Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Internet, the Right to Not be Connected and Forgotten

The Internet having become a human right should be coupled with the fundamental rights of choosing not to be connected and be disengaged with no data trail.

In September 2009, Bell Labs set a data transmission speed record at 100 petabits per second, equivalent to 100 billion megabits per second able to transmit 400 DVDs worth of data per second.

According to estimates by the international research firm, Gartner, “By 2020, there will be 25 billion of smart devices, transmitting tiny amounts of data to us, to the cloud and to each other.”

The Internet has grown out of independent networks into a global entity. It now serves as a platform for communication, business, entertainment, education and for many other means as data production, transmission and retention is increasing tremendously globally.

The Internet is just a few decades old, but in a short span of time it has experienced significant changes and presents us with exciting possibilities and questions.

How about the ‘Governance of the Internet’?

The more modern society depends on the Internet, the more crucial the issue of governance of the Internet becomes. The Internet has become a complex socio-technical system that has vested economic and political interests. Nation-states and societies are competing for the establishment of legal frameworks and public policy practices that preserve or expand national interests and social value systems.

Thus the governance of the Internet is no longer the only concern for government and corporates but for all those who use or do not use. Internet governance matters to all of us whether we are among the two billion who are using it or the next billion awaiting to be connected.

I had the opportunity to attend several Internet policy forums at regional and International level to realise that Internet Governance (IG) as a policy discussion and technical coordination of issues related to the exchange of information over the internet is moving increasingly into the public eye.
It is important to state that IG fora produce non-binding discourse as they do not lead to traditional policy outcomes in the form of treaties - which constitutes their main weakness. Nevertheless, the emphasis on open participation and the involvement of non-state actors in local, regional and global Internet policy debates may constitute its strength.

Internet governance for a enables the voices of the marginalised to be heard and conflicting corporates and humanitarian interests can find a compromise.

Attending these fora, among others, the protection of privacy and human rights has been one of my focal points and that of many civil society activists. From Africa to Latin America, human rights activists view Internet governance from the perspective of freedom of expression, privacy and other basic human rights.

This has made me realised that nowadays living in a modern connected society, influencing political and technical infrastructure of the Internet is influencing the civil liberties that are impacted or enacted by this technology.

 How about the ‘Right to be Connected’?

It is important that principles of human rights and processes of Internet are equally balanced. A permanent dialogue between technical needs and rights of communities they impact on should be guaranteed in order to defend both human rights and a free and open Internet.

A United Nations report in 2011 has concluded that disconnecting people from the Internet is a human rights violation.

In its preamble, the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms emphasises that the Internet is an enabling space and resource for the realisation of all human rights, including the right to freedom of expression, the right of access to information, the right of freedom of assembly, the right to freedom of opinion, thought and belief, the right to be free from discrimination in all forms, the right to education, the right to culture and language, and the right of access to socio-economic services.

Access to the web is now a human right.

While I recognise how important the Internet is for the development of Africa, Africans and societies worldwide, I do think that we are sometimes moving too fast in overstating its relevancy or stature in people’s lives.

It is important to note that Internet access cannot be equally considered as a necessity in the day-to-day lives of all habitants of the planet earth and does not even come close to be considered a basic human right by some Americans.

For the vast majority of people living in the United States, Internet use is a given, an expectation, a norm. A Pew Research study reports that there is still a considerable portion of Americans who do not turn to the Internet at all, stating they have no interest in it, did not think it is relevant to their lives or it is too difficult to use.

This year, overall 15 percent of Americans exclude themselves from the Internet. Senior citizens made up a hefty portion of those who do not use the Internet. Thirty-nine percent of those 65 and older say they do not go online, compared with three percent of those ages 18 through 29, according to new data from Pew Research.

Based on location, culture or ethnicity factors: people in rural areas in the United States are around twice as likely as those in urban or suburban locales to never go online. In its latest research based on a series of three polls conducted this year, Pew found that around 20 percent of African Americans and 18 percent of Hispanics say they do not use the Internet, compared with 14 percent of whites and five percent of English-speaking Asian Americans.

