By Alan Finlay
“The main issues that should be focused on in Argentina today are freedom of expression, access to information and free circulation of culture,” says Nodo TAU in an interview related to a forthcoming report they wrote for the Global Information Society Watch.
APC News: Your report highlights the important role of intermediaries in the struggle for a rights-based approach to the internet. How do intermediaries limit the exercising of rights when it comes to the internet? For instance, you argue that they deny people the right to due legal process when it comes to content take-downs...
Nodo TAU: We are thinking in some cases in which intermediaries take down content that they do this to avoid legal procedures that could cost them a lot of money. That is the case in several instances concerning Google, YouTube and some blogs that were taken offline after objections. We find that this limits the exercise of the right of freedom of expression. Even when the courts are involved, there is a temptation to take general decisions motivated by particular reasons – which impacts negatively on the rights of others. When the Chamber of Books (CAL - Cámara del Libro) complained about the uploading of copyrighted books without consent of their authors, the courts made a ruling that involves all users of the system, and not only those who supposedly infringed the law. In these kinds of cases, intermediaries become potential deniers of freedom of expression. It must also be taken into account that the act of taking some content offline in order to avoid the legal process, means that a legal evaluation of the regulation of intellectual property in a new technological context (i.e. the internet) is not possible.
APC News: There have been several moves by the government in Argentina to restrict content on the internet. What do you think motivates these initiatives? Do they show a tension between the overall human rights framework in the country, guaranteed by the Constitution, and the specific internet laws that are being proposed? If so, why is this?
Nodo TAU: The restrictions of content were due to the judicial system. Nowadays, the tension is more evident between judicial power and the public interest, finding that - in general - justice favours private actors according to the law that regulates intellectual property rights which, as we mention in the report, was created in 1933 when the technological background was radically different. With regards to the laws that are being purposed, legislators are in general more amenable to private interests than in discussing the sharing of information and the circulation of cultural goods in a new technological environment. In this sense, what should be taken into account is that this is still a very specific issue, mainly treated and managed by experts. So the actor that has more possibilities of intervention is the private sector, whispering issues in the ears of legislators. In general, the process of definition of legislative initiatives in the policy field are coloured by the interests of the private sector and rarely characterised by the search for inspiration from voices of a wide range of actors.
APC News: To what extent do you think the US's "war on terror" impacts on internet policy in Argentina? How influential is the US in defining national policy when it comes to the internet?
Nodo TAU: Nowadays Latin America is going through a period of strong consolidation of local relations. It is a very rich period for our countries. And luckily this situation allows more autonomy from the US government. Despite this reality, not all the countries proceed in the same way, and affinities with the US are of a diverse degree of alignment with their policies, as in the case of Colombia and the influence of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) in the Lleras act, related to the regulation of authors rights. In this context, Argentina is not currently aligned with the US and we cannot see such influence in policies related to the internet. However, the national government was criticised for being externally influenced, as in the case of the Anti-terrorist Act, created to punish crimes of terrorism. The act was adopted at the request of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). Argentina had to pass this bill in order to be considered as a “reliable country” by the FATF, and to be involved in the G20. The fact that US conceptions of national security play a relevant role in this instance resulted in objections that were solved in part when our national government included some new points in the proposed law.
APC News: You conducted a survey of human rights organisations -- and found at least some awareness of a rights-based approach to the internet. What did your survey show you?
As we mentioned in the report, the survey we carried among representatives of the human rights movement (women’s human rights defenders in particular, but also ICT activists) showed that the advocacy terrain for freedom of expression on the internet is much more mature than we initially suspected.
Nodo TAU: In first place, we want to highlight that all the respondents agreed that the respect for human rights is also necessary on the internet, and agreed that human rights can also be violated on the internet. The right to information and the right to freedom of expression were prioritised as the main rights that should be freely exercised and guaranteed on the internet.
They also considered the internet a valid space to implement policies related to human rights and, interestingly, most of the respondents showed that their organisations or groups had developed some kind of work related to the internet. We think that the survey results are useful and give us some hope in terms of the upcoming development of national and regional debates around the right to freedom of expression on the internet.
APC News: What are the key issues that internet activists need to focus on in Argentina right now?
Nodo TAU: The main issues that should be focused on in Argentina today are freedom of expression, access to information and free circulation of culture. In this sense, activists are currently focusing on aspects that preserve freedom of expression, warning about some misleading arguments that are being used in the cases of intellectual property and violence against children. An issue that should also be focused on is net neutrality, which is rather absent from local debates. And finally, another key issue that we consider should be addressed - considering Argentina’s reality - is access to the internet.
Note: The full GISWatch 2011 Update I report will be released mid-October.