Round-Up: ARTICLE 19 at IETF95

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14 Apr 2016



Last week, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) held its 95th meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The IETF is a key Internet standards developing organization (SDO) working on the evolution of the Internet architecture and the smooth operation of the Internet. ARTICLE19 is involved in the work of the Human Rights Protocol Considerations (HRPC) research group. This group falls under the Internet Research Task Force (IRTF), the research subsidiary of the IETF.

The IETF creates protocols and standards: the basic traffic rules of the Internet which define how information travels across the net, and who is able to connect to whom and to what content. Internet standards and protocols are central to any discussion about how to enable human rights, both online and offline. The HRPC research group takes, as its starting point, the problem statement that the human-rights-enabling characteristics of the Internet might be degraded if they are not properly defined, described, and sufficiently taken into account in protocol development. ARTICLE 19 has been actively participating in this group, and  working towards our mission of mainstreaming human rights in Standard Setting Organizations.  

During a well-attended two hour session, there were presentations from three experts, working on issues surrounding protocols and human rights:

Ramsey Nasser, a Lebanese computer scientist, game designer, and educator based in Brooklyn who does research on programming languages talked about قلب  (‘kalbe’) an all Arabic coding language he build to make computation more expressive and challenge the basic assumptions we make about code. 

Nick Doty, the Director of the Center for Technology, Society & Policy and PhD Candidate at the UC Berkeley School of Information, spoke about his research on how privacy and other values are considered during the technical design process. 

Joe Hall, Chief Technologist at the Centre for Democracy and Technology spoke about his work on censorship, specifically his work on the technical mechanisms used by censorship regimes around the world to block or impair Internet traffic and the importance of sensitizing designers, implementers, and users of Internet protocols to the mechanisms used to censor end-user access to information.

During the meeting, the research group’s members also presented their latest work, including two new Internet Drafts (I-Ds), improvements to the I-Ds’ text on the research methodology, the addition of three new case studies, an additional literature and discussion session.

The first outline of the human rights protocol considerations was also presented at this session, which aim to clarify how technical concepts relate to human rights, and what questions engineers should ask themselves when developing or improving protocols. 

Niels ten Oever, Head of Digital at ARTICLE 19 explained that “the aim of these proposed considerations is that engineers will comprehensively analyse the potential implications of their work for human rights, and will clearly document their decisions.”

The proposed human rights considerations were positively received, and the group received substantial feedback on their work. Currently, the aim is a formal call for adoption of the I-Ds, to be distributed on the HRPC mailing list in the coming two months: this would make the I-D an official working document of the research group. This would open the door for the next step: approval by the Internet Research Steering Group (IRSG) which bring the research group closer to developing substantive human rights protocol considerations to enable human rights on a protocol level. It would also represent a substantial step forward for ARTICLE 19 digital strategy, which aims to ensure that human rights are an inherent part of the development and the governance of the Internet

In addition to the work on the HRPC group, ARTICLE 19 contributed to the ongoing work on TLS for DNS, which would provide Domain Name Systems (DNS) with privacy protections by running the DNS protocol over the Transport Layer Secure (TLS) protocol, encrypting the traffic that runs over it, organised the first-ever IETF civil society dinner, and organised a joint film screening, with the Asociación por los Derechos Civiles showing two documentaries: ‘Net of Rights’ and The Computers followed by a discussion with around 50 local civil society members. We also participated in the ongoing debate within the IETF around the improvement of accessibility and harassment policies. 

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