Digital freedom: Building an Internet infrastructure that protects human rights

Digital freedom: Building an Internet infrastructure that protects human rights - Digital

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The design, development, and deployment of Internet infrastructure is critically important to the free and full expression of human rights online. However, until recently there has not been strong public scrutiny of Internet infrastructure providers and how their business policies and practices impact the human rights of users, workers, and communities at large. As such, there is little awareness or incentive among these private actors to integrate human rights as an essential consideration in their operations. 

The latest report by ARTICLE 19 and the Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR) examines the outcomes of a three-year pilot project to strengthen human rights due diligence and corporate responsibility among a critical subset of Internet infrastructure providers: registries and registrars. 

ARTICLE 19’s Head of Digital, Mehwish Ansari, said: 

“Infrastructure technologies are not neutral. The ways they are designed, operated and managed have implications for who can access and disseminate content, how people and communities can associate and represent themselves online, and who has the ultimate power over these decisions. Normalising the corporate responsibility to respect human rights by identifying adverse impacts and taking steps to mitigate them must be done, not just among social media platforms and app companies, but also registries, registrars, and other infrastructure providers that the public doesn’t see every day.” 

The pilot project, carried out in partnership with three Internet registries and registrars – Stichting Internet Domeinregistratie Nederland (SIDN), Blacknight, and Public Interest Registry (PIR) – was designed to produce a publicly-available model for assessing the particular human rights impacts and risks of Internet infrastructure providers, apply the tool to develop recommendations for each partner company, and educate staff of each partner company on the human rights framework and human rights due diligence. 

Major Takeaways: 

The project outcome report presents our final observations, conclusions, and recommendations. While significant progress has taken place among Internet infrastructure providers to strengthen their human rights due diligence since the project began in 2017, several sector-wide gaps remain: 

  • The majority of Internet registries and registrars still lack explicit commitments to human rights and clear inclusion of human rights in existing due diligence systems, though certain systems may address specific human rights implicitly.
  • Existing assessment frameworks and tools used by Internet registries and registrars focus heavily on aspects related to management and operations and are limited in assessing the impacts of their products and services on the communities that rely on them and society at large.
  • Human rights standards and expectations are generally not set as part of terms of engagement or agreements made with third-party suppliers and business partners.
  • In general, the human rights framework is not applied to the development of internal company standards that can have clear human rights implications, such as anti-abuse policies.


The outcomes of this project – both the report and the human rights assessment tool – are intended to serve as important resources for Internet infrastructure providers to meet their responsibility to respect human rights, as well as for civil society and academic stakeholders that are working toward the widespread adoption of human rights due diligence across the sector. 


Read the report

Access the assessment tool  

The report will be presented on 8 June at 9:30 UTC during RightsCon at DIHR’s and ARTICLE 19’s strategy workshop, Assessing and addressing human rights impacts at the internet infrastructure level. To attend, you must be registered to attend RightsCon.