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December 30, 2016

Eastern European Internet Freedom Summit Connects Lawyers and Civil Society Across Borders

The American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) held the first Regional Internet Freedom Summit in Ohrid, Macedonia, from Oct. 26 to 29, 2016. The summit offered participants a comparative perspective on freedom of expression and privacy rights, protections and challenges impacting internet freedom as well as strategic litigation and advocacy in defense of internet freedom. The 90 participants, consisting of lawyers, journalists, activists and technical experts, were able to connect across 11 countries in Eastern Europe and Eurasia.

Internet Freedom advocate presents to colleagues about challenges and possible solutions at ABA ROLI's first program summit in Ohrid, Macedonia.

International expert and law professor, Arturo Carrillo, director of the International Human Rights Clinic, and co-director of the Global Internet Freedom and Human Rights Project at The George Washington University Law School, began the summit with an introduction to internet freedom, defining it as a bundle of rights relating to freedom of expression and privacy and integral to the observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms. He drew connections between freedom of expression and privacy rights online, linking both to the international legal frameworks for both topics. He also discussed strategic litigation with participants, outlining how they can engage in strategic litigation to further advocacy and defense of freedom of expression and privacy rights. 

Led by seven regional experts, the second day of the summit focused on the application of international laws in domestic legal settings and presented a survey of internet freedom-related laws from participant countries, including legislation on freedom of expression, electronic communication, and data protection and privacy laws. Later sessions focused on strategic litigation and advocacy through a review of case studies.

During the remaining days of the summit, participants separated into country-specific groups to discuss and identify internet freedom problems and potential solutions. Participants shared dozens of stories with one another about various litigation cases, as well as how participants in each country are working with governments on policy development. They presented their findings and improvement strategies to the broader group, providing a basis for future programmatic action in each country. Participants also attended a digital security training led by The SecDev Foundation, which addressed threats to cyber security and provided participants with eight practical tools to increase cyber security by 96 percent. Using web analytics, he also provided an overview on how to measure internet traffic.

The summit provided insight into the internet freedom conditions of each country, including general rules of freedom of expression, lack of legislation on personal data protection, the risk of imbalance between internet freedom and security or infringements and attacks on the freedom of expression. Participants were given the opportunity to connect with each other in discussions about common challenges and to exchange knowledge and experiences among their peers; each participant was able to hear lessons learned in other countries and provide input and personal opinions on specific cases and challenges.

Participants are eager to organize a side event at the second Regional Internet Freedom Summit at RightsCon in March 2017.

To learn more about our work with internet freedom, please contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at [email protected]