Trends in the use of ICTs for democratic processes
The use of ICTs for democratic processes has grown and is increasingly powerful. From the Philippines in 2001, where text messages helped topple the government by enabling 700,000 demonstrators to demand the resignation of President Estrada, to the use of mobiles by civil society to monitor national elections in Ukraine (2004), Belarus (2006) and Kenya (2007 and again in 2013), and to their use by Egyptian activists to document and report on the violent dispersal by police in Cairo – resulting in at least 20 deaths – of Sudanese refugees from the Darfur region who were protesting against being deported (2005-2006). Then, in early 2011 an unprecedented series of events took place leading to revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia and mass civil movements for democracy in the Middle East and North African region. Many concluded that the advent of new ICTs had contributed to opportunities for advancing democracy, not only in obviously repressive states, but in all states, including developed countries, where diverse forms of democracy continue to evolve.
Online networks have also shown that they offer an opportunity to affect the dominant discourse, especially among younger people. In Bangladesh for example, the International Crime Strategy Forum (ICSF), an online coalition advocating for the fair trial of perpetrators of war crimes, seeks to achieve its goals by instilling a sense of justice, independence and freedom among future generations.
Interference with rights
The use of ICTs for human rights monitoring, documentation and democratic advocacy is growing, although is not without challenges. Citizen journalism and crowdsourcing applications offer new ways to empower citizens and facilitate freedom of association and democratisation. In response, new norms have emerged in internet and information control techniques. Democratic governments no longer shy away from stating they are actively promoting regulation, invoking their obligations as states to protect human rights – increasingly on the grounds of security, eliminating child pornography, or prevention of criminal activity. Other governments are embracing new technology and using it in new ways to infiltrate, carry out surveillance and disrupt the activities of human rights defenders (HRDs). Interference with human rights on the internet is most common in the form of censorship, interception of SMS and surveillance of email and user activity on the web and on social media platforms.
Government interference with ICTs
Of those who are able to connect, the OpenNet Initiative estimates that nearly half of them access a ‘filtered’ or censored internet of some kind, ranging from the filtering of illegal content (such as child pornography) to restrictions on political speech, which is protected by the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. By 2010, the OpenNet Initiative calculated that a staggering half a billion internet users (or about 32%) experienced some form of national-level restriction. As of 2011, more than forty-five states had placed restrictions on online content.
There is also evidence that governments are restricting access, or censoring content, from users outside their countries using what is known as geolocational IP blocking. This tactic “has a variety of uses, from media content hosts like Netflix and Hulu blocking users from outside the US in compliance with copyright schemes, to American companies blocking access to users in sanctioned countries like Syria and Iran.”