Elsewhere, different circumstances still lead to the same realisation. In dense tropical forests in Central Africa and Amazon and in many remote areas, there are people who for generations have preserved their cultures and societies in balanced interaction with highly complex yet now vulnerable ecosystems. For centuries, these people have been marginalised on all fronts either on economic policy, global environmental policies or regional agreements. These communities have been victims to industrialisation, urbanisation and climate change. Now thinking that our modern value system is the best, there is a danger to using the Internet as a new tool of colonisation.

Despite the hype over new technologies, it is important that we come to the realisation that people can and do live without Internet access, and many lead very successful lives. That is a fundamental right to be respected.

 Human rights are described as standards of behaviour that are inherent in every human being. They are the core principles underpinning human interaction in society. These include liberty, justice, freedom of religious beliefs and choice.

To me considering the Internet as a human right should also imply that people’s choice ‘Not-Be-Connected’ should be respected. Consequently, forcing them on the network or to use a given technology would overstep their right to culture and that to be free from discrimination at certain extent. In this case, legal recognition of cultural rights of forest-based peoples and remote communities is crucial to the fulfilment of their human rights.

Agree with me that you can live without the Internet. You just won't be part of today's society if you do. It seems to me that these individuals and ‘primitive’ societies still never wanted to be part of it.

How about the 'Right to be Forgotten'?

As the network evolves, Internet governance plays out as cultural politics in a debate about what values and core principles should be preserved.

Corporates in telecommunications and web firms are researching and deploying innovative technologies to provide wide Internet access via balloons and satellites. In a short while, those who could not afford broadband costs will be connected at no cost. Yet, free access does not always come with the freedom to disengage or the ability to erase data trail.

In 2014, a European court sided with a Spanish man attempting to have links to a negative story about him removed from the online search engine Google. Invoking a version of what is known as the ‘right to be forgotten’, the European Union Court of Justice ruled that citizens have the right to ask that links be removed if they contain information that is "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant."

However, critics contend that such a sweeping new right is sure to have unintended consequences - for starters, by potentially depriving the public of useful information. There are also questions as to whether enforcing a right to be forgotten is even practical.

Few days ago, Google said no to French demand to expand right to be forgotten worldwide.

In conclusion, many major web firms are struggling to deal with the fall-outs of applying the same rights across a number of different nations. This clearly shows how the Internet is never been equal and will never be if all stakeholders are not forced to comply, in the ‘right to be forgotten’ case is the private sector whose argument of protecting public useful information hides purely financial strategies that clearly favour corporations needs over individuals or users fundamental rights.

Technological inventions and Internet processes have outgrown national legislations. Having said that, on one hand governments need to play their primary role of enforcing regulations as well as providing infrastructure for economic growth and welfare of its citizens. On the other hand, civil society should lobby and participate in global policy making to uphold rights of citizen over the ever growing influence of the Internet economy in society and multinational corporations. Coordination, strong action and engagement are needed from all stakeholders to ensure that the Internet as a human right is more than just a declaration, and sustainable development needs are in line with the respect of fundamental rights.

Tell me if you disagree. Leave me a comment or a DM on Twitter: @Adam_McKendi

My article was published on the NGO Pulse portal -

Monday, March 9, 2015

Advocacy Forecast for Africa

Wind, cloud and technological disruptions are ahead of NPOs - change is needed for an impactful advocacy approach in order to survive

In 1995 the answer was nine when asked how many planets our solar system contained. Twenty years later, we have a different answer. Similarly, 10 years ago we were told that the client is king. Today, I guess you hear that the content is.

Operating and living in the same space, the context and knowledge have tremendously changed. The art to communicate, plead for or against a cause, as well as support or recommend a position has been taking in different techniques and canvas.

New buzzwords such as networking and multi-stakeholder are telling us that advocacy is no longer a one man show. Knowledge alone no longer makes an effective advocacy, but rather, collective action from many individuals, communities and organisations that may work both inside and outside the organisation does. This can only create and maintain a collaborative relationship and impactful campaign that is truly inclusive.

Subsequently, as you may have realised, the days of sensational fundraising with malnourished African children are over. With the impact of the increase in Internet access and digitisation of information, a new social consciousness that favours multi-channelling has become not only the object of advocacy but the subject in that it dictates and opposes irresistibly rooted practices, values and marketing strategies.

