RightsCon 2018: Day One

Published Wednesday 16 May (depending on where you are)

So, today was the first day of RightsCon Toronto. After recovering with some fried chicken and restorative beer, I wanted to get down my thoughts.

What's a RightsCon you ask?

It's a global conference, similar in style to the Internet Governance Forum or NetHui, but focussed on human rights online. Run by Access Now and in it's 7th year, RightsCon 2018 has some 2,400 participants from across 115 countries. There's about 450 talks across three days, which means I've had to embrace some serious FOMO (fear of missing out) and make really hard calls during each slot to make a call on which of 2-4 excellent sounding sessions I should go to. There are dozens of talks about diversity and feminism in tech, AI, the crypto wars, Civic tech, campaigning and activism through digital tech, net neutrality and heaps more. If you can think of a human rights or digital rights issue - there's likely to be at least one session here about it.

So, I'm here, there's a LOT on and I know no-one apart from some Access Now and other activist types who I'd describe as "Internet friends".


Fortunately, after one terrible night's sleep, the jetlag isn't too bad. So here's some thoughts from the sessions that I attended today.

Cloudflare and where in the stack you should regulate content?

I went to a talk / structured conversation with Matthew Prince, the CEO of Cloudflare. Nominally about how Prince decided to kick the Daily Stormer off Cloudflare's platform, Matthew's talk was a good discussion and encapsulation of the issues around global platforms, regulation, copyright / IP regulation and the issues of free speech vs protection from hate speech and abuse.

The key takeaway from this session was whether Cloudflare, and other CDN/network/level parts of the Internet should be doing content moderation and regulation at all? Where in the stack is the right place to do this? Prince did a good job of making the point that these things should probably happen at levels where users of the Internet have relationships with companies (notably, most users probably don't know if they're accessing Cloudflare's services).

Prince did note that since booting the Daily Stormer off Cloudflare's platforms they have had governments across the world reference it as precedence for why Cloudflare should act to fulfill a takedown request from them.

Multistakeholderism: dying or evolving?

One session I went to today was about whether the multistakeholder model was dying, evolving or advancing. There was a lot of talk about ICANN (unsurprising), the level of technical and bureaucratic knowledge needed to engage and understand its processes (also unsurprising).

What struck me was the point of how many governments from the Global South don't get involved in multistakeholder fora and a general call to try and implement, and evolve multistakeholder fora domestically.

That struck a chord with me. In New Zealand, we need to do more to use multistakeholder models to engage across society to tackle the bigger issues that we face. Minister Curran has set up the Digital Economy and Digital Inclusion Multistakeholder Advisory Group (or DEDIMAG for you acronym junkies) - usefully, she appointed half of the members, then had them appoint the remaining seven or so remaining positions to help ensure a diversity of perspectives.

Apart from that, and things like NetHui (that we make happen), NZ doesn't have too many examples of multistakeholder fora. Unfortunately, the NZ Government isn't here to hear these perspectives. Which is a real shame. There are some 20 governments here and even though the NZ Government is leading a working group on digital rights for the D7, no-one from MFAT, DIA, MBIE or DPMC have made the trek.

Crypto wars

I went to two sessions this afternoon about the Crypto wars 2.0 and state hacking. They were very interesting and there seemed to be widespread consensus that strong, widespread encryption is the goal for technologists, civil society and yes, even governments (well, Western Governments at least). I had to tip my hat to a Mr Aled Lloyd Jones from the UK Home Office who was on a panel with Bruce Schnier and Cindy Cohn (both elder gods of the crypto wars debates) and Mahsa Alimardani, an Oxbridge-based researcher who focuses on Iranian censorship issues. He was very reasonable, took all the tough questions in good spirits, and got about 75% of the questions from the floor.

All in all, it was a great day full of brain food with only one dud panel (not mentioned for brevity).

And of course, how long did it take me to meet another kiwi? End of the first session I found a kiwi who lives and works here in Toronto who must have heard my accent.