Internet Engineering Task Force discusses human rights in plenary meeting for the first time in its history

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03 Apr 2017



In the week of March 27th the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) held its 98th meeting in Chicago, USA. During this meeting, for the first time in the organization’s history, it discussed how human rights apply to its work in its technical plenary.The technical plenary, of which there is only one per meeting, is used to discuss issues central to the IETF’s functioning. ARTICLE19 welcomes the organization’s recognition that human rights is such a topic.

During the plenary session David Clark– Senior Research Scientist at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and long time Internet engineer – strongly supported the use of human rights as a foundational value in considering design implications. He argued that the IETF’s work is not neutral and that it is one of the players designing the playing field for human rights on the Internet. A such, the IETF has a decision to make on how it wants to include human rights in its work.

Niels ten Oever, Head of Digital at ARTICLE 19, gave a presentation about the role of human rights in Internet governance in general, and the IETF specifically. Both these presentations were well-received by the audience, that asked follow-up questions that indicated their continued interests in the topic but also pointed out the difficulties of translating human rights to the IETF’s technical work.

In addition to the plenary sessions, the Human Rights Protocol Considerations (HRPC) research group which is co-chaired by ARTICLE 19, held its meeting. This group falls under the Internet Research Task Force (IRTF), the research branch of the IETF. Francesca Musiani – is a researcher at the Institute for Communication Sciences, French National Centre for Scientific Research (ISCC-CNRS) and an associate researcher at the Centre for the Sociology of Innovation of MINES ParisTech-PSL. She talked about her research on Distributed Architectures and Rights. John Havens – Executive Director of The Global Initiative for Ethical Considerations in the Design of Autonomous Systems - spoke about the work being done on human rights and ethics at the IEEE. PhD student Giovane Moura talked about his research on domain name encryption and Professor Adamantia Rachovitsa talked about her research on  Internet's  Standardisation Bodies as the Guardians of Privacy Online in the Face of Mass Surveillance. The statement by John Havens on the focus on end-user values spurred debate within the research group on the potential to include values that go against well-established technical principles or human rights.

The research group also discussed the new work on the right to freedom of association and anonymity, which is a collaboration between ARTICLE 19 and various partners like the Center for Democracy and Technology and Derechos Digitales.

In addition to the presentation at the plenary and the regular HRPC meeting, ARTICLE 19 gave a talk about human rights to the Internet Society (ISOC) fellows; joined the debate about the lack of privacy considerations in registry extensions.

We welcome the new IETF chair Alissa Cooper and the new IRTF chair Alison Manking, which is an important step in the diversification of leadership in standards bodies in specific and the tech sector at large.

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