Also, it is clear that the monopoly of traditional media for advocacy is over. The future looks more like screens and storytelling than just radio and television.

Today’s challenge with campaigns is about delivering the right content to people where and when they want it and to ensure that the content stays on top.

In Africa and all over the world this has become a major challenge threatening nonprofit organisations’ (NPOs) income and traditional business growth prospects.
A growing number of international and local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are finding their existence under threat as they are challenged to capitalise on changes in technology, audience behaviour, and the availability of data to create innovative and relevant messaging.

Change is difficult for those with a life-long legacy, routine advocacy and work ethic scattered all over the world.

Nonetheless, many NGOs and for-profit businesses are learning and the rise of positions such as Chief Digital Officers and Digital Advocacy tells us just that. The need to redefine their offerings, harness digital technology, and improve stakeholders experience has become imperative.

It is with the above in mind that I presume that a forecast of an impactful advocacy approach in Africa requires considering the following elements:

The Technological Landscape

Mobile Internet: Research firm, Frost & Sullivan predict that by 2016, sub-Saharan Africa will experience the fastest growth in mobile technology at 160 million mobile broadband connections. Mobile and self-service apps are already transforming service delivery and content marketing all over the continent. The fast increase in mobile payment in Africa also tells us about possibilities with NGO donation and crowdfunding.

Data analysis: The increase in connection consequently in data generation offers a brighter prospect. Organisations need to master the use of digital intelligence to track and draw insights from produced content, untapped sources, statistical trends and other criteria to redefine their online advocacy to specific audiences.

Multichannel distribution:  Nowadays what trends online makes radio and TV headline. It is predicted that online media will grow at 20 percent this year. Nevertheless, though digital marketing is considered the future of marketing, traditional media such as print, radio and television still have a role to play. Maximum benefit for advocacy lies on linking these outlets and interconnection between new and traditional media.

Stakeholders expectations: Beneficiaries and donors want immediate results. Funding has declined and traditional proposal obsolete. Innovation seen in one organisation is now expected in the other. Founders are increasingly looking for new ideas that can bring better, cheaper and faster results.

The Wind of Nationalism

Worldwide economic insecurity and nationalist ideologies are on the rise. Africa is not an exception. The identity crisis has led xenophobia and racist attack in many African countries. As resources are becoming scarce, some communities have fallen into narratives of the insider and outsider. As a matter of fact, it seems many organisations have been taking this into account. For example, the change in ‘faces’ of some international campaigns in Africa talks somehow to the present need and belief to have African causes advocated for and by Africans.

The Cloud

The increase in bandwidth capacities resulting from the landing of undersea cables around the continent is a solid platform that steadily allows many organisations to embrace technological benefits, enabling them to outsource and manage their Information technology (IT) needs instantly. Applications which were previously not available due to a lack of internal skills or budget have become readily available to campaigners over the network through cloud computing.

The Fallouts of Ad-vocacy

Years of challenging work and campaigning in the continent have provided many NPOs with a huge membership and readership. The opportunity with the growth in digital media intake in Africa comes with an idea of social entrepreneurship, an expectation that these organisations could translate their online traffic into an income revenue by allowing selective advertising on their platforms rather than just relying on funding and donations.

The Snowden effect

The snowden effect is a pressing need to become conscience about the Surveillance State and what that implies with regard to cyber scrutiny. This talks to safety measures that need to be taken by human rights, environmental and any given organisations lobbying and advocating against State policies or interests.

If you can forget all the above, I would like you to remember the following quote by Campbell Williams:         

“You can’t be in marketing if you don’t understand digital. And you can’t understand digital if you don’t understand technology.”

Either you deal with a product, service or a cause - marketing is the heart of any advocacy effort that attempts to communicate.

Many have written about blurred lines between traditional IT and marketing department on the face of a fast growing online world. The creation of hybrid ‘digital’ positions within organisations speaks of an urgent need to grasp at once communication, technology and socioeconomic trends, threats and opportunities while reaching out.

The change is here and NGOs have to quickly embrace it or die.

Adam Mukendi Ntala is the Digital Media Manager at SANGONeT (Twitter: @adam_McKendi), published on the NGO Pulse website.