of social justice and civic empowerment. To this end, we see new campaigns emerging on net neutrality, content moderation, use of AI by intelligence agencies, electronic voting, and technical control over copyright issues.

2019 has shown us that given rapid ongoing developments in information technology, and ever- evolving socio-political situations throughout Latin America, it would be naïve to say there is a fixed digital rights agenda for the year ahead. But to ensure robust responses to whatever threats do emerge online in 2020, Indela is launching its second open call to support the organizations fighting to protect digital rights in the region. Our aim at Indela is to supports organizations to build capacity and resilience, so that they can rise to meet the demands of protecting empowered, informed, participatory – and connected – spaces online. To talk about digital rights today is, now more than ever, to talk about human rights.

To learn more about Indela, visit our website and follow us on Twitter.

Interview with Carlos Cortés: You can not talk about rights in the physical space without digital rights

Carlos Cortés is the founder of Linterna Verde, a non-profit think-tank and a consultant on internet and society issues. Carlos was Twitter’s Public Policy manager for Latin America. He has advised international cooperation organizations on freedom of expression and internet policy. He has a law degree from Los Andes University (Colombia) and a Masters in Communications and Media Governance from the London School of Economics. He is a researcher on Internet policy issues at the Center for Freedom of Expression of Palermo University, Argentina. He currently directs the video blog La Mesa de Centro.

Why are digital rights important?

When we talk about digital rights we are not referring to an isolated and limited exercise in the online environment. Nowadays, the exercise of most of the rights in physical spaces -or analogical- depends and feeds on the possibilities of development in the online context.

In other words: without digital rights there are no analogical rights. Think, for example, of the right to protest, freedom of expression, privacy, or political participation. Without digital guarantees, we can hardly talk about the existence of active citizens.

From your perspective, what are the main challenges facing the digital rights ecosystem in Latin America?

There are as many challenges as there are issues, but if I had to place it in the regional ecosystem, the most important challenge arises from the tension between the role expected of the State and the distrust of the State. For example: we are concerned about the accumulation of data by private intermediaries. Should we then give surveillance tools to governments that have also abused their powers of inspection and control?

In the same way, we face the question of which problems we must resolve through the regulatory channel and which should be channeled through private or self-regulatory solutions.

Why is the digital rights context in Latin America unique?

Unlike other regions, and as is usual in our part of the world, Latin America tries to build all the floors of the house simultaneously -and often we start one without finishing the other.

We face questions about digital rights when we still have enormous challenges in terms of infrastructure, connectivity and digital literacy. Think, for example, of network neutrality. When we were still trying to guarantee this principle of public policy in fixed-line connections, the mobile Internet began to develop—and with it the consequent problem of ‘zero rating’. Our context is unique because we coexist and promote changes amid deep contrasts.

To learn more about Indela, visit our website and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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