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Engaging with Global Civil Society and Business at RightsCon Silicon Valley

by Christopher Mondini and Riccardo Ruffolo, ICANN Global Stakeholder Engagement

Fadi Chehadé sharing some words in an opening video he sent to the RightsCon - Silicon Valley

“…the key questions of human rights and accessibility of the Internet for all, and inclusivity of all interests [have] become very important…”


These were some of the words Fadi Chehadé shared in an opening video he sent to the RightsCon – Silicon Valley conference that took place in San Francisco March 3-5 2014 to express ICANN’s support. ICANN joined ISOC, the Internet Society, as one of the many sponsors of the event.

RightsCon is convened by Access Now and brings together human rights activists and Silicon Valley business in support of the dual mission of the organizers: to defend and extend the digital rights of users at risk around the world and to fight for open and secure communications for all.

This year more than 700 attendees from 65 countries and 375 institutions attended. Some of the world’s leading human rights experts, investors, corporate leaders, engineers and activists came together to tackle human rights challenges in tech. Government leaders from Estonia, Sweden, the U.S. and other countries were also on hand, making RightsCon a good multistakeholder venue to engage on Internet governance issues with a healthy dose of input from civil society organizations.

RightsCon 2014 was also a great place to be inspired by how organizations are using access to the open, global Internet for admirable aims: to document war zone atrocities, monitor environmental degradation and report on human rights abuses. On the business side, it was extremely informative to see how global tech companies are examining their own responsibility and capabilities to address thorny issues they navigate in relations with users, governments and shareholders.

A room with an array of distinguished panelists: Bertrand De La Chapelle, Anja Kovacs, Nnenna Nwakanma, Chris Riley and Carlos Affonso Souza

In the ICANN session, “Internet Governance 101: what’s at stake in 2014.” The room was packed, and we were fortunate to lead a conversation with an array of distinguished panelists:

  • Bertrand De La Chapelle – Director of Internet & Jurisdiction Project
  • Anja Kovacs – Director of the Internet Democracy Project
  • Nnenna Nwakanma – Regional Coordinator , World Wide Web Foundation
  • Chris Riley – Senior Policy Engineer at Mozilla
  • Carlos Affonso Souza – Director of the Instituto de Tecnologia e Sociedade (ITS) at the Getulio Vargas Foundation

The panel offered diverse perspectives on Internet governance, covering the views of different stakeholders from Europe, India, Brazil and West Africa. The same diversity of views was showcased during a separate session on the NETMundial meeting in Brazil “Sao Paulo and Beyond: the Future of Internet Governance.”

A couple of the shared conclusions of both panels: Internet governance is complicated, and it is not always easy for the newly informed to get involved. A tweet from the CEO of Spiegel Online captured the sentiment nicely:

A tweet from the CEO of Spiegel Online Katharina Borchert 'In case you we're wondering what internet governance processes look like. A scray flow chart #rightscon pic.twitter.com/33pzfO21tD'

Panelists committed to continue work to make organizations like ICANN and forums like the IGF and NetMundial better known and to create more platforms, like learn.icann.org to make participation by newcomers easier. If attendance at the RightsCon sessions is any indication, a cohort of knowledgeable and passionate stakeholders is eager to get involved.

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